My morning classes begin at 8:30 AM. To reach on time by bus, where I actually have a chance to get a seat, I have to wake up at 6:00 AM because the frequency on my route is low and erratic—a bus every 30 minutes on a good day. However, I often miss the one scheduled to reach my stop at around 7:20 AM, leaving me no choice but to catch the overcrowded buses. At first, I used to dread the prospect of overcrowded buses, but these days I just mentally prepare myself for the claustrophobia.

When I say overcrowded, you might think of a few people standing in the aisle. But what I actually mean is that there is no scope to move. I am amidst a sea of bodies, touching, shoving, pulling. When the bus staggers, I feel the weight of my neighbour trying not to fall onto me. In a tragically funny way, I know they won’t because there isn’t any space.

Overcrowded buses in Pune are carrying people way beyond their capacity. Conductors and drivers know this and try to limit the number of passengers. However, ultimately they also know even they cannot deny people the right to travel because the people themselves don’t mind it. More accurately, they don’t have a choice.

A large share of buses in Pune are out of order, as Omkar Khandekar mentions in his brilliant article in the Morning Context. This leaves the functional ones dealing with the fallout. Overcrowding and under-maintenance further damage the operational buses, and the vicious cycle of reducing capacity persists.

Knowing I am privileged enough to afford the taxi fare, one might ask why I take the bus on such days. I have taken Uber autos before, but even during peak traffic, I have found that I reach faster by bus than by cab.1 My college’s strict attendance policy makes arriving on time my priority. Hence, I choose the bus because even during peak traffic hours, I have a chance to make it to class within an acceptable amount of delay. Plus it costs me Rs. 25 versus Rs. 210 via cab. Which is also why I am an outlier; most other people take buses because they are affordable. As Paris Marx in Road to Nowhere illustrates, good public transport is a tool for socioeconomic inclusion.

As for overcrowded buses, I feel worried every time the bus lurches; the momentum fighting against us to take us off our feet. All the standing passengers must assume awkward positions to hold onto the railings and accommodate their neighbours. My shoulders and back hurt these days, and I won’t be surprised if many others experience body aches too. I worry that someone might faint or break a limb.

In such a situation, it is also challenging to heed the seating policy where specific seats must be reserved for disabled people and senior citizens. Even if someone gives up their reserved seat, getting to that seat itself is a monumental task. Thus, people are more likely to soothe their conscience than potentially get injured in the crowd.

This overcrowding is also proof that the citizens of Pune need more buses. PMPML mentioned that the seating capacity of their electric buses is 22 people. Let us assume it carries 80 people (a very conservative estimate) instead of 22 during rush hours. Every bus is overcrowded from 7:30 AM to 10 AM. Suppose we assume a bus plys past a bus stop every 5 minutes. In that case, 30 buses carry 1. 67x more people than their capacity (again, a very conservative estimate, the number is higher). Let us assume two bus stops on two different routes face a similar issue.

So just on these two routes, a total of 4800 people travelled versus the ideal 1800. That is 3000 more people.

Now let us relax some assumptions of this abstraction and think about this happening across Pune city on multiple routes. To help with rough estimates, Pune has approximately 837 buses plying across the city (Figure includes e-buses, night buses, regular buses, airport buses, ladies’ special and rainbow buses). The average number of travellers in Pune is 7 lakh to 8 lakh as of March 2022. Even when I round up the total number of buses to 2000 and take 7 lakh as the average number of bus commuters, overcrowding remains an issue.

Pune public transport needs a lot of improvements, for which, increasing the number of buses and regular maintenance are crucial first steps. And as mentioned before, the bus is an essential service because it increases the mobility of low-income commuters at a low cost. In many cases, like mine, even during horrible traffic near SPPU it is more efficient to reach my college than a four-wheeler. It carries 30 people (ideally) versus four people in one car (assuming maximum occupancy). And the cars are what are causing congestion in the first place!

The impact of the Pune metro will be evaluated if and when the metro becomes operational on vital routes, although people find taking a rickshaw more cost-effective than using the metro on the currently operational route. Several activists and CBOs have also questioned the popular claim that the metro will solve Pune’s congestion problem.

पण, ‘मेट्रो येईल, मग गर्दी कमी होईल’, असे म्हणण्यापेक्षा पुणेकरांच्या सध्या काय गरजा आहेत, याचा विचार नागरी सेवकांनी करायला हवा.2 We need buses, and we need them now.

  1. Getting an uber takes 5-11 minutes. On many days, due to cancellations the time can go upto 20 minutes because of rush hours. The time to reach my college through traffic then becomes 35-40 minutes + ordering time which is greater than the amount of time the bus takes, which is 45 minutes on most days. This is also because I have a bus stop right in front of, both, my college and home. ↩︎

  2. But, instead of saying, “Metro will come, then congestion will reduce”, civil servants should think about what the people of Pune need right now. ↩︎