The bus driver from Bangalore: Making chaos flow

Respect for the Bangalorian bus driver—who probably has the world’s toughest job.  While I visit Volvo factories in Bangalore this week, I feel the pulse of a thriving city that literally bursts into the streets with all its energy. The traffic in India’s third largest city is straightforward d r e a d f u l. Continuous honking seems to be the most important trick to come ahead and stay alive. In this total chaos of noise, pollution, people and vehicles, I am surprised to find the traffic flowing surprisingly swiftly. How do the Bangalorians create flow of mere chaos?

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I do not drive any vehicle in Bangalore, and I would not like to either…  Being a passenger and a pedestrian is more than excitement enough. Pedestrians must put their faith in the grace of drivers. Without a certain amount of courage and determination you will never cross the road (or never cross the road alive) in this city. Did you know that Bangalore has the most two-wheeled motor bikes in the world? Add the people, buses, trucks, cars, bikes, holy cows, street dogs and last-but-not-least the auto-rickshaws, and remove most of the traffic rules, street lights, crossings and sidewalks, and a you have a “Bangalore traffic cocktail”. The auto-rickshaw drivers are described by Wikitravel as “the horrible nightmare of the city” and will repeatedly nag you for a ride. If you dare, they provide cheap and quick transportation all over the city.

Sound horn!

It is impressive how fast this traffic can flow. In some crossings, drivers of all types of vehicles come honking from all sides and navigates like crossing shoals of fish between and through each other. In my taxi on my way to a Volvo plant I try to figure out how the system flows; I give up when the driver—for the third time—passes a bus on the right side withe the minimal margin possible. What is clear is that the honking is an essential part of the game; drivers rely on other to honk so that they hear where they are. In fact, many vehicles encourage the honking in written: “Sound horn”. Honestly; I enjoy Bangalore, but detest the honking.

Even if this chaos flows, it is by no means a desirable and good system. First and foremost, it represent a constant safety threat. Second, it reduces quality of life with noise and worry. Third, if somewhere in the chaos a disruption appears, the complete “system” shuts down; it takes hours for road help to clear a car crash, gridlock or a simple breakdown. Even though motorbikes can find their way through, that doesn’t mean that the system works. The city has over the last years tried several measures to improve the traffic by imposing stricter rules and broadening the lanes (regretfully removing trees that long have added to the nickname “Garden City”), but all strategies have largely failed. My research clearly finds that implementing flow and standards in a single factory is extremely hard—imagine doing it in a city of 8,5 million people!

Safety first with Volvo buses

With an aim to improve traffic safety (and expand to a booming market), Volvo has made its self famous for having the safest buses in India. There are three different types of buses in India; overcrowded and mortally dangerous “buses”, crowded and dangerous “luxury buses”, and “Volvo”. The Volvo buses are known for having Western standards and are the preferred choice for everyone that can afford to pay premium for safety and comfort. I saw new Volvo buses being assembled in Hoskote just outside of Bangalore. I do not doubt that these buses are safe; it is the driving that scares me. Respect to the bus drivers in Bangalore!