Since July 5th of last year, a new era has dawned for our country’s transportation system; massive government support for public transport. Now, the bus has existed since the colonial era but somewhere along the road (no pun intended!) its usage was downgraded to the poor man’s mode of transport. Fortunately, our officials finally decided to promote its usage as a means of elevating the increasingly complicated problems associated with an expanding populace and a limit to the space available for road works.
Personally, I applaud this effort by the government, and I regularly use the bus, especially for my intercity commutes. As a consumer though, I have noticed a few things that could explain a dismal reality. The intercity bus, 6 months after its inception, is still a mode of transport favored by the elderly, students and foreigners, i.e. the lower strata of the income pyramid.
The explanation comes as a narrative of my latest commute.
Waiting at the bus stop you immediately notice that the displayed time tables are not that ones that depict the bus’s arrival time at the particular stop but its departure time from the beginning of the route. In other words it is impossible to know at what time you should be at the bus stop basically because you never know what time the bus will pass by. Your best guess (and it is a guess) is ten minutes after its displayed time. So impatiently waiting I’m finally confronted with a vehicle reminiscent of those in the hay days of the Greek cinema (to be fair, I also rode with a fairly newer bus, emphasis on fairly).
Opening his door the driver is on the phone with his supervisor (guessing from his tone and deference) arguing whether he should have picked up five customers from a non predefined bus stop. My objection is not whether he should have picked them up or not, that is matter of policy. There were five of us standing on the doorway patiently, and kindly, waiting for this gentleman to finish his conversation so that we could pay and take our seats. It took him five minutes (literally) to acknowledge us and carry on with his duties.
Taking my seat and having a look around I am immediately aware of why the bus is not among the choices of the better-to-do members of our society. In the back a South Asian national was merrily listening to his radio loudly enough to give me a front row seat to a Bollywood blockbuster. In the front, the elderly congregate around the driver and keep chatting him up (it is illegal, not to mention extremely dangerous, to talk to a bus driver while operating the vehicle) reliving their old glories and complaining about this and that. In the middle you notice the “quiet” ones, the ones who just want to go work.
Now the bus, on the X – Limassol route, passes through Kofinou and Choirokoitia, an agreement between the government and the bus company in order to expand the access of the route to people of the surrounding village. Midway through these side roads, the driver decides to stop declares “… έσιει μανιτάρκα δαμέ…” (I saw some mushrooms) and pulls over!!! As I watch him exit the bus, a gentleman steps out and reliefs himself by the side of the bus, with us overlooking. Ten minutes I’m sitting there dumbstruck and shaking my head. Thirty minutes later I finally arrive at the office with a twenty five minute delay.
But wait!! You think, like I did, that this was just a bad day and that would never happen to me again? On my way back, the bus was late for over forty five minutes. A few days before that a maniac of a driver made me wet my pants. On another trip the driver was accosting the few paying customers, i.e. the foreigners, because they should have given him exact change and not a fifty euro note. His demand “… καρτεράς με να βαστώ ρέστα;” (do you expect me to have change?).
My illustration, and ranting, comes to an end with the following thought. This island suffers the most due to the lack of professionalism that persists throughout the entire society. The customer is king, says the American. The customer can (beeeeeeppppppp), says the Cypriot!!