Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Chinese buses

Some people have been asking how come I'm posting so much on Facebook now or something, way more than usual.  Well, it's not that I'm posting on Facebook.  It's rather that I'm blogging, and I've set Facebook to automatically import my blog's RSS (or was it Atom?) feed.  And I don't have access to Facebook or Blogger at the moment, this is done through e-mail blogging.  That's that.

So here's your post on buses.  But first this.


Like DANG!

OK, traffic in Shenzhen isn't THAT bad.  But it can sometimes get pretty jam packed.  And getting on a bus these days in the morning can be difficult, since school has just started up again.  All those university kids have to attend class now, you know.

There are two types of buses that operate in the public transit: the constant pay and the variable pay.  The constant pay buses are straightforward.  You pay your cash or swipe your card at the front when you get on the bus.  Swiping your card is better, because this gives you a discount each trip; buy a card if you're going to be here long-term.  Of course, this took me a little bit to figure out because at the beginning, all the buses I took were variable pay.

Variable pay buses work like this.  You have a lady who walks around the bus with a scanner (for those who want to swipe their cards) and a fistful of change and ticket stubs (for those who don't want to swipe cards).  Basically, you get charged depending on where you're planning to get off.  As such, it's very important that you know where you're going, so the lady will know how much to charge you.  Specifically, you say at which bus station (or region) you're planning to get off.  I've gotten pretty good at memorizing the various places where I go, and I'm getting a good grasp of which buses go where.  But at the beginning, it was a bit confusing.

"Hi, I want to go to the High Tech Park (Gaoxinyuan)."
"Where you getting off?"
"Uh, Gaoxinyuan!"
"So where are you getting off?"
"Uh... Gaoxinyuan Subway Station?"
"Where?"
"Gaoxinyuan Subway Station!"
"Oh, get off at Dachong."

Why's it called Dachong, when the subway station and whole region seems to be called Gaoxinyuan?  Or maybe I'm wrong and the region's actually Dachong?  But you get the picture.  One thing I haven't figured out is how they manage to keep that fistful of money and ticket stubs in their hand and never drop any of it, while fighting through a jam-packed bus (we're talking sardines in a can) during peak hours.  It makes no sense to me.  I think my hands would get tired and sweaty after a while, wouldn't yours?

So then I started also boarding the constant pay buses.  These are for when the route's fairly short or fairly long, but the point is, riders ride a consistent length, so there's no purpose in charging a variable rate.  The #70 costs 2.5 RMB, while the K359 bus costs 6 RMB.  You get the picture.  So on the variable buses, you just get on the bus (front door, back door, doesn't matter), and the lady will come find you.  On the constant pay buses, you have to pay up front as you board.  That means you board at the front, exit at the back.  If you board at the back and don't pay, the bus driver will often know and call you out.  Good facial recognition capabilities.  What often happens in this situation, you pass your card up to the front through an ad hoc human chain, where it is then swiped and then handed back to you.  I've successfully performed the ad hoc chain swipe twice now.  You get to bond with your fellow passengers.  /LOL

Another thing about these buses is that they seem to have little to no shock absorbers.  Consequently, it can be quite a bumpy ride.  So some of these buses will have plastic bags up at the front, hanging by the driver's seat.  You guessed it!  Barf bags!  On one recent trip, I saw a girl get up, grab a bag, go back to her seat, and then proceed to barf into the bag, not once, not twice, but three times.  And nobody offered to hold back her hair.  I can see how long hair can sometimes be inconvenient....  I seriously wonder how much it would cost to upgrade all the buses in Shenzhen to have better shock absorbers, and if there would be any noticeable change in quality of service.  The cost is probably not worth the benefit, as these buses are all already jam packed anyway, there's probably not much you can do to increase ridership.  And the buses aren't exactly scarce either, like in Vancouver.  Sometimes, I see them come in 30-second intervals, I'm not kidding.  So seriously.  In that kind of situation, you almost want to decrease ridership, huh?  Of course you never would, just would be tempted in a twisted sort of way.  :)

The buses do have some redeeming features, but I'd consider them luxuries, not necessities.  The shock absorbers should really come before the luxuries, but that's just my opinion, I suppose.  For example, most of the buses will have several LCD screens for showing TV shows and keeping the passengers entertained.  Also, the buses ALL have air conditioning.  Although, I suppose in this heat, maybe that should be considered a necessity.  :)

The last thing I want to comment on is the quality of Chinese drivers.  I think I've mentioned it before somewhere on this blog, but I'll say it again.  It's not that Chinese are bad drivers.  Far from it.  They're actually very talented, demonstrated by their ability to pull of maneuvers that seem impossible.  Hmm, so let me rephrase.  It's not that they're bad drivers in that they have no aptitude for driving.  Rather, it's that they're bad drivers in that they're poorly behaved, reckless, and perhaps too gutsy to create a safe road for everyone.  Defensive driving doesn't exist here, it's all offense.  I'm of the firm belief that the only reason why there are so few accidents on the road is because everyone's driving skill level is so high, so they can keep up with each other.  But it does make for a shaky bus ride sometimes.  There have been a few times where the bus driver had to slam on the breaks because a car driver to the left ignored his right of way and decided to speed through an opening before two lanes completed merging.  Except he hit the hole when a normal North American driver would consider the decision point past the point of no return.  So if you're not sitting down, you have to be able to keep your balance well for situations like that.  Fortunately, it doesn't happen often.

I'm going to write about transaction costs next, I think.  Maybe.  :)  Toodooloo.

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