Monday, March 19, 2007

The Hound of Hagerstown

One of 1st things you notice after coming from a 3rd world country to a 1st world one is the efficiency of infrastructure; how things that work on paper, also work on the field; and how clearly defined systems govern each sphere of public activity. But at times, you encounter incidents, which really make you feel, no system is perfect.

When me and a friend where evaluating ways to travel from Hagerstown to Baltimore, the best option we could think of was a Greyhound bus. We had been told that Greyhound is one of the premiere bus services in the US, covering the entire length and breadth of the vast nation. When we arrived at the Greyhound bus stop in Hagerstown early in the morning, and purchased tickets for the 8.30 bus to Baltimore, little did we know what was in store for us. The bus duly arrived on time, and as well were about to enter, the driver came out to say, “We have no seats in this bus from here to Baltimore.” Bewildered by this statement, I replied “But what about the tickets we have purchased for THIS bus?”
“All the seats are occupied by passengers travelling from previous strops.” With this nonchalant reply, he closed the door and drove away.

“How can you sell the tickets without knowing if there are enough seats in the bus or not? What are we supposed to do with our $ 20 tickets now?” asked my friend back at the ticket booking counter.
“Our tickets are good for 1 year from the date of purchase. You can use them any time you want for the next 1 year.” replied the attendant.
“But we NEED to travel to Baltimore today!!”
“Then you can take the next Greyhound bus to Baltimore.”
“When is that supposed to arrive here?”
“5 hours from now.”
“We cannot wait for 5 hours here. All our plans would be screwed.”
“Well, you can take a taxi if it is urgent.”
Brilliant. As if Greyhound is going to pay for the taxi.
“We want to cancel our tickets. Give us a refund.” I intervened.
“The tickets can only be cancelled in Dallas.”
“What?? Don’t tell me we need to go to DALLAS to get these cancelled.” The attendant was getting to our nerves.
“No, we will give you an envelop in which you can mail your tickets. 20% of the ticket fee will be deducted on cancellation. You will receive the refund in a few weeks time.”

We soon realized that arguing with the attendant would serve no purpose, and called up our colleagues in Baltimore to inform them that we would arrive 5 hours late.

1 comment:

Nikhil Kulkarni said...

Guess it has everything to do with availability and abundance ... every system looks good until you push it to its limits - whether it is the Mumbai Local or a bus in Haggers Town.

In the west mostly things 'feel' better only because the availability of infrastructure services (in general) is in excess of their demand - a clear outcome of economic prosperity and less population.

I have had pretty bad experiences on European skies - and I could figure out only one reason for it - demand outstrips supply in that sector of infra....

Interesting topic to munch on would be - given that India will continue to have huge load of population going fwd as well - will its economic development ever translate into better lifestyles for us??