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The Public Bus Saga

By Ana Devdariani
Thursday, January 16
I remember back when I was in elementary school we used to have those dingy old red public buses in Tbilisi. And in those buses there would be a man standing by the front door who would collect the 20 tetri charge and open the should-be automated, but long since broken door for you. The buses and the men in them have since become obsolete, replaced with new vehicles and automated ticket machines. But we also got a new addition to the mix – the ticket controllers, aka the people who get on the bus at every other stop to make sure everyone on it has paid for their transportation.

All of that has been a great change if you ask me. The transport got more comfortable, jobs were created – positive changes all around. Except for whatever bizarre reason, the ticket controllers have somehow garnered the reputation of public enemies. This is by no means a recent development, it has been relevant for a while now, but I’m bringing it up today because I’ve just had a couple intense run-ins with the issue.

And so begins the Public Bus Saga that has unfolded in two parts.

Part One: Pride and Puerility. This one is a personal story, by which I mean it unfolded before my very eyes. It centers around three main characters – a blond middle aged lady perched on the front row seat behind the driver, an elder woman sitting two seats behind her and a young man dressed in the dark blue controller uniform (the new outfits are so much more fetching, by the way, an infinite improvement over the neon yellow travesties they used to be required to wear). The bus had just made a left from Varaziskhevi to Meliqishvili Avenue and our controller and his partner boarded it on the next stop. They were extremely courteous and polite, which is a trend I’ve noticed with the controllers lately and it has left me pleasantly surprised. The young man in blue approached the front row lady and asked to see her ticket. She frowned at him, then scoffed and shoved her ticket at him.

“Your people just checked it two stops ago,” she said. “Where do you reckon it would go in the time it took me to get from there to here?”

The controller said he had no way of knowing if and when her ticket had been checked before. The elder woman two seats away, who had been dozing off before but was now fully alert, chose this time to interject. “You should develop a system to notify each other which buses you have checked and when” she noted smartly to the vigorous agreement of the front row blonde. By then the driver had started grumbling about the hold up, because as you may well know they are required to stay at the stop while the controllers are on board. “Can you all just get tickets so we can leave this stop?” he hollered and the controller took one last sweeping glance over the passengers and got off.

The front row blond and the elder lady grumbled only a little after we moved on from the stop. The latter was soon shushed by her husband, who smiled at her crookedly and told her to let it go. But I’m sure this was not the first, nor the last such encounter the controller had that day. Or any other day, for that matter. The bizarre part is, the argument started over nothing – it is his responsibility to check her ticket and her duty to present it to him when he asks for it. When you make the choice of travelling by bus, you enter an agreement the moment you board it. You become required to make a payment for the service of transportation, and also required to abide by the guidelines of the company providing you with the service. Demanding that the controllers develop an elaborate and frankly impossible method of communication between each other that would enable them to know whether this particular blond middle aged woman had already been checked for a ticket, just so she does not have to God forbid show it to a controller twice is beyond ridiculous.

Part Two: Respect Your Elders – A Tale as Old As Time. Story number two is a few notches more dramatic and I shall repeat it as told by my roommate who had been on her way home when the incident occurred. She got onto the bus at a layover stop by the Baratashvili bridge, got a ticket, took a seat and was waiting for the bus to get going when the controller got in and started checking tickets. There was a gentleman, about 70-75 years old sitting in front. He handed the ticket to the controller, who checked the date on it. The ticket was six days old.

“Why are you handing me this 6-day-old ticket?” the controller asked. “Do you think I’m an idiot not to notice the date?”

"You have no idea what happened to me, so you don't have any right to criticize me!" the man yelled.

The controller pressed his lips together, but said nothing. Clearly, he decided not to make a scene, even though it was his responsibility to either ensure the man got a ticket or remove him from the bus. Instead, he moved on to check the others’ tickets. It was when he approached the lady sitting behind my roommate that all hell broke loose.

The controller asked for the ticket really politely, but the woman immediately started arguing that she is not required to run to the ticket machine first thing when she gets on a bus. He asked her to get one then, at which point she started to yell, accusing him of being rude. “You are the age of my sons,” she cried. “You don’t have a right to talk to me this way and demand tickets from me.”

As it turned out the woman sitting next to her was a controller off duty. She came to her colleague’s aid and tried to reason with the lady that public transportation was not free and therefore she was required to pay if she wanted to use it. To which the lady said she knows that perfectly well and did not need commands to buy a ticket from people who are 3 times her junior.

Now these are only two stories from a sea of far worse incidents that happen on the public buses daily. In some cases a portion of the blame lies on the controllers themselves, because people can be all kinds of rude. Regardless, I think we just ought to leave our ill-justified pride behind and let go of the idea that someone owes us respect even though we don’t offer them any.