I’m a staunch fan of public transport systems. Reliable, efficent transport systems, that is. My enthusiasm for them isn’t only prompted by the magnitudeof their benefits. There are glamorous aspects that keeps me fascinated with this mean of moving about. I wonder how it had developed throughout the history of mankind; there were probably certain inidividuals in societies that were adept in commanding and handling animals: so they moved through little dwellings and hamlets, offering their rides for hire – donkeys may they be or camels (sorry guys, can’t let down the stereotype here).
But that is just transport. The ‘public’ component also indicates a congergation, a crowd and an availability to the public. Wikipedia tells us the first case of public transport was the oldest ferry man had deviced. Makes sense. You can’t just cross the water bodies anywhere or by any means. If you didn’t own one, then you’d have got to contract a boat to take you. Ancient ferry operaters would have , after a while, thought that making their crossing route (end and starting points and all) known to the public before hand, and then waiting until their boats are full before taking off, these two steps would have made their job more profitable.
Now, moving few centuries ahead, the industrial revolution had come and it had made large cities even larger than they were. The influx of migrant workers helped cities to evolve and mutate into metropolises. They bloated at the edges with distant subrubs where the population density was above what Is normally acceptable. Rich people also lived in suburbs, different suburbs, where they had their own carriages and flunkies. Migrant workers would eventually need to move around the cities where they lived. They would need to go to the church. Or to the public liberary. Or to one of the cheep watering holes where there are prettier chicks. Or to one of the speakeasies where hooking up with professional women was allowed. Whatever the reason, you live at a certain district in the city, regardless of how perfect the amenities around you are, one day you’ll need to haul ass downtown and see what the fuss is all about. So….cutting long story short, there had come a time when bus routes were introduced with regular service. That was only the beginning of an era of evolution which will lead public transport to the shape it is now.
And this is where I’m getting at with this long-winded post: somebody had had some sense in Aleppo transport authority to do something commendable recently. They’ve done away with the old ‘micro busses’ (14 passengers mini busses)-- each run by a private owner, and they outsourced the operation of entire routes to private companies. This is good privatization. In the early 90s’, when the micro busses system was introduced, all it took for somebody to operate on a certain route was to buy the vehicle and register with the transport authority. Lo and behold, you’ve got myriads of thugs and assholes running on these routes. Each driver of a micro bus had an assistant, a sidekick. Who will collect fares from passengers, shout at the top of his lungs for the intended destination, and who also doubled up as a partner to the driver in fights and bullying. That was bad, bad privatization. You had absolutely no expectations of micro buses. You didn’t even trust the frequency of their service. You always braced yourself for a rude assistant or a driver with a motherfucking attitude. I could fill pages with stories about those, but they’re really mostly unpleasant.
So the move to do away with those and contract the whole operation to a single private operator had made a big difference. Now, only after two trips I’d made downtown, I know what to expect (or not to expect) while riding. The driver is dressed in a uniform, complete with a nice tie. He speaks to you with, surprise surprise, some respect. You take your hard plastic seat (shiny, but clean) and wait for your destination to arrive. You’re relaxed. The bus interior is made to medium specs. Not flashy or luxurious, but not shabby either. Back in the days micro buses had padded seats that smelled, its fake leather upholstery tattered from wear and tear. The metal frame of the seat would jut out here and there, giving you a literal pain in the ass and imparting your pants a nice tear. A micro bus driver’s taste in music would have made you cringe. On the other hand, the private operator had chosen well by not allowing the drivers to play music or even tune in to the radio. Standards.
Ok. So I thought I’d start this first account of my visit to my hometown on a high note. But you don’t fear, there are always an incessant supply of negative observations to make. Hell, I took my dad’s car for a test drive around the neighbourhood. I test-ran all the holes and ditches in the black top (saying blacktop doesn’t give enough credit to the plethora of colors you’d see on the roads here), and I can report to you that all ditches and holes are working just fine. All mild steel manhole covers of the roads’ storm drainage system are raised proudly by couple of inches from the level of the so called blacktop. In the dark, the horizontal headlight beams would make them out for you, duriung the day, there’s no telling. You’d have to look out for them, as you’d have to look for the holes, ditches, fresh excavations, ‘speed humps’…the lot. My dad opined that I should keep an eye pinned down hard on the couple of meters ahead of me as I drive, another eye on the long distant view. Look out for the A holes, he said. I imgained that if you put together a certain number of humans on the roads of aleppo and command them to dirve and reproduce for couple of millenia, you’d end up with a species that could move its eyes independent from each other. That would be quite the experiment.