Travelling on a Pakistani public bus is never boring!

Published: April 8, 2014

If two buses decide to have a race, and you are on board one of them, get ready to see your life flash before your eyes. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

I am sure many of you have travelled on public buses in Pakistan or know someone who has gone through the ordeal. In case you haven’t, allow me to enlighten you of what the rest of us have to go through.

Here are ten of my experiences while travelling on public transport and the issues many of us have to face on a daily basis.

1. Bus stop? What’s that?

Drivers of public buses in Pakistan never bother to wait for their passengers at the bus stops so there is hardly any point in waiting there. And it goes without saying that if you are on the bus, the driver will rarely stop on your call, even if you scream at the top of your voice.

Since these buses never really stop, you should be trained on how to board a moving bus, otherwise be ready for that painful, not to mention utterly humiliating, fall.

2. Bus drivers and their ‘Need for Speed’

If two bus drivers decide to have a race and you are on board one of them, then get ready to see your life flash before your eyes – not once but multiple times. I am not exaggerating when I say that on such occasions these drivers transform into ‘Need for Speed’ drivers; they accelerate and break as if their lives depend on winning the race.

Be warned that such rides are not for the faint hearted. Unfortunately, in these ego-driven races, their sharp turns and sudden breaks can become fatal.

3. Bus driver is the king

On the other hand, I used to think that it was Karma – that I was being punished for my wrongdoings – whenever I wanted to reach somewhere on time and had to take the bus because it was only on those instances that the bus driver would decide to drive at a snail’s speed. It took some time but eventually I realised that everyone around me was going through the same thing and I struck Karma off my list.

Don’t ever forget, while aboard a Pakistani public bus, the driver is the king – if he decides that you will travel at virtually zero kilometres per hour, you will travel on that speed… no questions asked. I remember countless such moments when I would pray for the speed of the comic superhero Flash but to no avail.

4. Endless waits

Funny as it may sound, often bus drivers park their buses at their ‘self-made’ stops and wait till the other bus of the same route catches up to them. While the passengers wait inside a congested, foul-smelling bus, the driver can usually be found roaming outside, smoking or chatting with his conductor buddy until many commuters lose their tempers.

Ever seen a large crowd of people ranting at and beating a bus driver on the road-side while an even bigger crowd of spectators looks on? Well, now you know what’s happening.

5. Inquisitive aunties

After you finally get on board and find a seat (if it’s your lucky day) you decide to kill time by reading a book. As soon as you become completely engrossed and are about to reach the climax of the story, you hear someone asking you something. You look up and see an aunty sitting beside you (usually middle-aged), looking at you intently. You look at her blankly and she repeats the question,

“So, where are you going?”

Out of respect, you reply to her question. But she doesn’t stop there and continues,

“Where do you live?”

And this leads to a series of futile exchanges which eventually turn into a one-way conversation where she tells you all about her life while you listen disinterestedly.

Sometimes, I’m almost tempted to pretend that I am hard of hearing, just to get away from these exasperating conversations.

6. Beware the glare

Buses are crowded, especially during rush hours. At such times, you have to squeeze your way into the bus, pushing a few aunties out of the way. You finally find a small space to stand in the overcrowded bus. However, if during your struggle to breathe and stand, you accidentally step on someone’s foot, be prepared for a long and furious glare directed at you. And trust me, it won’t matter that you apologise over and over. Women are not forgiving of anyone who ‘steps on their toes’ – literal or otherwise!

7. Today its Rs15, tomorrow Rs20

The bus fare increases often and drastically, sometimes even overnight! And if you dare to raise the issue with the bus conductor, you are basically asking for a fight. On some occasions when the conductor has had a good day earlier, he will just smile cheekily at your query and give you the clichéd,

“Baji, petrol ka keemat barh gaya hai.”

(Madam, the price of petrol has increased.)

The funny part is that these buses run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) so how can an increase in ‘petrol prices’ lead to an increase in CNG fares?

8. Khala’ syndrome

Try stepping on a public bus in Pakistan and you will invariably be referred to as khala (aunt), aunty, chacha (uncle) or bhai (brother) – irrespective of your age or gender.

As for me, I already have enough relatives on my plate, thank you very much!

9. Sleepy passengers

Then there are times when the person sitting next to you on the bus falls into a deep (and I mean really deep) sleep and they conveniently put their entire weight on you. I can’t even explain the ridiculousness of the scene when you have to nudge, shake and push the other person in the hope of waking them up.

I mean, have they forgotten that they are in a public bus and not in the comfort of their homes?

10. Dreaded breakdowns

Just when you think,

“Today has been a good day. I got off from work early and the bus isn’t too crowded as well”… yes, you guessed it… the bus driver will bring the bus to a stop and make all the passengers get off because one of the wheels has a puncture in it.

If you are lucky, you’ll be transferred to another bus. However, if you are not fortunate enough (which is more likely), you’ll have to find another bus. And God help you if the bus breaks down in an unknown and shady location.

And oh yes! You never know when the bus you are on has a brake failure – so travel at your own risk!

My intent behind describing the happenings on a Pakistani bus is by no means to deter you from riding on one of our colourful (literally) buses. In fact, I think everyone should undertake this experience at least once in their lifetime, especially if they are fortunate enough to avoid travelling in Pakistani public transport on a regular basis.

It would be the cheapest roller coaster ride you have ever been on and if nothing else, it will give you an insight to how ‘the other half’ lives!


Madiha Akhtar

A freelance writer, an avid reader and a blogger, she has worked as a field reporter for a brief period and has written articles as a freelancer for different publications. She tweets as @mistful83 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fly on the wall

    Oh dear! If those who are campaigning for irritating, congesting traffic off their roads ( so that they can breathe fresh air, ride bicycles and have a wonderful time reclaiming roads from the polluters), I wonder what they will make of Pak’s traffic laws. Other cities around the world expect their public services to perform with efficiency, making stops at appropriate places and be punctual. There may be people out there who are trying to persuade the car owners to give up driving, use public transport and take up cycling. Climate change is now a paramount issue in the developing world.Recommend

  • SPiDY

    Awesome article….i came across almost every point u discussed …..!!Recommend

  • lahore

    not to mention the melodramatic beggars and entertaining quacks and hawkers.Recommend

  • Khizra Sohail

    Simply brilliant Madiha :) I havent seen anyone sketching it with such animation anywhere. Totally loved it!! Look forward to some more of your reads :)Recommend

  • Ahmed 3442

    Well this is pakistani transport for you. Excellent observation and then putting pen to paper which very few of us do nowadays.Recommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    nice blog, just want to mention that this whole situation is because any one can become a transporter, without proper papers and license.Recommend

  • Hunza wala

    Brilliant writing. Absolutely fantastic. Funny too.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Writing about simple day-to-day things and doing it well, is in itself an art……….and you have done this very well.Recommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    Thank you for the appreciationRecommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    thanks for appreciatingRecommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    thank you and appreciatedRecommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    very true that’s the dilemma over here in Pakistan, but thanks for the appreciationRecommend

  • Shehzad

    Also lets not forget that incessant sneezing on each other that goes on in the cramped quarters of the buses. I think the amount of germs that I caught on D-10 are enough to keep me resistant for life.Recommend

  • shamaila Abdullah

    Nice observations, thoroughly enjoyed reading and yes was able to visualize each points keep writing !Recommend

  • zabby zabby

    not only in pakistan in country like india also it is the sam econdition,where buses will be fully loaded.Recommend

  • Fatima Desai

    So true…. travelling in a public van especially in karachi is itself an adventure… u r lucky to get a seat and if not you you would forget the rollercoaster ride…
    Very well written and compiled writeup. Looking forward for more:)Recommend

  • Sane

    Point 11
    You may taken into a surprise when a man showing gun asks you to handover your cell phone and money you have.Recommend

  • Random

    Economically speaking an increase in petrol prices can lead to CNG becoming expensive, thus leading to higher fares.
    Just saying!
    Brilliant article nevertheless.Recommend

  • Sadaf Saleem

    I remember when my bus traveling days, every day i use to learn different “Bus k songs”Recommend

  • Ahmed

    superb blog…..u refresh old memories…:)Recommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    bus ke songs how can i forget…these songs i have only heard in public buses as normally these weird songs are not played anywhere else..:)Recommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    good to relive your good old moments :)Recommend

  • Dr urooj

    Once driver never stopped the bus at stop anddd i jumped from the bus lol after that i realize ohh its quite dangerous but i was fine and alive lolRecommend

  • SAMI

    Fantastic article and a bit funny. love those songs(only there in that ”Mazda”) when i used to travel in those buses during my university days.Recommend

  • dj

    in india metro citis are quite diffrent but rural area has the same problamRecommend

  • Laura Anne Jeffs

    If you are white , like me and happen to unfortunately need a bus , Its the equivalent of going up on stage in front of a thousand staring eyes ;)Recommend

  • Naresh Pakistani

    Excellent writing. I must say, you shared what actually happen in public bus. And also you forgot to mention that, even If passengers are in bus, the bus will stop for CNG fillings, irrespective of you are getting late.Recommend