Some of the teenagers may not measure up, but there are others who are zeroes too.

Once again, the pamphlets are out, exhorting youth to be good when riding buses. Boys who want to impress by boarding buses on the move and hang on to the grab bars and windows near the footboards are being told by police that they are just zeroes. Strong message there.

Remember, Road Safety Week, that ritual involving rallies, ponderous speeches and pious pledges is just a couple of weeks away (see this slideshow from the event last year, which shows some school students on the footboard). The RTOs and the police simply cannot afford to have more disasters like the one on OMR that killed four students on their hands, certainly not when the Madras High Court is taking a close look at the situation. No one knows whether the MTC will be asked to participate actively during Road Safety Week in January 2013 and get its drivers to stop at traffic signals when they turn red.

I can vouch that it is almost impossible to avoid overcrowded buses and occasionally stand on step two at least, if you have to travel in Chennai during peak hour. A similar situation is true for suburban trains as well. But the question really is about the footboard 'heroes'. Why are these teenagers performing these death-inviting stunts, not just on MTC buses but on the MRTS suburban trains? Is it because they have little opportunity to engage in other sports? In Chennai, one would certainly think it is difficult to expend extra energy, given that public spaces are few, and access to sports severely curtailed. Why sport, it is impossible to even walk along roads.

Which brings us to the issue of alienation. Do the people of Chennai identify with their bus service? I think not. They appear to think it is at best a service that is meant for those who have no alternative, and the experience of using it often leaves one angry and frustrated. MTC crews in general would win a contest for rude behaviour hands down. There are some zeroes there as well.

So when the other ritual, Bus Day, is celebrated by colleges, students decide to give vent to their alienation by clambering on to the roof of the bus and hanging from every possible side. This appears to be their assertion of their importance and the momentary helplessness of the crew. Sometimes, the students extend the Bus Day behaviour to other days, singing loudly, making catcalls and banging on the sides of the vehicle, in a high-profile example of attention-seeking behaviour. (Incidentally, this is a different version of Bus Day in Pune).

All this would change if the Tamil Nadu government operated a professional bus service with good, comfortable vehicles that attract all types of commuters. It would also help if our leaders set a good example through demonstrable sincerity, and the police appeared more friendly to real heroes.