Taking the ‘tobis’

Today I experienced my first bus commute in Casablanca on the occasion of my first visit to the Ben M’Sik campus of l’Université Hassan II. (More on that later!)

After taking a cab in the morning, to the tune of 30 Dh, I decided that it was high time try out the buses in Casa. The “tobis” (variation on the French word “autobus”) is much more affordable, at 4 Dh per trip—about fifty cents (USD), or forty Euro centimes.

I’ve heard that commuters can wait up to 45 minutes for their bus, but mine was already at the bus stop, sitting idle, when I left the university. I climbed in tentatively, and confirmed with the few passengers already in the bus that #97 goes to Maarif, a neighborhood close to where I’ve been staying.

I took a seat right in front, behind the driver, and we waited for a few minutes while the driver took a cigarette break before taking off.

The bus network in Casablanca is covered by several companies. I’ve counted three different ones so far. The price is always the same, but the quality of the buses varies. I’m told that the bus I took today is part of the inferior fleet. All buses were sold to Moroccan companies, “pre-owned” as they say, by European companies. Legend has it that the buses end their days in sub-Saharan Africa.

Judging by how empty the bus was when I first got in, I think we started out at the end of the line. The bus got more and more crowded as we went along. Unlike in the gridded universe of Chicago, the bus routes wind around neighborhoods in a way that doesn’t make sense to the uninitiated. All I know is, #97 to Maarif, #97 to Maarif… Googlemaps tells me that most direct route to the university from where I live is around 16 kilometers. The bus trip took around a half hour, although I’m not quite sure where I ended up. I had to walk a ways to get home.

Passengers get on mostly in the back, and pay their fare to a guy who hands out tickets on tiny, slim pieces of paper. Buses can get incredibly crowded. Thankfully, I spent my first trip sitting comfortably, but when I’m walking in the streets I see bus after bus go by, “standing room only.”

As far as seating etiquette goes, I saw a mentally handicapped guy get on and ask a man to relinquish his seat in the front, which he did right away. I offered my seat to an older lady who nearly went flying to the front of the bus when the driver stopped suddenly, but she declined graciously. People were nothing but polite and helpful, despite being crammed in with a very hot and sweaty crowd of riders. The driver kept the front door open during much of the trip, so there was a wonderful breeze.

A few days ago I read an article in the daily francophone newspaper Le Matin whose title translates to: “Buses and taxis: inconsiderate drivers” (Sept. 13, 2010). The main complaint is that professional drivers—well, often qualified as “some drivers”—are concerned only with taking in the most money possible, and in cutting corners and taking risks demonstrate their “lack of respect for the human lives” they’re carrying. The article is actually about El Jadida, another city not far from Casablanca.

Casa, the most populous city in Morocco, also has very intense traffic, in both volume and, let’s say, style. My taxi rides have been ‘fast and furious’ and today’s bus ride was pretty bumpy. Generally, though, even private drivers take all kinds of risks. The term, “defensive driving” comes to mind, only exaggerated and taken to its conclusion: “Expect anything, at any time. That being said, just go for it and let the other guy react!”


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Filed under Casablanca, Transportation, Urban Morocco

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