Pune’s reputation as the ‘Oxford of the East’ stands tall not only because of the city being home to a majority of the foreign students in Maharashtra but also for its popularity as an educational hub of India.
With India attracting many of its foreign students from lower-developed, developing countries, Pune has been able to take advantage of the same as it attracts a chunk of the more than 4,900 foreign pupils currently residing in Maharashtra.
But despite having student favourite institutions such as Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) and Symbiosis University, Pune’s troubles with lack of public transportation have forced many in its international cohort to turn to a local alternative: bikes and scooters.
Though many tried to give the city’s public transport, long distances, a chance, persisting issues with the same turned them to the comforts of a two-wheeler to reach their respective colleges.
“Back in Sudan, I never had to ride a bike or a scooter as we only used cars or buses to go from one place to another. I learned how to ride a scooter once I reached Pune but avoided learning to ride a bike as I was a bit scared,” stated Osman Saad, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Computer Application in the city.
Osman Saad |
Traffic, fear of accidents fail to deter students
Others like Mohamed Tarig have already witnessed the city’s tussle with transportation but choose to stick with personal vehicles.
“Because Pune is a big city and traffic jams are a major issue, I got a bike for myself to move around the city not only for my lectures but also to buy daily essentials,” stated Tarig, who is doing his Master’s from D.Y. Patil Vidyapeeth in Pune.
“One of my friends was involved in an accident a while ago which also scared me but such instances are not commonplace,” added Tarig.
Mohamed Tarig |
Though the National Family Health Survey-5 report from last year, which showcased how 54% of the Indian population relies on two-wheelers for daily commute signals the country's overreliance on the same, it has resulted in an adverse ranking for Pune in the ‘clean urban mobility index’ from 2018.
According to the index, under the ‘high emission and energy use’ category in urban mobility, Pune was ranked in the bottom half of cities with ‘clean urban mobility’.
“If I had a class at 7:30 AM, the traffic and congestion were so much that I used to reach 30 mins late daily for a distance of only 15-20 minutes. Though the roads are big and wide in Pune, it would be great if public transport is made more accessible and cheaper for students,” said Babucarr Secka, from Gambia, who studies at Modern College Of Arts, Science, and Commerce Shivajinagar.
Babucarr Secka |
Pune’s tryst with roadside accidents is also not uncommon with data released by the city’s traffic police, in December 2022, showing nearly 293 Punekars lost their lives in road accidents in 2022, which is the highest since 2018.
“I usually drive my scooter in and around the campus as my accommodation is there, but fear of accidents has led me to not take out my scooty that often. If I am going to travel longer distances, I take a cab,” stated Selam Genene, who hails from the East African country of Ethiopia.
Selam Genene |
Local languages put foreign students in a fix
With the mode of language in public transport being mostly in Hindi or Marathi, the foreign students cite the lack of understanding as a major reason for them to avoid using buses or rickshaws.
“When I used to travel in public transport, I didn’t understand the words on boards or how to speak Marathi or Hindi. Though it’s a much cheaper option, I opt to pay around 400-500 rupees in a week to fuel the bike,” said Gift Utah, a Nigerian student who is doing his MBA.
Sailing through the Indian traffic police experience
Though paying fines, and getting stopped by the traffic police is seen as a common ‘hassle’ on Indian streets, some like Gift think otherwise.
“Though my scooty has been picked up once by the traffic police for being parked wrongly, they are generally very nice and kind,” added the student.
Despite the number of women riders increasing manifold since the introduction of scooters in the country, harassment has been a problem with foreign girl students not being immune to the same.
Harassment from men on streets remains a concern
“There have been instances where I have been followed by other men on bikes or shown obscene gestures by them but I usually avoid it as all my focus is on driving considering I just recently learned it in Pune,” said Angela Rankwane, a Bcom student, from Botswana.
Angela Rankwane |
Foreign pupils play smart with scooter, bike selling
The secret behind so many foreign students using two-wheelers for day-to-day use in Pune lies in a smart strategy that has turned out to be a lifesaver.
“Students who are usually leaving India sell the scooters or bikes to other foreigners who are coming to the country. So everybody pays a reasonable price and uses the vehicles during their stay,” added Angela, who hopes to maintain the condition of her scooty during the rainy season as she plans to sell it to another international student soon.