The Sound of Sirens


I could hear the siren approaching from behind me, but I couldn’t see what it was coming from—cars were squeezed five and even six across in the three lanes of the road.  Lane lines don’t mean much here in Mumbai.  Then an ambulance emerged, crossing over the median and driving straight into the oncoming nighttime traffic.  It was just like a movie car chase scene where the lead car tries to escape by driving against traffic.  Only this wasn’t a movie—it’s daily life here in a traffic-clogged city.  The ambulance driver was waving his arm outside the window, motioning cars to make way—and they were slowly, grudgingly doing so.

Before heading to Mumbai to work for 1298, a private ambulance company that provides free service to the poorest (1298 is the telephone number you call for one of their ambulances), one of the most common questions I was asked was how ambulances can get around in such a congested city.  Why bother calling an ambulance if it’s going to be stuck in traffic just like everyone else? 

The answer is that, if you’re going be stuck in traffic on your way to a hospital, you are much better off in an ambulance with life-support equipment and a doctor.  A taxi or a private car won’t get you there any faster, and it won’t have a resuscitation kit or a defibrillator (at least none of the taxis I’ve ridden in are so equipped…).  My colleagues at 1298 tell me that a culture of making way for ambulances is beginning to emerge here, though apparently there is no government regulation requiring vehicles to pull aside.  One of the challenges facing 1298 is how to speed up another sort of cultural change—encouraging people to call ambulances during an emergency rather than getting into the nearest vehicle to make the trip to a hospital.  I’ll be writing more about how 1298 is marketing its services over the coming months.

One Response to “The Sound of Sirens”

  1. Catherine Casey Says:

    Chris, cool to see our conference room conversations taking shape! look forward to hearing how your ideas develop.

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