On the buses

5 Jan

Having been a seasoned traveller of buses, it never fails to make a very bad impresssion on me. I suppose one could say “well, why don’t you learn to drive?” The thing is, I did take driving lessons many years ago. In fact,  twice a week I forced myself to sit in the drivers seat and make a haphazard  guess as to what to do next. I couldn’t focus or concentrate, my co-ordination was not the best to say the least. I think, after all said and done, although the driving instructot was very calm, patient and re-assuring, I think he was inwardly frustrated with my efforts and eventually, I just gave up. Truth is,unlike my peers over the years, I just didn’t feel motivated, have the strong urge or desire to learn how to drive four wheels  around the streets of Birmingham. I suppose I followed after my non-car driving parents but that’s another story.

So now, I choose to use public transport to take me from A to B. I suppose I could say I’m being friendly to the environment, being a beacon of the “Green” initiative, having to save on using car fuel, MOT expenses etc. However, what used to be a not-too-pleasant experience anyway, is becoming more and more of a travelling nightmare in the city.

When I lived in Devon for almost three years, although the pace of life was considerably slower, at least the buses were clean, the drivers were pleasant, the bus journeys occured without any incident or a passenger spewing a mouthful of abuse and it seemed to carry the similar  childhood memories of bus travel. Meaning that the drivers seemed to hold a form of authority and commanded a level of respect.

In comparison to travelling by bus in the City of Birmingham. A number of bus drivers appear too timid to speak up, just look as if they want to get on with driving the buses or give the impression that they are the lords of transport. There are others who are too busy chatting to friends or regulars, or flirting with females and some who choose to ignore fare dodgers for whatever reason or allow certain types of passengers to board the buses without paying their full fares. Some people choose not to pay, think they can have a free ride, feign ignorance or adopt a “swagger”, others deliberately create an aggressive atmosphere, as witnessed last Wednesday evening, when a youth was stopped and he provoked the police officer and the police community support officer to “search him”.

We have signs that say do not abuse the driver, the passenger has a right to make a comment, compliment, suggestion or general enquiry, fare dodgers and smokers would be fined, a seat is available for those with pushchairs, elderly persons or disabled although they are constantly in use by more able bodied people either chatting, on the phone or too selfish to move and passengers pushing and shoving, who do not appear to have any spacial awareness, consideration for others, stubborn in their lack of movement or just too self absorbed in their own world.

Then, there is the smells. A certain aroma wafts and drifts around the bus and either the driver is too cautious and chooses not to say anything or has a major nose block not to notice the strong scent of weed  coming down the stairs. Although there is a sign up on the windows saying there would be a fine of £1000 if anyone is caught smoking cigars, cigarettes or  marijuana on the bus. Not that I’ve heard of or seen anyone being fined that amount over the years… The buses themselves, when not smelling of cannabis, tend to have lingering musty smells, which may emit from individuals, the stagnant food or chicken, fish and chips strewn on the floor or the heat of wet bodies pressed together after boarding the bus from being drenched in the rain. The floors are pressed with manky copies of Metro, a local newspaper available in most parts of the country, or cans of pop or alcohol or general rubbish and the windows are no longer vandalised in a way that made them look “artistic” as they did back in the hey day of the 70’s and 80’s with felt marker pens. In the last few years, with the introduction of shatterproof glass in the window panes, we have “etchings” of rude words, street slang, abusive words, “name tags” or just general scratchings. They tend to look as if they have been scraped in with a key, a ring or knife.

Bus shelters are no longer the scene of  gentle banter, quiet acknowledgements, a respectable queue, the home for love birds or even a “quickie”. They are constantly vandalised. Within days of a new one installed, it looks as if it been around for a long time and destroyed with more inane graffiti or “etchings!”  and a lot of people tend to rush to get on as if their life depended on it. What’s the rush? It ain’t gonna move until everyone is on. And if you were to say something to a certain type of person, you may receive a look that kills, a kiss of the teeth or a “glasgow kiss”. In some cases, even more horrendous things have occurred like being stabbed, maimed or murdered…

A bus journey no longer feels a safe form of transport in the city. When I was a child, we used to watch a television comedy series, “On The Buses”. There may have been politically incorrect banter amongst other things, but at least the fictional characters had pride in their work, the buses themselves were clean, bus inspectors and conductors who demanded and commanded respect and their word against the passenger was taken as rightful. If they told you you couldn’t get on/off or no music to be played, that was a given. They were respected and authoritive public figures. Looking back over real life experiences, right up until my late teens, that impression held some truth in it.

But today, that respect and authority has gone. I doubt it if we will ever get it back. I can understand why some people call  for the return of Conductors and Inspectors, a bit like asking for the return of Matrons in hospitals.

Sometimes, even the well intentioned plans need to have a strong sense of leadership.

What do others think about the state of our buses and what are your experiences ?


The Learned Kat


2 Responses to “On the buses”

  1. artdecal January 5, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks I enjoyed reading your post, every time I return to the UK can see that. On the buses was great.

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