April 16, 2004

The trouble with buses

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys

I hate buses. There. I said it. I got it out. I mean it. I just don't like them. Never have. And I will go to considerable lengths to avoid using them.

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A few years ago I spent 3 months working in Milan. While I was happy to take the metro or the tram, I would suffer just about any indignity rather than take the bus. Much the same is true of London - so it's not just a question of language or unfamiliarity with the system.

It's not difficult to see why. Just lead yourself through a typical bus journey. You walk to the stop. [Incidentally, did you know that in London, at least, bus stops are a relatively recent invention? Post-war apparently. Before then all passengers needed to do to hold out their hands and the bus would stop at the side of the road. Considering that braking and acceleration would both have been more difficult/time-consuming in those days I find that pretty amazing.)

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Bearable
Anyway, you walk to the bus stop. Which is fine.

Until you get there.

There are no good bus stops. They range from the bearable to the truly appalling. At best you get an only-partially-vandalised shelter with some plastic seats and an LED display - the accuracy of which I wouldn't like to vouch for.

At worst you are taking your life in your hands.

Passenger information is dire. Which bus or combination of buses do I need? You try answering that question. If you are very lucky you'll have a map. But I struggle to recall any time when it was of any use. It's pure pot luck.

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Feeling lucky?
Next question: when will the bus arrive? Ha. Well, you could look at the timetable. Well, you could. But again, I've never really seen the point - their relationship with reality is very much only in passing. And the LED displays? Wrong too. Just more precise in their wrongness.

This is London. Outside (where buses are de-regulated) is, in my limited experience, far worse.

Eventually the bus, or buses, will arrive. There's a scrum to get on. You might find a seat though there's a good chance you'll be sitting next to a chav/ned/creep/weirdo. And the seat'll be too narrow and your knees'll get crushed. The ride is poor. The engine thunders. The vehicle sways in all directions. You can't read. Though perhaps I should look on the bright side. At least in London you won't have to put up with Awful Bus Smell, like they do in Miami.

It is just at this point, if your are me, that really hard part of the journey starts.

Where do I get off?

No clues.

It is not simply a matter of not being familiar with the area. Even if you are, you don't necessarily know where the stops are or even in which order the bus stops at them.

In fact, the only redeeming feature I can think of is (when it hasn't been completely colonised by the muggers and junkies) the top deck. On a summer's day in London travelling on the top deck is one of life's great pleasures. The sun is shining. London is beautiful. And the world meanders on.

But otherwise bus travel is awful.

Trackbacks

Why buses are crap
Patrick Crozier has a post on Transport Blog explaining why buses are never going to an acceptable substitute for train...
Where Worlds Collide on April 17, 2004

2004/04/18 11:52
Transport Blog on London buses
2lmc spool on April 18, 2004

Comments

I haven't travelled on a bus for years and plan to die before my next bus ride. Detestable things - I utterly hate 'em.

Unless they're vintage of course, then I have a passing interest....

Posted by Mark Ellott on April 16, 2004

C'mon, they're not that bad.

I agree with what you say regarding the general crapness of bus stops but the actual buses are perfectly bearable. OK, the ride's not as good as a train and I've never been on a tram for comparison but buses are generally clean and comfortable enough for shortish trips.

Judging by your repeated references to muggers, junkies, freaks, wierdos etc, you must live in a rougher part of town than me. In my (admittedly short) bus experience, my fellow passengers have been reassuringly normal.

Finally, how much luxury do you expect when bus travel is so outrageously cheap?

Posted by Not Responding on April 16, 2004

I am similar: I will generally go a long way to avoid catching a bus. (By comparison, I actively like catching trains). However, the exception is in central London. I like going to the very front of the top deck, and watching London go by. (It's interesting that you at least partly share this attitude). Which is why I find Ken's desire to favour bendy buses over the double deck ones particularly irritating.

I don't have any huge attachment to the Routemasters though, as some people do. Replacing old red double deck buses with new reddouble deck buses is largely fine by me.

Posted by Michael Jennings on April 16, 2004

And I am with "not responding". The passengers I encounter on London buses seem to generally just be normal Londoners, very similar to those I would meet anywhere else.

Posted by Michael Jennings on April 16, 2004

I can't say from London buses, but I absolutely loathe buses here in the US and Canada. I have yet to figure out how bus schedules are supposed to be read (and yes, I'm a Professional Engineer). Is the bus running today? Is it running at this hour? Will it be running when I want to return? Which stop is first? Which is last? Nobody I know likes buses, even those who know the systems inside and out. I've heard from people in the city here that they use the buses as motivation to work harder so that they can buy a car, and never have to ride the bus again.

If you're going to force 'mass transit' on a populace, I can understand the pros of buses (they're certainly at least even, and perhaps ahead, of light rail / trams here) but they really are odious, and noone rides them unless they really have no choice.

Posted by Highway on April 16, 2004

I wholeheartedly agree. I have to give myself at least a half hour grace period to make appointments if I'm catching the bus, because it's just so unpredictable. (Tonight, I gave myself 45 minutes, and still was just bang on time to meet someone.) But yes, taking in London -- or most cities, I've found -- from the top of a doubledecker is indeed glorious.

Posted by Jackie on April 16, 2004

Pity me; I have to use a rail replacement bus every day to get to work (for five whole months) while they're rebuilding my bit of the West Coast Mainline to take Richard Bransons crap Pendolinos.

Posted by Tim Hall on April 17, 2004

I am biased, but totally agree with Patrick. However, here in north Shropshire, 'Arriva' have their own operating schedules which rarely agree with the published timetable. This results in the majority of buses in this area operating with fewer than 10 passengers. You will always get a seat, but dependent on the year built, leg room and sitting over the wheel can be a great joy!!!

Posted by Brian Hayes on April 17, 2004

I might be a little contrarian here and say that I don't mind travelling by bus. I even travelled the two thousand miles or so from Sydney to Cairns by bus.

I'm reminded, though, of a story I heard in Glasgow about a trainee bus driver. His instructor said to him once, "Slow down a bit and let the bus behind you overtake so that he can get the passengers at the next stop."

When the trainee asked why, his instructor replied, "Trust me son, an empty bus is a happy bus."

Posted by Andy Wood on April 17, 2004

Think you're a bit OTT here - sorry.

I take the bus regularly - and, yes, OK, I do live in Central London - but I can't say I've noticed the weirdo quotient on buses being any higher than anywhere else. Nor do they smell as utterly rank as the tube.

As for bus stops being dangerous - I mean, c'mon, you must have an absurdly low danger threshold. Stay at home and wrap yourself in cotton wool if these sort of things really worry you.

Posted by Young Fogey on April 20, 2004

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