Bus fail

Feb. 19th, 2012 10:33 am
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
On Thursday a colleague invited a couple of us to dinner in a part of town I haven't been to before. I misunderstood the travel website and the map I looked up and ended up catching a bus in the wrong direction. I only realized my mistake when the bus arrived at the terminus in Hanley. Unluckily, it turned out that the bus didn't immediately turn round and go back, but set off on a different route. So I had to wait in the bus station for 45 minutes for the bus going back in the direction I'd intended.

Hanley bus station is honestly not the greatest place to be alone after dark; I immersed myself in Dickens and tried not to notice the similarities between his descriptions and my surroundings. Anyway, the bus duly showed up, and in fact it was the same physical vehicle I'd arrived on, with the same driver. I explained to him that I'd made a mistake and was actually trying to go to a particular suburb. He proceeded to spend the whole journey to my real destination loudly berating me for being so stupid that I got on at the wrong bus stop, and telling me that I should have asked him for advice at the start of the journey and avoided going out of my way. I think he was trying to be friendly, just going about it in a slightly abrasive way. I just kept apologizing and trying to avoid sounding irritated at his retroactive advice; after all, I had made an error.

The whole conversation (well, him shouting at me and me apologizing from the back of the bus) was a bit farcical. I think my accent grew more and more southern English RP the more times I had to repeat my apology, while his grew more and more intense Potteries dialect. My accent climbs the social scale when I'm nervous, and it's unavoidable that my accent in general is much more prestigious than the local one. Plus I have loads of training at projecting my voice and speaking clearly, while the bus driver was both mumbling and shouting, having no real idea how to make himself heard over the engine noise while speaking to a passenger sitting a few seats behind. I think his repeatedly calling me stupid was a sort of defence against my implicitly pulling rank, though that wasn't my intention, it's just that I happen to have the accent and speech patterns I have.

On Friday the bus home is always slow because it's mega-rush hour. You usually end up waiting at the bus stop while 2 or 3 stuffed full buses go past, and then you get stuck in traffic. On top of this expected delay, the bus sat around in Newcastle for 20 minutes for no obvious reason, and then the bus driver, distracted, took a wrong turn and had to go round in a loop to get back to his intended route. In this case the bus driver was clearly "in the wrong", though he'd made a completely understandable and not dangerous mistake. The bus was full of students who were quick to castigate him; they're teenagers who are just finding their feet in the world and learning how to get good service by projecting authority. They're also people who (like me) expect to go through life receiving service and having their burgeoning authority respected. As on the previous day, the bus driver was getting stressed and becoming increasingly unintelligible, which in this case was particularly unhelpful as he was trying to give us information about how he would get us to our destinations.

In the end the worst consequence to me was that my commute took about 85 minutes instead of the usual 40. But it also made me think about how it comes about that "people like me" don't generally take buses; people take buses because they can't afford private cars. I love public transport, and it's partly a matter of principle that I've resisted learning to drive. In these instances, I would have wanted the bus drivers to behave differently (not calling me stupid / driving along the correct route), but I also didn't want to throw my weight around. The expected middle-class response I suppose is to write to the bus company and complain, but the consequences of that on the bus drivers would be out of proportion to their original missteps. But if lots of people who took buses (other than that one route between the university and the smart area of town, which not coincidentally has newer shinier vehicles and a more frequent, reliable service than pretty much anywhere else) were the sort of people who expect decent service, then public transport would not suck anywhere near as much as it does.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-19 11:02 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: alex and maggie next to each other (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
But it also made me think about how it comes about that "people like me" don't generally take buses; people take buses because they can't afford private cars. I love public transport

Yes. I don't love it, actually; I do believe in it on a fundamental level, though, and use it frequently.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-19 11:45 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: alex and maggie next to each other (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
specific examples of public transport when they are unreliable, overpriced, dirty and unpleasant, and liable to leave you stranded in dodgy areas late at night

Quite. *g*

I love the principle

This. Everything you say there.

Even in this country, where depending on the place the options are in fact available and perfectly serviceable, not all people chose public transport.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-22 02:42 pm (UTC)
pplfichi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pplfichi
Quite. I'm a Londoner and am always shocked when I visit most other places in the UK. Here it is reasonable to only want a car for transporting lots of heavy stuff, and lots of people do exactly this. But then we do have the most subsidized public transport infrastructure in the country and the non bus/tram parts of it are still difficult for those on low incomes to afford.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-19 04:05 pm (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
You make me realise I should probably keep using my complaining powers about public transport (and use FixMyTransport more too).

The cost of insuring young drivers has risen a lot recently, so I wonder if that will have a longer-term effect in reducing the number of drivers? Neither Tony nor my brother J have learned to drive, making me the sole driver in the household, and while we continue to live and work where we do there is no incentive to change this.

Pregnancy has put me off driving: I'm too tired too much of the time to manage long-distance and soon I'll be too big to sit comfortably. If the new baby is like its sibling, it will be easier to manage on trains than in cars.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-19 06:08 pm (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I've had the "but surely you need a car with children" conversation an awful lot.

It depends how much you feel you need to carry with you, really. But I had a clingy breastfed baby who hated not being held - and because I'm the driver, would cry inconsolably in cars if I was driving and not holding him. On trains, I could hold him, feed him, change him (if there was a half-decent changing facility), take him into vestibules if he was noisy, all on demand. It was a lot easier all round.

We got pretty good at travelling minimally: nappy bag, sling, buggy-if-needed, plus a daysack for the adults (and a wheely suitcase between us if overnighting). The worst bit is lugging a car seat on a train because the 'last mile' is going to be a car at the other end, and the people you're visiting don't have a child seat.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-20 10:11 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Yes, as much as I'd love to say "BAN ALL CARS NOW" we clearly need to fix the non-car transport alternatives first. I'd hope to see a gradual transition towards public transport, so it gradually gets more money and can invest it in sensible improvement... but mostly what we seem to get is people complaining.

I lovelovelove trains, I'd really much rather sit on a train than in a car. I have much less love for buses though; in part because of the often very bad driving, but in part just because I get motion sick in them (less than in cars though).

I have to actively remind myself that few people can afford to live as close to their work as I do, and that as such not needing motorised transport at all is a big privilege.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-20 08:25 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Trains are very expensive; I'm not sure if that is an unavoidable property of trains, or a property only of our system. I'm not sure that cheap long-distance travel is sustainable; hopefully it is.

In Cambridge I'd estimate that taking the bus takes the same time as walking (once one factors in waiting for the bus and so forth); and for the most part I'd rather walk (Cambridge is very small though, so more walkable than many places). Although if I have heavy luggage I might take the bus.

I shall have to look up Jane Jacobs.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-21 11:12 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Of course all people need to be able to get where they are going; and that means that we (society) do need to provide means to get around other than "under your own steam". Buses (when well run) can be an important part of a good integrated transport network.

I think we do also need to promote walking and cycling for those people who can walk and cycle (which I think is more than those who currently do; but clearly less than everyone); including things like improving the traffic so that it is less scary (in Cambridge I think that means retraining half the bus drivers...) and providing education in dealing with things like "cycling in scary traffic" and perhaps even things like "coping with being out in bad weather".

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-22 10:45 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Yes, infrastructure would be nice. It needs to be properly thought through though - a lot of "tacked on" stuff isn't just insufficient, it can be actively unhelpful.

A course may help you gain confidence in the Fight Against Traffic, it's definitely a skill that has to be learned quite separate from "how to make a bike go".

(no subject)

Date: 2012-02-20 02:14 pm (UTC)
redbird: subway train, the cars sometimes called "redbirds" (redbird train)
From: [personal profile] redbird
Yes. My local public transit is far from perfect, but it's better than in a lot of places, because a lot of the people riding could afford something else, and/or know how to complain effectively. But that's partly an artifact of how crowded this city is. It is both symbolic and relevant that the mayor takes the subway to work, has done for years before he was mayor, and does so because it's the fastest way to get from where he lives to either City Hall or the offices he worked in before that. Faster than driving, even if you have a chauffeur so you don't have to include "time to find a parking space" in that. This isn't true at every hour: the A train may not be the fastest way for me around at night. But it's true precisely when the most people are affected.

I may have told you how surprised I was, at 16, to see a sign on the Washington Metro "last train leaves this station at xx:yy," because I was so used to a 24-hour system. (There may be a last C train, but there will be some train serving the station unless they're doing maintenance: the system as a whole closes only for very rare weather disasters and strikes.)

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