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.
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