Next Stop, Please
By Barry Hill
Although I prefer to walk to town, I have occasion to get on what has been called by some ‘the peasant wagon’ – to catch a bus. Some of you might think that this is a straight forward task, and others might think that it’s an almost impossible one. Well, it’s somewhere in between but no less frustrating on times for that matter.
In the majority of cases there is no fault aimed at the driver, other than a bit of apathy perhaps. The biggest barrier for me to catch a bus is visual.
I catch the bus from town to home or to my parents. I know the stops these buses go from, but that doesn’t help me much. You see, the bus stops that these buses go from also have buses to other locations. To help you sighted people, there are digital displays telling how long to the bus you want. Then, as the bus comes along the road, you can see the number of the bus. Finally, when the bus is at the stop, there is the number of the bus on the side near the door. It’s all there as proud and helpful as a St John’s volunteer at a fete for volunteer ambulance people. Actually, not so loud really. In fact, it’s as loud as a St John’s volunteer mime artist (They’re much less common and rarely promoted).
I have two options. Option one is to rely on the kind members of public that may be waiting at the bus stop too. So far, none of them have had the imaginative malice to tell me the wrong number. I’d probably be quite annoyed at the time if someone did, but I’d be amused later. Option two is to wait until a bus pulls up and ask the driver.
There is always option three, I suppose, and that is to get on any bus and just see where it takes me. New horizons and new oportunities, or I could just get lost and have to ring someone to come and pick me up. I’m tempted.
Some people might be affronted that, when I stand at a bus stop, I always stand at the front regardless of how many people are in the queue. It is partly because of option two that I do this. The other reason is for practicality. I have a free bus pass, so I’ll not be holding up the queue for longer than it takes me to step onto the bus. There is also a slightly selfish reason. I like to get a seat near the front, preferably the one reserved for disabled or elderly people. You know the one. That’s the one that young mothers have their kids sat in. This is where the driver’s apathy is at fault. Ok, I might be a fairly fit and youngish man, but I am, essentially, disabled. I’m disabled by the environment of the bus. A sighted person can quickly glance down the bus and find an empty seat. I have to grope for one and, in doing so, tend to grope peoples legs if the front seat, the one reserved for disabled people, is taken. So far, I’ve not managed to grope the leg of a film star leading lady or rich philanthropist. It’s embarrassing for both parties, so I get on first.
I can’t really blame the bus companies for this, can I? Well, actually, I can. In London, other major cities and, oddly, one route between Leeds and Wakefield, they have talking buses. They’re not some bus version of Thomas the Tank Engine or Starlight Express; the buses have a speaker system linked up to satellite so that the bus knows where it is and announces what and where it is in a clear voice. Obviously, it doesn’t need to say that it’s the number 36 on the inside speakers and, likewise, it doesn’t need to say where it is on the outside speaker. Why not have these systems on all buses? Well, that’s the rhetorical question I scream every time a bus pulls up at my stop. Obviously, I scream it in my head, not out loud. Screaming obscenities at buses is not conducive to getting public help. The reason, as always, is down to the expense.
Another problem I have catching a bus cannot be solved by these talking bus systems, and that’s double parking. If a bus I don’t want is waiting at a bus stop, letting passengers on, and the bus I do want comes, it will usually park either behind or next to the one at the stop, depending on convenience. When this happens I rely on my Spidy sense to start tingling, or is it a message from my ghost guide, Geronimo, I can’t remember. Ok, in reality, the only way I will know if my bus is double parked is if a member of the public tells me or if it has gone way past the time the bus was due. That’s right, I know it’s been and gone way after I’ve missed it.
Where the talking bus would really come into its own is, like the train announcements, to let me know what stop I am at so I know where to get off. Still, even on the buses that have these announcements, they don’t work because the drivers turn them down. Why do they turn them down? It’s because they annoy the passengers. Yup, no kidding. Drivers turn them off because it irritates the passengers. They’d be a little more than irritated if they were to walk, or ride, a mile in my shoes. I’ve not been on one of these talking buses, but I’ve been on plenty of trains with stop announcements and the only complaint I hear about them is that it’s too damned quiet.
Until we have a reliable system to announce the stops, I have to rely on the memory of the driver to tell me when I’m at my stop, or on Geronimo to do so.