Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The wheels on the bus

I have always been an advocate of public transport, especially for those who live and work on a main arterial route into a city. Everyone knows the reasons why they should get the bus to work: less cars on the road means less fumes to slowly choke the world; less traffic on the roads means fewer jams and delays; being more active walking to and from the bus stop; it's cheaper than driving; no need to find a parking space in an overcrowded city centre… the list goes on. And yet most people stick to their car.

The government are constantly pushing for more people to stop using their cars and start using sustainable public transport. The Department for Regional Development has just begun a public consultation on their revised Regional Transportation Strategy and public transport is a running theme throughout, with the phrase itself appearing 71 times in the 61 page document. However I think they've nailed the crux of the matter on the head when they say, "we cannot expect transport users to change to a perceived inferior choice simply because it is best for the region or environment" (page 19 of the consultation document).

I must admit that I never really understood people's reluctance to travel by public transport more often, especially when they live on a main route with a bus stop practically outside their front door - I just put it down to sheer laziness and stubborness - but over the last year or so I have been gradually turning into a grumpy old woman (at the age of 27) and quite frankly I'm starting to get it. Not quite the direction DRD were hoping public opinion would swing in I imagine.

My biggest pet peeve is when people play music from their mobile phones out loud on the bus. NOBODY wants to hear your music, let alone if they've been at work all day and have a mild headache coming on - use headphones you selfish sonofabitch! However it's becoming more frequent now to the point where I'm actually relieved when I get on a bus and am greeted with nothing but the sound of the mummies on the bus going chatter, chatter, chatter (all day long). And it unfortunately has a knock-on effect because, in order to combat this blatant invasion of our ears, more people have started wearing their headphones on the bus and listening to their own music to drown out the unwanted noise pollution. That's fine, except when they then turn their volume up really loud, and then all you can hear is, "tssshhhh tssshhhh tssshhhh tssshhhh" at different volumes and tempos coming from all around you. I'm not great at coping with more than one noise at once so this actually pains me. Increasingly the thought now comes to me that if I had a car I would only have to listen to what I wanted to listen to.

On Friday I was on my way home on the bus and as I sailed by the stop before mine, I pressed the button to ring the bell. It didn't work but I figured, hey, no biggie, that happens all the time, and walked to the front of the bus with plenty of time to spare and waited for it to stop. It didn't. The bus driver had clearly not noticed me standing there but when I said "sorry this stop please" he had the audacity to actually (and obviously) ignore me. So I said it a little (ok, a lot) louder. Essentially what followed was an argument whereby the jackass driver refused to stop the bus until the stop after mine because it was (clearly) my fault that the bell was broken and that he hadn't been paying sufficient attention to notice someone standing about two feet away from him and I said I was going to report him for being a complete bastard. I sent an email to Translink reporting his ridiculous behaviour and rude attitude and apparently it has been "passed to the relevant department". I hope he gets a bollocking. Increasingly the thought now comes to me that if I had a car I would be able to alight from my vehicle where I wanted to and without an earful of abuse from someone who clearly hates their job.

A few months ago I got on the bus and sat on a seat at the front of the top deck. After a few seconds I noticed there was a strange smell. After a few more seconds I realised my jeans were damp. To this day I have no idea what was on that seat - just that it was wet and smelled bad. I was heading to my mum's for the evening and facing a night of sitting around in smelly, wet jeans, I got off the bus at Asda Living to buy emergency pyjamas to wear instead. There are often strange smells on the buses, similar to body odour, which are not pleasant. Thankfully unexplained wet patches are a little rarer but evidently not as absent as I would like. Increasingly the thought now comes to me that if I had a car I would at least know what any random damp patches or smells were, if not avoid them altogether, and I wouldn't have to spend my hard-earned money on emergency clothing.

At the weekend I had just finished a long workout at the gym and had made my way to the bus stop to go home. It was a Sunday afternoon in the city centre, when all the shops were open, and I was aiming to get a bus going down one of the busiest roads in/out of the city centre. I had to wait 15 minutes… and I was glad it was such a "short" waiting time because on Sunday evenings after the gym the Yorkshireman and I have often been faced with waits of 25 minutes or more… for a 10 minute bus journey! Yesterday morning I arrived at the bus stop just after three buses had gone sailing past. It was 7:56am. There was one due at 7:58am, but this was one that I had just seen go by. The next was due at 8.05am and the one after at 8.12am. At 8.13am I got on a bus. That's 17 minutes of standing at a bus stop and not earning flexi time at work. It also meant I missed my connecting bus in town, which meant I arrived in work 25 minutes later than usual. I lost 25 minutes of working time because one bus was slightly early (fair enough I suppose) and another was almost 10 minutes late (not fair enough). Increasingly the thought now comes to me that if I had a car I would be able to leave whenever I was ready, not when a bus decides to rock up.

So even though I know all the reasons why I should use public transport, I increasingly find myself tempted by advertisements for driving lessons. I don't think I will learn to drive right now, but increasingly that choice has less to do with my scruples about the environment and more to do with the cost of lessons, tests, a car, road tax, insurance, petrol, etc. So, Minister Murphy, you're right, public transport is a "perceived inferior choice", even for those of us committed to using it - I'll be intrigued to see what changes actually come out of this consultation to change my mind back again.


  1. I have a big problem with translink, they are publicly subsidized to the tune of quite a few million pounds a year, they have been given a monopoly yet they still charge well above the odds on the metro service. That coupled with the fact a large percentage of their drivers are ignorant arrogant twats.

    Before i got my driving licence i relied on them and was let down many many times, if the drd want better public transport let other companys compete on a level playing field.

  2. Not a fan of the quango then? ;-) Fully agree with you that maybe a little competition would buck up their ideas but then others would maybe argue the solution is to bring them fully under the government's remit so that any profits are put back into improving the service. To be honest I'm not optimistic anything will improve the situation. Bring on the Belfast underground!