There have been plentiful articles written over the years about the problems we as privileged first-world humans face with public transport. So, you may be thinking, will this be a refreshing new outlook on public transport and all it has to offer us as a population, full of quirky anecdotes and affectionate memories, giving us all a refreshing thankfulness for this service? Well, no. It won’t. Because public transport is gross.
I used to have to get a bus every morning to school, waking up at the painful hour of 6:30 to catch a bus an hour later. Hence, I have plentiful experience with the tragic affair that is the public bus. An empty bus would quite literally turn my day around. I could have had the worst day at school in my living memory, yet getting on an empty bus would lift my spirits and make me thankful to be alive. My favourite place to sit was at the back of the lower deck. I was always afraid to dare to climb the stairs incase there weren’t any empty seats and I had to do the walk of shame back down. Not only do you have to face the passengers on the top deck who all simultaneously give you the death stare to make you feel as vermin-like as possible, but you also have to face the passengers below who knew all too well that you’ve made a mistake. If by chance there was a seat at the back of the bottom deck, there’s always that one cretin who sits facing the back of the bus, with one space between them and the window. So you have to decide whether or not you want to squeeze into the window seat, meaning you have to delicately climb over them, guaranteeing humiliation for both parties, and also making you look very sad and desperate for putting that much effort in just to get a seat. The other option is to ask them politely to move over. Haha.
Once you’ve got the seating issues out of the way, it’s time to survey your surroundings. Take a look at the people sitting around you. You get all sorts on the public buses, weird and wonderful human beings from all walks of life. There’s that girl who listens to the High School Musical soundtracks through her poor quality headphones, on full volume, allowing all the nearby passengers to enjoy the music along with her. There’s that woman who is always on the phone, and when she hangs up on one, pulls another out of her pocket and starts talking on it instead. And LOUDLY. There’s the man who always has a full bottle of milk with him and consumes it during the journey. There’s the dreamy boy who broke your heart when he got on the bus with another girl from your school. There’s the annoying woman who always runs for the bus in stiletto heels and always insists on finding a seat so she can read her glossy magazines. There’s the man who always gets on at the chip shop after buying a bag of something which smelled strong. Not good strong; fishy stank strong. Then there’s the little boy with the foul language. And the dad and his two kids who always insist on sharing their family dramas with the rest of the people onboard. And that’s just to name a few. When you get the same bus every morning, you start to recognise your crowd. You notice the new Year 7 kids starting school with their huge backpacks, and watch their slow disintegration as the year goes on. You know when the next load of people are going to be getting off, and you position yourself in the optimum place to grab the free seats. If someone who usually gets on at the same stop each morning fails to do so, you begin to worry about their welfare. As a lower-deck dweller, I would recognise people who I knew would go upstairs and know they weren’t coming near the seat where my bag was perfectly comfortable.
Why is it that we care so much about the opinions of the people whose paths we briefly cross on the bus? I would panic over whether or not they could hear my music playing through my headphones (the High School Musical event taught me not to be a fool). If I was reading, I would hold the book flat across my knees so people couldn’t see the front cover (unless it was a super intelligent book in which case I held it up in front of my face). If I got a haircut, I was more worried about the looks I would get from the regulars on the bus that what my friends at school thought. Who cares if they didn’t notice it? In my mind, my haircut was fresh news and everyone would be talking about it. If anyone started laughing, I automatically assumed it was at something I’d done – was it my face? My shoes? Give me a break! Furthermore, if I was sitting in the back corner seat, I would be consumed with thoughts about how I would make an elegant exit. Do I get up before the bus arrives at the stop and hope it didn’t make any sudden movements and cause me to be hurled forwards to my death? Or do I wait until it stops and make a break for it, sacrificing people’s feet and probably taking a few bags and coats with me as I went? Usually, I took this second option, muttering ‘thank you, sorry, thank you, cheers, thanks’ as I pushed my way out. Why did I feel the need to apologise that I lived nearby to this particular stop and that it was most convenient for me to exit the bus here? Then, before I could be free, I had one final bridge to cross. Do I thank the driver? If it was a busy bus, would he even hear me? If it was quiet, he would hear me, but so would everyone else. What if they think I’m showing off and being a prat? But I don’t want to seem ungrateful… Maybe the bus driver’s been having a shitty day and it would cheer him up?
Whenever the first transport coordinators created the first public bus, I doubt they thought that there would be so many issues. They thought it would be a way of improving our lifestyles and making it easier to get around. And yes, it does – when you have an under 18s Oyster card and get to use them for free. But as soon as you become an adult, you need to start paying – and now that it’s 2015, ‘cash is no longer accepted on buses.’ What about people who don’t have Oyster cards or haven’t been able to buy a ticket somewhere? What if they’re foreign? Aren’t we supposed to be a welcoming, diverse and accepting country? Yet we force people to buy a ticket just so that bus drivers no longer need a Maths degree in order to apply for the job and be able to count out the correct change. So it’s a corrupt system really. I’ll just walk.