Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#143: Bus Stop

Can anyyyybody, fiiiind meeee, a bussssss that willllllll stop!

That first line makes more sense if you’re thinking of a certain Queen song, but the sentiment is there.

I’m firmly convinced that the current public transport system in this state is administered by Wang-Wang and Funi. Come to think of it, they couldn’t possibly do a worse job than whatever drunken monkey is in charge at the moment. Here’s my gripe.

We catch the bus into the city every morning. We started doing this after we did some simple sums and discovered that we were paying around $60 in parking costs each week, plus an extra $20 in petrol, not to mention wear and tear. All up I estimated that we were spending around $90 a week to drive our car into the city from an inner suburb. We got fat and lost nearly $200 a fortnight. So we got some Multi-trip bus tickets, at just over $30 a fortnight, and began to walk home. It takes us around 20 minutes to walk home, the fat fell off and is staying off and we’re up around $160 per fortnight and, so we’re told, saving the environment as a whole.

Sure thing. Have you seen the smoke spewing out of these monsters as they stop-start their way around the streets? Of course you have. It’s horrid. But that’s not the gripe. Nope, my gripe is the timetables, or really, the lack of.

The bus timetables are clearly as flexible as the drivers themselves. When we leave home we know that between 7:45 and 7:50 at least three, if not four, buses will come by our stop. Our stop is on a major road, there are no connecting roads, so the buses are all from the one place, going to the same place. If we get to the stop by 7:55 then there might not be another bus for up to twenty minutes, if not longer. We’ve given up trying to work out which bus is early and which is late. Its pot luck. If you get the early bus then you can rest assured that it’ll stop just outside of the city and idle for upwards of fifteen minutes, no matter what the weather is. The driver will sit there, oblivious to the passengers who are usually packed in like the proverbial small fish, sweating or freezing, breathing stale air and expiring quietly but unable to slip to the ground. There’s clearly a rule against a driver either opening a window, a door or turning on the air-conditioning. While you wait its fun to count the number of empty buses that will fly past, going down the same route. That’s right, empty.

You see only the first bus in the convoy will stop for passengers. The other buses will stop, but generally refuse to open their doors. At no point will any of the bus drivers do anything daring, such as actually overtake the first bus. God no, that is verboten! The first bus has to be so full that people are standing in door wells and stacked up to the roof like firewood before the bus will admit that it’s full.

Unless you get one of those drivers who refuse to stop the minute one person is standing up. They won’t place a ‘Full Bus’ sign up, they’ll simply let you flag them down, slow down and suddenly speed up without looking. I’m sure it’s a game they play to relieve their own boredom, same as their insistence that they have their own personal road rules to obey, which means that anyone else on the road can play "Guess what we're gonna do now?" and hope that an accident, or death, isn't imminent. It can be slightly amusing to look out of the back window of a bus and see the wide-eyed looks of horror on the faces of commuters as one of the Yellow Monsters just decides to peel out into the traffic with a driver who clearly thinks a rear view mirror is there so they can see how good they look and also believes that the roads are generally empty. Most of the drivers of the buses have advanced sign language skills and have no issue whatsoever in getting their message across if need be. The other trick is to suddenly slam on the brakes, thus sending people tumbling to the front of the bus. The flipside is the sudden take off, which has the effect of nearly tearing an arm out of it's socket and also sending people crashing into each other. Perhaps the drivers are trying to eliminate on-line and telephone services with their own unique, yet effective, version of speed dating. "Hello," I gasped to the girl as the bus took off and I found myself holding certain body parts, "nice to meet you." It was alright, her left elbow was firmly implanted into my neck and her right hand was using my groin as a handle of last resort before she also fell over. I'm sure she, like myself, would have preferred at least lunch first before reaching such a level of intimacy.

The other gripe is the age of the buses. In the past few months we’ve been catching a bus that’s so old that I firmly believe the graffiti on the back one of the seats that says ‘PS 4 DB’ was written by a girl who was sweet on me in my second year of high school. Hey – the initials match up and the handwriting looks familiar and the bus was certainly in service in 1981, which is when she would have written it. Plus it’s near the back of the bus where she’d sit. Memories. Alas, I never touched her, Horatio.

These vintage buses, or the Retro Bus as I call them, have had a new coat on paint slapped onto them in an effort to modernise them, but they’re not fooling me one bit. I had to catch myself only last week as I felt an irresistible urge to start singing ‘The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round’ at the top of my lungs. I’m sure a few people would have joined in. As it stands I’ve reverted back to my childhood by yanking the stop rope that runs across the roof in an effort to snap it, like we all did, well, at least us who operated outside of normal rules did during our school years. I love the Retro Bus. At least the graffiti is vintage, which means words are generally spelt correctly and the grammar is correct.

So who runs these buses? Lord only knows now, and He’s not telling. A safe bet is that nobody in senior management at any of the bus companies actually ever catches a bus (shock and horror if they ever did), certainly the Minister of Transport generally never goes near a bus unless there’s a camera present and the bus is brought to him/her (that’s historical really and applies to both the current, previous and future Ministers). Trains are fine, if you can avoid the bashings, abuse, hobos pissing on seats, wankers with iPods at full volume that only play doof doof techno (Eminem was right, techno is dead, so get over it), obese people sweating an endless supply of garlic, rat boys shitting in the corners and the endless supply of sleeping teenage Personal Assistants who dribble into their handbags every morning and afternoon, but at least they have to stop at some point and stick to a schedule. Bus drivers clearly make up their own rules.

It’s no use complaining. I once rang one of the companies to ask when the next bus was due. I was told that three buses had gone past my stop in the past twenty minutes. I replied that I’d been there for thirty and not seen a bus. I was then told that I was wrong, but at that moment four buses arrived, one full, the other three empty. When I mentioned this I was told that, again, I was wrong, even though the evidence was before my very own eyes. It mattered not, none of them stopped. I finally made it home…after a brisk walk.


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I had fun the other day where the driver blithely drove past me even though I was madly gesticulating. And since the only other time that bus goes is 2 hours later I went the long way home (after leaving some choicely worded negative feedback).

Tobias said...

"At the Bus Stop baby, whoa whoa whooooaaaa..." no wait, that's 'Car Wash' by Rose Royce...

I myself make use of the 542X. The X is meant to stand for express, but I'm sure it in fact represents the mathematical sign for an unknown factor, since it's a complete mystery as to when and indeed where it arrives.

Sometimes it's the 542G where the G used to stand for Golden Grove, but now stands for Get F**ked since it never goes there anymore.

Worst of all, there's the J1 or 'Jet Bus' which merely goes to the airport and resolutely refuses to fly or go faster than sound or anything.

Pilgrim. said...

If they were good drivers they wouldn't be driving buses.
Pilgrim 1,
Auckland Co-Oprative Taxi Society.

Anonymous said...

I've been a bus driver (and a librarian), and if it comes to the point where you see the passengers (or, indeed, books) as the enemy, it's well past time you left. --Martin