Friday, 9 May 2008

Loving London Buses

Taking the bus in London has been quite an eye opener for me. Way back when I lived in London (it’s not that long ago but things have changed in eight years) the norm was hop on hop off buses with a segregated driver and a conductor to take your money or see your travel card. Not many of these buses exist now but they had their pros and cons. In those days you could run for a bus you’d missed and take a leap of faith onto the platform. If there were traffic jams, you could hop off and start walking. The conductors were a mix of over-the-top happy or miserable as sin but generally kept things ticking along nicely. Once, with a broken leg in plaster, I struggled to get onto the bus with my crutches only to be told by the conductor there was no room downstairs and I must make my way up to the top! Thankfully, a kind gentleman saved me from breaking my other leg and offered me his seat! There was a certain camaraderie when taking the bus though they were pretty dirty vehicles, rather ancient and prone to breaking down!

Nowadays, things are very different. I don’t know if this is the same throughout London or just in the areas I have visited (the City through to the West End) but now you can purchase your ticket or top up your Oyster Card at regular bus stops. In fact you are encouraged to do so as it keeps buses on schedule. Most buses are now conductor-free with the driver taking responsibility for everything. For the elderly, infirm or disabled many buses can be lowered for easy access (that would’ve been handy with a broken leg!) and wheelchair spaces are provided toward the front of the bus. These really are new buses for the people! One bus I went on announced each stop in advance so there’s no panic about where to alight. This is particularly handy for tourists and people like me who can’t contemplate travelling through London without an A-Z! Another bus didn’t have that particular feature but it did have a TV screen showing internet-style entertainment news and features! This was great except I missed my stop while reading a piece of London gossip!

So London buses have joined the 21st Century with aplomb and really do make travelling more comfortable and enjoyable. There is another massive bonus if you take the bus: you see everything! Pictured right is the latest temporary art piece photographed from the bus at Trafalgar Square- something I probably wouldn’t have made a special trip to see (and the people in the foreground don't look overly impressed either!). You have a better idea where one attraction is in relation to another; the pieces of the London jigsaw fall into place and you get a greater sense of your surroundings.

London’s new Mayor, Boris Johnson (or Bojo as he is now being called!) is promising greater security on buses, banning eating and drinking (with particular reference to the consumption of alcohol), and introducing women-only night bus stops. I don’t doubt that these moves will be welcomed by the majority of Londoners as well as tourists. In the eight years I was living abroad, Ken Livingstone established a massively improved bus service and it seems that Bojo intends to continue this good work.

Apparently “bendy” buses are a bone of contention among Londoners but I have yet to experience one of those…

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