Man on a bus…

26 Jun

“A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count
himself as a failure”.
The above quote is actually apocryphal, no hard evidence exists that
Thatcher ever came out with this, although one can imagine it is in
keeping with the sentiments of her general take on all things to emanate
from the public sector.

The great car economy naturally takes precedence, whilst the distinctly
inferior means of public transportation are left to whither on the vine.
This second class mode of getting from A to B is very much the preserve
of those unable to buy into the private space and convenience of their
own transport. Public transport is for those without choice, having to
take the no frills undercarriage because of their limited funds. There
is no glamour to be found on a typical municipal bus run, with the basic
interior construction geared over to functionality and economy.

Public transport and buses teach us about the relative impoverishment of
public spaces, those places whereby we are obliged to temporarily reside
alongside a gathering of (usually) anonymous individuals who are also
pressed into a reliance of public service. This public space brings with
it all kinds of individuals of different ages, ethnicities and
backgrounds, who are forced to cohabit in tighter proximities than they
would normally choose given the freedom to do so.

I have to confess here than I’m more than a participant observer here,
as being a non-driver I am also reliant to various degrees on public
transport, particularly in the last couple of years whereby I am now
obliged to commute several miles by bus to my place of employment. So
I’ve only been too well aware of the infamous disparaging quote at the
top of my article, its gratuitous insult and yet for all that, isn’t
there something in this?

It’s at these kind of mundane instances that a profound realisation of
just how dysfunctional our humanity is, and therefore the gulf between
high minded pretensions of leftism and the reality of our pitiful
species-being nature, more Hobbes than Marx.

Leftists and particularly those of an environmental bent like George
Monbiot are obviously keen to promote public transport as a necessary
corrective to the damage inflicted by fossil-fuel dependent transport,
particularly in the alarming proliferation of car ownership that is
bringing gridlock and meltdown to our national road network.
However how will such policies manage to side-step the elephant in the
room, the massive aversion that people have towards public transport.
People do not want to have to compromise on their personal space with
strangers, buses as they actually are, are marked by cramped conditions,
less than ideal standards of cleanliness and hygiene, with uncomfortable
seating and upholstery. Plus they are slow and cumbersome (start/stop at
every few hundred yards for people to board or disembark) and to cap it
all we have to contend with a variety of strangers, some of whom are
usually taxing for all the variety of exotic foibles that they are want
to present.

My regular commute takes in a fair number of regular irritants. Take for
instance the young woman college student who suffers from some serious
behavioural habits, given her incessant rhythmic movement disorder, as
she slams violently to and fro against the back of the seat, with the
unfortunate person sat in the seat behind having to contend with the
uncomfortable aggressive jolting, with all surrounding fixtures and
fittings subject to the intensity of this ongoing torture.

Then we have the man and wife odd couple, obviously down at heel types
battered and grizzled over the years. The wife (I’m guessing in her late
60s, early 70s) has this strange pelmet hairstyle that looks
suspiciously like a third rate charity shop toupee, with heavy rim set
glasses reminiscent of sixties era Michael Caine come Harry Palmer (or
even Dimitri Shostakovich heaven forbid!). This woman takes it upon
herself to engage absolutely anyone in her immediate presence (including
myself on occasion) with mundane chunks of conversation, while her
husband nods on, happy to indulge his wife’s overfriendliness.

Factor in the noisy teenage gangs, although the majority of them seem
happy to clamber up to the top deck.
I usually head for the back seat of the bottom deck if room allows, as
it normally affords me more room in the event of the bus overcrowding.
Given that I am not completely hemmed in on the back corner. However
even at this particular locale, there are habitual traps, such as de
rigueur casual encampment of legs stretched out on adjoining seating,
typically although not exclusively by young men.
The front of the bus has now been redesigned in view of the DDA and
Equality Act to accommodate wheelchairs and infant pushchairs. However
this now means reduced seating at the front of the bus and more
impediments to negotiate for the rest of the travellers. There is only
capacity for two pushchairs or one wheelchair at any one time. So if any
one bus journey finds itself saddled with two buggy users, the bus
driver is unlikely to ask them to decamp should a wheelchair user be
waiting at the bus stop.

Occasionally there are those with profound physical and behavioral
disabilities who in all earnestness are not suited to the rigor of
public transport. However modern protocols have dictated a
‘mainstreaming’ and ‘inclusive’ agenda, whereby we all learn to
accommodate and tolerate each other. While this sounds a laudable aim,
I’m not convinced of its practicality or suitability. Certain
individuals will necessarily be high maintenance due to profundity of
disability and potentially problematic behaviour.

A recent journey consisted of a severely disabled young man in a
wheelchair placed next to an unconnected infant in a buggy. The disabled
man went on to produce a whole cacophony of wailing and grunting which
naturally was very traumatising to the young child at his side. All in
the spirit of inclusiveness! A better course of action surely would be
to provide disabled individuals with the means to purchase in their own
specialised transport conducive to their means. Likewise parents with
young children should be given taxi vouchers. However politically
correct protocols would deem this as reactionary and separatist
discrimination. Equity was not supposed to mean that we treat everyone
the same regardless of circumstances. On the contrary, people need to be
treated as individuals, each person’s needs being particular to their
own contingencies. It may be that wheelchair users are not conducive to
buses, regardless of the number of adaptations, or the adaptations
required would then render said bus unsuitable to the non-disabled.
Bus stations themselves have typically until late in the day been grim
and grungy forbidding spaces. And from early evening onwards they become
unforgiving spaces of insecurity that one enters at one’s own risk. I
have enough memories from child and early adulthood of being accosted
and threatened by yob gangs. I do commend however the new wave of bus
stations with brighter transparent interiors and the more visible
presence of staff and information.

On a concluding note, in an age of mass democracy I guess we get the
buses (and public services) that we deserve. With a large underclass of
individuals who are by inclination disrespectful to public property, the
wider society is unlikely to invest more in comfortable surroundings,
only to see wanton vandalism and destruction of public assets. Therefore
two tier models of services naturally arise, a residual basic platform
to keep afloat the necessary functional infrastructure for those unable
to afford the second tier, a premium service (private transport,
chauffeurs, taxis, coaches, first class rail travel) for those of
adequate means. And such divisions are legitimised by the behaviour of
the contending classes, a grasping self-serving middle class, anxious to
maintain their distinctions, social standing and privileges, and a
subject class of toilers, put upon to keep the whole enterprise afloat.

This latter working class also have to contend with a large pool of
dysfunctional individuals who continually provide the diet of spectacle
and debauchery which is used to mark the perimeters of what is
acceptable and what is not (deserving/undeserving). Public transport as
a conspicuous public space is deeply shaped by this societal structure.


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