Monday, December 21, 2015

On the bus

When I was a kid the main mode of transport for our family was bus, tram or bicycle. Even after my father got his first car I usually took the bus wherever I needed to go, as do most people in Dublin to this day. Dubliners complain about public transport but actually, compared with most other cities I have lived in, it is very good and inexpensive. Possibly the only city with a better public transportation system is London. Certainly Austin TX, where I now live, is way behind the times in this respect. We are only now getting sidewalks and the recent addition of a commuter train is sadly under utilized. Americans are very attached to their cars, Texans more especially, their cars and their pickup trucks.

When I visit Seattle I stay with my son in Bellevue, but usually I am there for work, so I take the bus every morning and every evening. Seattle has a really good public transport system, and busing it is kind of nostalgic for me, particularly as the Seattle weather is similar to that in Dublin.

One thing about traveling on a bus during rush hour, you get a lot of time to observe people and to think about what you are observing.

In this picture from 1952 it is possible to see the bar
Photo from Irish History links 
When I was a kid, the buses didn't have doors, people jumped on and off at stop lights, or the tardy chased after the bus and jumped on as it pulled away. There was even a cool way to dismount from a moving bus. There was a bar in the center of the opening, you held on to that bar until you had the perfect spot to dismount, then let go, landing in a run equating to the speed of the bus at the time of letting go the bar. That is a skill long since lost.

People chatted at the bus stop, formed an orderly queue and never, ever jumped the queue. There was a bus driver and a bus conductor on every bus. The conductor walked up and down the aisles of both decks, collecting fares and issuing tickets. From time to time an inspector would get on and go through the bus punching tickets to verify everyone had paid their fare, and that it was the correct fare. The inspectors had perfected the moving mount and dismount of the bus.

Dublin today
While on the bus, people chatted, or children hastily finished homework. If there were adults standing and children seated, and those children didn't immediately stand to give an adult their seat, more than one person would chastise them and force them to do so. Young men were the next line of seat surrenderers, after that older men. All elderly women had a seat, any seats left were take by elderly men, then younger women. You get the picture I am sure.

Needless to say, no one had electronic devices, least of all smart phones.

Now I observe old women, some unable to move without the aid of a cane, standing while children and apparently healthy young men and women remain seated. Everyone is glued to the screen of their smart phone.Texting, reading or playing games. No one talks and certainly no one volunteers their seat to someone in need. At the bus stops it is a free for all, there are no unwritten rules. And, no bus conductor. Back in the days of the conductor, the driver was in a separated cab, not to be disturbed by anything. Now the driver is seated by the door, he doesn't even take the fares, but monitors people as they get on to ensure they either use their ticket to electronically pay the required amount, or place the exact cash in the every hungry machine - it you don't have the correct amount, you better have more because you won't get change, and you won't get on without paying.

And so, we have disposed of the conductor, the inspector and added a door to prevent unscheduled mounting or dismounting, however cool and agile they might have been.

Seattle bus
The buses in Seattle are not double deckers, like in Dublin, they are double length, with an accordion type join in the middle - to allow it to safely turn corners. It gives me considerable amusement to watch the passengers in the seats in that section of the bus, there is a circular plate with seating mounted on, and as the bus turns the corner, the circle turns and so do the seats, and the passengers unlucky enough to be seated there. It is almost like a somewhat pathetic ride at a fun fair and it makes texting, reading or game playing quite difficult, I know because on occasion I have been unfortunate enough to have been seated in one of those swiveling seats.