Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Last week a Tory got some stick for a comment which denigrated waitresses and bus-drivers – see here. Clearly bus-driver is seen as a term of contempt – one cannot imagine, say, airline pilot being used in the analogy, even though they are both forms of transport. The bus-drivers insulted by Lord Lang do a job which I would not envy, combining as it does the role of driver, navigator, fare-collector, and security guard (difficult passengers on buses are rare in my experience, but the driver always has to be alert for possible trouble). Imagine if an airline pilot was expected to do all that on his/her own?

In a way the comment is hardly surprising, - the humble omnibus (meaning 'for everyone' in Latin) is the Cinderella of public transport. There is a famous quote from the 80's – often attributed to Thatcher, but actually Loeila, Duchess of Westminster that 'Any man who finds himself on a bus after the age of 30 can count himself a failure'. Thatcher probably thought it however and successive Governments of any persuasion have failed to dispel it. Outside London, where different transport arrangements prevail, bus use has generally been in decline.

I'm well past the age of 30 and am proud to be a regular bus user; it reliably takes me to and from my place of employment in the centre of Manchester on a daily basis. It is slow, but that gives me a chance to relax and read the paper and occasionally chat to a friend or colleague also using this form of transport. Sometimes the slowness can be irritating (e.g. last Friday morning as the bus had to wait several minutes to get into Piccadilly – surely the worst designed bus station in Europe).

Whilst Metrolink gets much more emphasis and publicity, Greater Manchester's humble buses are largely out of the limelight. Bus users will still have to wait until December to know the fate of major schemes – see here. Yet even when the Metrolink expansion is complete most of Greater Manchester's travelling public will be closer to bus stops than to tram stations, and many will still rely on the continuing rotation of the 'Wheels on the Bus' as described in the well-known nursery song. .

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