Loud music, seat bagging and coughing: how did bus travel get so rude?

My bike’s tyre is pancake flat and it’s too cold to walk everywhere, so I’ve been a very regular bus user this winter. That’s OK, I’ve always loved travelling this way.

As a fan of simple pleasures, I usually aim for the lower rear seats, in front of the engine, where you’re kept as toasty as a hibernating dormouse. Or, as a treat – I know, I’m a saddo – the front top deck. The ones that, in Edinburgh, are usually monopolised by small kids and tourists.

They make me feel like a duchess in my sedan chair, surveying my city and its many peasants. At night, I can peer directly into tenement windows, and critique their interior design choices. Nil points for any ‘live, laugh, love’ signs or remaining Christmas decorations – really, I see you.

However, my bus pleasure has been marred.

Someone wearing headphones ona  bus Pic: Marko Ristic/AdobeSomeone wearing headphones ona  bus Pic: Marko Ristic/Adobe
Someone wearing headphones ona bus Pic: Marko Ristic/Adobe
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Something changed. It happened after lockdown and never returned to normal. I don’t think it’s just my age and increasing misanthropy that makes me more sensitive to this phenomenon.

It seems that we forgot how to behave, and nobody has reminded us of the unspoken rules. They are as follows – sit down and shut up.

Indeed, when I start listing the things that bug me, I may never stop.

Firstly, bus drivers are generally brilliant, and I always say ‘thank you’ when I get off, as is the courteous Edinburgh way. However, when approaching a stop, they used to smoothly slow down, before braking. Your bus would be like a ship, gently sliding into harbour.

Now, you press the bell, stand up, and it’s like you’re on the bucking bronco at a rodeo. Ride ‘em, cowboy. If you’ve got bags of shopping, this is when they start swinging around, to knock out seated fellow passengers.

Thanks to this ultimate G-force, I have inelegantly clattered down the stairs a few times. It sometimes feels as if they’re pumping those brakes to the tune of Yello’s The Race.

Then there’s all the passengers playing videos and taking calls. I remember when leaky headphones used to be the worst of our problems. Now, nobody bothers with them at all. Just watch it. Full volume. Turn it up loud.

Last week, I was on the number ten and someone, especially notable for having most of his bum crack hanging out the rear of his trousers, was learning about dangerous dogs, via videos on TikTok. While his device screeched about akitas and XL bullies, there was another person loudly arranging a plumber to come fix their boiler, and a teenager was playing rap videos. I wanted to gouge my ears out. It was a cacophony.

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I try giving them all the evil eye glance, but they don’t care. Everyone is just in their own bubble.

Then there’s the bagging-the-outer-seat passengers, who don’t want to perch beside anyone. Or, those who use their bag to reserve the adjoining space. I get it. It does feel a bit of a squeeze, being knee-to-knee with a rando. However, it’s just how public transport works. You’re not in your limo now. We’re not en-route to Saltburn.

I was recently on a packed bus and there was a man in his 30s, doing the double seat hogging thing, while a couple of elderly folk stood for the whole journey. He was oblivious. I thought about saying something, but I don’t want to be THAT person.

Then there’s the tuberculosis-level coughing, without anyone covering their mouths. To be fair, I did a bit of heavy duty snottering on the bus a while ago, and the woman sitting beside me handed me a Kleenex. Sort of annoying, also kind of nice.

Finally, there are the public transport virgins who act like getting the bus is a sociological experiment and ask the driver 50 questions before faffing around, hunting for change, as if they hadn’t realised their journey might cost anything.

I think my anger might be explained by past bus traumas. I have a few.

The worst journey I ever had was in the year 2000, on an overnight Greyhound, going from San Francisco to Las Vegas. I was with my sister and her friend. He was a doctor and took a prescribed sleeping tablet to get himself through the journey.

Whenever he nodded off, he’d slump and his toes would creep into the passageway.

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Each occasion this happened, the driver stopped the vehicle, turned the lights on and told him that he was contravening health and safety regulations by blocking the route. The third time, in the wee hours of the morning, she pulled in and called the cops. They stormed on, armed and kicked us off the bus, into the middle of the desert. We had to wait for the next bus to rescue us.

To quote Morrissey, I hold more grudges than lonely high court judges. Thus, I’ll never forget that jobsworth driver – Sharon, with her bubble-permed mullet.

Then there was the time, also in the US, when I was chased off a bus by a Rastafarian who had a machete in his hat. And, no, it wasn’t a dream. I hid in a shop and managed to escape unscathed.

Nothing quite as bad as this has happened on my home turf. It’s just the noise, the coughing and the Buckaroo driving. I guess I can survive that.

Still, maybe I should think about pumping my bike tyre up?



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