London’s buses are often viewed as a inferior form of transport compared to the tube. Most of the time it’s due to a perception that it takes longer to get from A to B by bus than it does by tube. Which is true some of the time. Some of the time it’s a kind of “snobbish” derision about buses and the sorts of people who ride them. What these sorts of people are not aware of is that your regular London bus rider exercises far more brainpower and is engaged with, and much more aware of, the physical and emotional surroundings than a regular tube rider. Tube riders start with a plan, work out a route and execute it. Or else if they are a “regular” on a route then just proceed like zombies on a route they travel day-in day-out, stopping only to “wake up” if a change has to occur – and that’s pretty much it: zombie mode is exited upon arrival at the destination. Contrast this with bus riders, who not only start with a plan (a plan that tube riders find difficult to work out or understand due to higher degree of “meshing” complexity in the bus network) , but are constantly gauging feedback from environmental conditions and events, constantly adapting their plan, making sometimes split-second decisions in order to refine and hone the act of getting from A to B. The bus rider is much more alert and is processing intelligence gathered from the field throughout most of the journey. This requires bus riders to be much more intelligent.
For example, take this seemingly trivial event: There is a point along the southbound Routes 79 and 204 where the bus turns 90 degrees right at a traffic-light controlled junction where Park Lane meets Wembley High Road. If I am on a 79 then this turn has no real significance – as I always continue with the 79 down through Wembley High Road and Ealing Road until it gets to Alperton – which is where I change onto either a 297 or 83 – or else get a tube. But if I am on a 204 (which sometimes I am if I’ve just missed a 79 earlier and I am bus-hopping my way down through Wembley) then this turn represents the point at which I have to get up in order to get off at the next stop – because the 79 and the 204 diverge at this point.
If I am on a 204, then as I get up at this point I always look left just before the bus turns right. This helps me establish a clear view of what buses are approaching Wembley High Road at the same point, and therefore what buses will be behind my own after we’ve turned. This will help me decide what I do when I get off at the next stop.
(Where the bus turns onto Wembley High Road at the junction with Park Lane)
If I can see an 83 (which goes to Ealing Broadway via Hanger Lane, North Circ and Ealing Common) then I know that I’m gonna have to get off the bus as fast as I can, and leg it the 20 metres or so to an adjacent stop, which is where the 83 stops. Although this sounds simple, it’s not always so straightforward. The reason is that the next stop is a very popular stop – and chances are that a lot of people are going to be doing the same as me. And because I like to think I’m a good citizen by sitting upstairs so that the more elderly and not-so-mobile fellow passengers can get much needed space to sit downstairs, there’s a good chance that it’s going to take some time getting off the bus. By which time a following 83 is going to have pulled up at its stop just ahead of mine and will be doing the same thing: unloading and loading passengers. The problem is that the 83 is a much more frequent bus than the 204, and as a result there are fewer people unloading and loading on 83 than on 204. And I have on many occasions missed an 83 at this point as a consequence – mostly because I’m stuck behind a few elderly passengers who are taking a long time to step off the bus.
If the following bus is a 297 (which goes to Ealing Broadway via the backstreets of Perivale, along Scotch Common and Castlebar Park in Ealing) then things aren’t so tense. And this is because the 297 stops at the same stop as the 204. Which means that if it is right behind then it will pull up close behind my 204 when it stops – meaning that it cannot pull off until the 204 pulls off. Which is fine – because I will be off the 204 long before the 204 pulls off, and only have to walk a few metres to get to a patiently-waiting 297 just behind.
If there is no visible bus in the distance at this Park Lane turning then I can just relax for now, get off at the next stop and just wait to see what surprise is in store for me when the next bus turns up. There are, however, occasions when I don’t prepare to get off at the next stop. And this could be because I have forgotten (perhaps I’m absorbed in reading something or I’m daydreaming), in which case I will continue on the 204 until it gets to Sudbury Town tube station (its final destination) at which I will get the Piccadilly Line to Ealing Common at which I will change to the District Line to get to Ealing Broadway or else I will get the Picc to North Ealing and walk to Ealing Broadway from there. Sometimes I do this deliberately (not get off the 204 at Wembley High Road). It depends upon my mood really. But mostly it depends on what time of the morning it is and what the weather is like. If it’s the rush hour and it’s a nice warm day with no rain, then I’ll carry on with the 204 and get the Picc to North Ealing and walk from there. Because if it’s the rush hour then there is a high likelihood that an 83 bus would get stuck in traffic on Hanger Lane approaching Ealing Common – which is all too common, and similarly a 297 in the rush hour would probably take ages to wend its way through Perivale and Castlebar Park due to the huge number of schools (and schoolkids) along the way. Also I do enjoy the 10 minute walk down Madeley Road from North Ealing station at Hanger Lane down to Ealing Broadway station if it’s a nice day. If it’s rush hour and it’s raining or cold then I’ll get the Picc down to Ealing Common and switch to District to get to Ealing Broadway. If it’s not the rush hour then I’ll get off the 204 at Wembley High Road and wait for whichever of the 83 or 297 turns up first. In this scenario, if both turn up at about the same time then I’ll prefer the 83 over the 297 because it should be quicker given that it doesn’t have to travel such a long and protracted route.
Now it can sometimes happen that when I have gotten off the 204 at Wembley High Road and am waiting for a 297 or 83 to turn up, that a 79 turns up! In which case I will jump on that. But not because it adds any further value to my journey to work at this point; you see I would have to get off it in a few stops in order to get a 297 or 83 further downstream anyway. So why do I do this?
Because it’s my bus!
Because of things like this example demonstrate, bus riders have to be more capable of abstract reasoning, risk assessment and information processing based upon sensory and emotional feedback.
It follows, therefore, that people who ride London’s buses are more intelligent than those who ride the tube. Quod Erat Demonstrandum (QED)