Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Off the buses 

I am not a great fan of travelling by bus. I usually find them too hot and too subject to the whims of traffic. I will only travel by bus in London on Friday evenings when I am on my way to the station after my Alexander Lesson.

I have, however, fallen into the habit of getting the bus home from Orpington station. This is not a new habit; I have been doing it for years. I am going off the idea though.

There is the ever-present problem of teenaged chavs boarding the bus in Orpington High Street, or the loony who collects newspapers and usually makes a beeline for the seat next to me, or the very very masculine looking woman (possibly) who smells of smoke but now I'm starting to be aware of how bad the drivers can be.

Normally, the drivers of the R8 or 358 are no strangers to putting their feet down. This can be a problem but, as long as I am prepared, I can ride it out safely. Last night, however, the 358 driver had "problems".

He was late setting out for a start. Orpington Station, for those of you who don't know it, is a terminus for buses as well as trains. The 358 starts there and makes its way to Crystal Palace via a very circuitous route that takes it very near to my house.

The drivers are supposed to take a fixed-length break, I think. This one arrived late and sat there for his statutory period before racing out to the bus-stop. After taking us on board, he shot off down the hill but fell foul of a van in front and kept having to apply his brakes. Stop-start-stop-start-judder-judder-judder. My neck didn't feel very good at this point.

When we reached the bottom of the hill and turned into the High Street, I was thinking that the driver needed to take his driving test again and, across the aisle, I heard a passenger say the very same words to someone else.

We did the turn round the roundabout near The Walnuts and headed back up the High Street towards Orpington Hospital and my house. The driver kept the rapid acceleration and braking regime in place throughout.

At the stop for the hospital, the passenger across the aisle got off and had a few words with the driver. I can't remember the exact words used but there was a bit of swearing but essentially he told him that he really did need to take his test again and that he should not be driving a bus. Then he walked off, leaving our driver shouting at him.

About a minute later we were still stationary and the driver decided that he was going to go "off sick" (his words) and that we should all get off.

Not one of us moved. No-one got off. Nobody even got up. It was very strange.

A woman at the back said that he shouldn't be like that as she had to get the kids home and a few minutes later the driver, without a word, shut the doors and drove off.

I was very worried that he would go all the way to the garage but fortunately, he did answer the bell and stopped the bus for me to get off at the next stop.

I was proud of the passengers not getting off and I was also proud of the man speaking to the driver. All the same, I didn't feel safe.

I don't think every bus driver in Orpington is like that but I will try to avoid buses where I can from now on. The walk will do me good anyway. If I do need to get a bus (like I will tonight as I have an evening appointment) and the driver is driving like that again, then I will just get off.

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