Express Yourself – bus dramas

Most days I get on the X68 bus and most days I see the odd person who ignores the bus number, the bus tannoy, the digital information screen, and even the bus driver’s announcements.

Bus dramas

But I would have to say that Monday 20 January was an exception….at LEAST 10 people unwittingly boarded the express bus. The reactions from each of them just goes to show that people have stopped reasoning or being observant or the X in express just messes with their minds.

For those of you unfamiliar with the West Croydon to Russell Square X68 service  – it is a godsend for those of us who believe train and tube travel has diminished in quality while the price of fares have moved in the opposite direction.

Value for money

This fabulous X68 ferries us (mainly office workers) to and from the City for the price of a single bus fair.

The service is every 15 minutes and runs between peak times from Monday until Friday. And to top it all off, unlike a train service – I get a seat every time and can get to do something constructive on my continuous (no need to change at stations) journey.  So, you can imagine my distress when I noticed a growing number of people misusing my beloved X68….

The X68 novice

On the day in question, I settled into my favourite spot – the raised seat just behind the double doors, with my brekkie in one hand and my book of notes in the other. No sooner had I got past stop number two did the dramatics start. One woman pushing a buggie and another child in tow bounded onto the bus.

Now, as I’ve been catching this bus for over a year religiously…(but for over five on and off) – I have a fairly good idea of who is a regular and this woman had all the hallmarks of a novice. Now I’m not saying that a mother wouldn’t be travelling all the way from West Croydon to Russell Square – but it is highly unlikely.

The funny thing was that the bus driver shared my disbelief and even chose to remind the woman of the ‘express’ nature of the service and the fact that between West Croydon and West Norwood – it is a pick-up ONLY service.

To all of this information, the lady nodded vigorously and sat down. On comes a few more novices – a schoolgirl complete with earphones which would prevent her from hearing most of the announcements, and then an old Chinese man and a young Indian guy who both retired to the loftier part of the bus. …And there were others, more mothers with children, a middle-aged woman, an Eastern European man….you get the idea – just about everyone that day.

And one by one, we regulars watched as they made the same mistake of pressing the stop button and standing at the exit doors at the back of the bus, which, I might add do not open on an X68. Now, I know what you are thinking…..why didn’t we tell them to move to the front… I hear you cry!!!

The dramatics

I do!!!! I spend so much of my journey repeating this order to people that are in earshot and sometimes, they heed it  – other times they choose to ignore it. It’s a tiring process as well!

I remember one time, I told a girl sitting in front of me to vacate from the front. I actually tapped her on the shoulder and gave her a brief explanation about the workings of the bus. She then proceeded to ignore all my advice and stood at the back door exit, forcing me to throw my hands up in despair.

When I repeated – in an annoyed voice (I might add) – that she should go to the front – she then had the cheek to tell me that I was wrong and that the bus would stop for her…afterall.

I did not have the strength to explain to her – for what seemed like the 40th time – that this express bus WILL stop at each bus stop along the West Croydon to West Norwood route IF someone wants to get on but IF no one wants to get on…it WON’T…..

And it is precisely this lack of understanding that led to all the dramatics that I fondly refer to as ‘Tales on the Express’…

Tales on the Express

At so many stops people either weren’t getting on and as a result, these novices freaked out trying to understand why this bus was not operating appropriately. And those that were lucky enough to have the bus stop for a pick-up, were just not engaged enough to work out in those split seconds that they had to move to the front and jump off before the bus doors shut.

The mother with the buggy and child actually had to race to the front and push on-comers out of the way to get off in time. It was like watching an Olympic sport. I could tell that she’d done it before…the way she manoeuvered that buggie and child was amazing….maybe she wasn’t a novice afterall?!

Foul-mouthed school girl

One memorable example was with a schoolgirl that day, who after pressing the bell continuously proceeded to insult the bus driver for not opening the doors. If that wasn’t enough, she went to his cubicle and bashed on his Perspex window adding more insults to the poor driver. Despite him calmly explaining the machinations of the bus service, she insulted him some more, pressed the sacred emergency button and told him he was a fool.

The sacred emergency button

But not all novices react in this way….when the Chinese and Indian passengers clocked that their new destination was Waterloo (which is the first stop after West Norwood), they made fruitless attempts to persuade the driver to let them off – from ‘I thought it was a 68 bus’ to….. ‘I’m going to be late for an appointment’.

When the slow realisation set in that they were not going to get off the bus any time soon, they stood lamely between the bus driver and the entrance corridor, hoping for a miracle….

It came in the form of a regular sitting at the front who persuaded the guys to use the sacred emergency button when the bus driver stopped at traffic lights.

It worked for them – thank God but I always think it’s a risky practice. The novice is never sure if there are vehicles passing along the road when they vacate and if they are not lucky, like one other female novice, they could get seriously injured.

Express accidents

I remember warning the woman to exit from the bus entrance but because she was not fast enough, the bus driver would not let her off. She proceeded to use the sacred button, seconds afterwards, the bus driver started his engine to drive off – knowing full well that she wanted to get off. All we bus passengers heard was a smack as the woman fell face first on the Waterloo Bridge road as she tried to leave the bus.

We heard gasps from outside of the bus, but the driver drove on to our astonishment. I remember desperately trying to file a complaint on the bus to TfL and getting passed around from department to department. That bus driver – I might add – was a tyrant and took great pleasure in enforcing the X68 pick-up only rule so when you were on his bus – you were stuck.

Fix up, look sharp

Now far from condoning the actions of this jobsworth bus driver, I wish novices would take some responsibility when catching this bus. It is just not acceptable to blindly get on a bus without knowing its destination or wanting to know.

I personally don’t understand how people can sit on a bus and not notice the multiple signs alerting them to the bus that they are on. And worst still, the fact that they see others trying to get off at the back and not achieving it but still do not clock that there is something different about the bus they are on.

I feel sorry for the bus drivers – many of whom are patient and calm in the face of such aggression or cluelessness. They end up wasting time explaining the service, or having to let people off. As a result of much faffing around, our ‘express’ service, which normally takes between an hour and 90 minutes can – at times – reach my destination a full two hours later!!!!!

So, my warning to all you novices out there …open your eyes and ears and keep your wits about you.

Think about those of us that rely on this service and the poor drivers (most of them) that do this day in day out. I say this because you may not be so lucky next time and end up with the psychopath that wants you to learn your lesson and drive you miles away from your destination!!!

By Kirsty Osei-Bempong

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