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A song that nearly all of us know. Small children especially love to sit on the front seat upstairs on the bus. Going on a bus is such an adventure; the wait at the bus stop hoping that no one is sitting in that precious front seat. The step up onto the bus is quite big but the steps to the top deck are huge! Much bigger than the ones at home and, if the bus starts moving before you’re at the top, quite wobbly. Once you reach that special seat you look around and you can see so much!
It’s not just small children who like buses. I caught a service bus every school day for several years as a teenager as my school was eight miles from my home. The view, however, was probably not my main concern; it was more likely catching up with what my friends had been doing the previous evening. Mobile phones were science fiction and home telephones were expensive to use but also situated in the hall, where any conversations could be heard by a parent or a brother. Bus travel stopped for me and for many people with the advent of that first car.
Fast forward 50 years and we live in a different world. Bus travel is for many people the Cinderella of transport. First choice is the car, second is the train, thirdly a coach (or Megabus if you’re a student) and coming up last is the humble bus.
Environmentally, public transport – when it is used by a majority of people – is a hands-down winner. Cars, unless they are electric, create so much pollution. Studies show that the air quality near main roads is terrible. Speed limits are now in place to improve air quality and make roads safer for those who live near them in many parts of the country. This is not always a popular move as we’ve seen recently in the news. Speed of travel appears to be all-important to so many.
In many towns and cities both government and councils appear to be trying so hard to get us, the public, to ditch the car. There are incentives to walk, cycle (both electric and push power) and for the more adventurous, scooters to hire. In cities there are trains both above and underground. There are trams in places like Sheffield and Manchester and most of all for local transport, buses. But how do we get people to use these forms of transport? Any local newspaper or radio station will regularly feature complaints about the state of public transport; cancellations, delays, breakdowns, weather and seasonal situations, all of which combine to make public transport unreliable. This then makes us less likely to want to use it. And, if we don’t use it, we lose it! This is the dilemma.
This next week is a ‘National Bus Week of Action’. If you are a regular bus user you may well be asked questions about the importance of bus travel to you and how it might be improved. At a local level this will probably happen in the bus stations. We have an opportunity to help safeguard and hopefully make recommendations as to how it might better serve the local people. After all, we will all reach that point when we realise or are told that driving is no longer an option. Public transport may then be a necessity. It would be nice to think that it will still be there for us.
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