Oh, how we suffer!

Maybe it’s the New Labour government, maybe it’s the appearance of Globalise Resistance or maybe it’s just because we live in an age of post-Thatcherist bile. Either way, there’s a socialist conspiracy afoot. It’s a clever plan: the powers that be are using public transport to make life as miserable as possible for the (mostly middle-class) residents of the South-East. How else do you explain how Cambridge seems to be lumbered with the worst public transport operators in the country?

Take Stagecoach for example. They may be the biggest bus company in the UK but their annual get together is still a joy to behold. They meet in a different brewery each year, yet no-one ever seems to know which one it is or who should have brought the key to get in…

They re-organised the city centre bus routes a week last Monday. All at once. And didn’t actually bother to publicise this fact very widely. I’m a regular bus user and I only found out by accident the day before it was due to take place.

Imagine the chaos: it’s four o’clock in the afternoon. The shoppers are on their way home, the night-shift workers (like myself) are on their way to work, and they all want to catch the bus to where they want to go. The queues around the bus shelters down Emmanuel Street block the pavement so that it’s impossible to make an unobstructed journey from stop to stop. To compound the length of the queues, the drivers all seem to be coming off shift at once so that, once a bus has stopped, the driver won’t let any passengers on while he stops his engine, gets his coat and locks his money drawer. And then he stands round checking his watch while the new driver turns up, as if it’s company policy to cheese off the commuters by standing in the cabin doing bugger all.

All this is on a normal day. That Monday, however, every last one of us poor, stranded travellers found ourselves turned away from our usual bus of choice as it no longer goes down the road we happen to want to get off at. When the C7 turned up with its destination board declaring that it was going to Duxford I thought, ‘Aha! It obviously won’t be stopping by the rail station anymore.’ Besides, the driver was getting out of his cabin to wait for his replacement (yet he left the doors open, which was as good as standing just behind the closed doors and blowing raspberries…). So I wandered away to the C6, which had just pulled up and whose driver seemed to be remaining seated. ‘If I’m wrong,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just go back to the C7. There’ll be plenty of time: the new driver will be a while yet.’

After queuing for a while, I finally got to the door of the C6 and asked for Station Road Corner, and do you know what the guy said? ‘Try the C1 or the C7!’ So I ran back to the C7 to see it pulling out of the bus stop as I got half way there. And thus the citizens of Cambridge were treated to the sight of a guy in what appeared to be beige overalls (don’t ask), haring down the street with shoulder-length hair streaming behind him barking obscenities at the top of his voice. (Immediately following this incident, I adopted a rather sheepish look as another C7 pulled up in the space the previous one had just vacated…)

My own stupidity aside, this all begs the question as to why it’s necessary for all the bus drivers to finish their day on the same street at the same time and, furthermore, why it was necessary to change all the bus routes as a job lot so no-one in the city knew where they were going. My answer is a government conspiracy to make the middle classes suffer from their natural tendency to queue diligently while getting frustrated with the length of the queue at the same time. Let’s face it: if they make a long enough queue, somebody’s bound to develop a highly uncomfortable ulcer sooner or later. Or maybe it’s the tourists. It’s the height of tourist season, so maybe the idea was to make foreigners spend ridiculous amounts of money through catching the wrong busses. Whatever it is, this conspiracy obviously goes to the highest levels (well, perhaps just the tourist board) so we shall never really know…

~ by Scary Rob on 6 August, 2004.

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