Do socialists ride buses?

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It's always the poshest people who become the most vehement Marxists. Think of Anthony Wedgewood Benn - Tony to his friends; think of Kitten off Big Brother 5, who despite claiming an impoverished background and a life of enforced prostitution, turned out to have had quite a nice Berkshire upbringing and a stint in boarding school; then, of course, there's Timandra Harkness, whom I've already mentioned once today.

Fair dos and more power to them.

However, there is a certain irony and Islington-ness about it all that makes my blood boil. It just feels oh so patronising.

Take this Spiked article, all about how the demise of the Routemaster bus is an indication of the new nanny state we're all living in and the death of democracy. Now, I don't think anyone's going to argue too much that either of those is an incorrect summation of modern life in the UK. But choosing the Routemaster bus as a symbol of it all? What's up there?

When was the last time you were on a Routemaster? I'm guessing, if you're a writer or editor for Spiked, approximately ten to 15 years ago. Here's why I've come to this conclusion:

  1. “Having a conductor on-board means fares can be collected while the bus is moving”. Presumably, Rob Lyons, the writer of the article, hasn't noticed that in Central London - the only place where Routemasters can still be found - you're actually supposed to pay for your ticket at the machines by the bus stops. This has been the case for over a year. So more of a last hurrah for the idea of a bus, rather than support for a form of transport you use regularly? Love the working class, but wouldn't want to actually share transport with them, huh?
  2. “The open step at the back means people can hop on and off easily between stops - ideal when buses are often crawling along in traffic.” Most buses don't crawl any more, thanks to Ken Livingstone's bus lane expansion plans. If you do get stuck in one that's crawling and you want to get off, nine times out of ten you can ask the driver to let you off the bus. That is, if you don't regard him or her as some unapproachable member of the working class, whose views are very, very important but whom you'd never actually want to talk to.
  3. “What we need is a Routemaster for the twenty-first century. Why not keep the best parts of the design - the open back step and the conductor - but put them into a modern body with wider seats?” Because, if you'd ever used a Routemaster in Winter, you'd know it freezes your nuts off, no matter which part of the bus you happen to be in. Doors are good: they stop us all from freezing. Well, unless you sit near them: there's quite a draft under some of them.
  4. “The idea is to make wheelchair access easier, and to pack the passengers in at peak times, but trying to get a wheelchair on to a packed bus seems a hopeless task in any event.” - It's hard to get anyone on to a bus when it's packed. That's what packed means. Certainly, most packed buses will avoid stopping altogether until the bus is empty enough to let on new passengers. But someone in a wheelchair takes up no more room than a parent with a pushchair and they all fit on perfectly well when given half a chance. Is the general thesis now that those disableds don't count? Yeah, they whine and complain, but there's not enough of them to really merit the rest of us having to change our lifestyles, so why don't we just ignore them, in favour of the majority of people who want Routemaster buses, even if they don't actually want to use them?
  5. “While bendy-buses are more wheelchair-friendly (getting a wheelchair on a Routemaster would require a team of volunteers even if there were somewhere for the wheelchair to go), they are less helpful for others who can get on-board under their own steam but could really do with a seat. With fewer seats in each bus, the onus will be on the elderly and infirm to ask someone else to stand up.” While your idea of the population may be based on Tube passengers, Mr Lyons, I would point out that most of the time, bus users do give up their seats to people in need, even here in scabby south east London. And gosh, heaven forfend that people would have to talk to each other on a form of public transport. That would just be awful. As for getting on board under your own steam, have you seen how high the step is to get onto a Routemaster? Never mind the drop when you're trying to leap off between stops: old people plummet down the valley of doom between the pavement and the bus all the time. All the new buses have a nice lowering facility that enables them to drop down to the same level as those who can't quite get onto the bus
  6. “The presence of a conductor means that fare avoidance is much reduced” Compared to a bendy bus, sure, simply because people can get on via the central doors on the bendy bus. But compared with a regular bus? Are you nuts? Loads of people dodge fares on the Routemasters. Most of the time, the conductors forget who got on at which stop. I've gone from Oxford Circus to Stoke Newington before being asked if I'd like to buy a ticket before now. You leap on, you go upstairs and as soon as the conductor comes up, you go downstairs and get off. Then you wait for the next bus. You can go for miles without paying if you're suitably patient. Not that I have, of course. I've simply watched others do it. Honest.
  7. “What's red and lies in a gutter? A dead bus. Well, I laughed. It's a joke you would probably only get because the most famous bus in the world is red: the London Routemaster. Buy a postcard or a guidebook in London and you will likely see a picture of one of these old double deckers.” How about if you were to actually get on one. You'd probably get it then. You'd probably know buses were red then. You wouldn't have to look at a guidebook or a postcard to know what colour it is then. Okay, I'll stop frothing. That's more of a complaint about bad writing than the argument.
There are plenty of things to get annoyed with New Labour about, such as erosion of civil liberties, PFIs done under ridiculous terms, failure to live up to environmental promises and a whole lot more. But having a go at Ken Livingstone for replacing old, cold, inaccessible Routemasters with some decent new ones? When you don't actually use buses yourself and clearly haven't spoken to anyone who does? Please return to your wooden salad bowls and rocket until you've come up with a sensible point.

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This page contains a single entry by Rob Buckley published on December 9, 2005 5:30 PM.

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