Civilised Queuing and Dignified Departures

MAN bus on the 219 route
A busy shoulder-peak scene at Piccadilly Gardens: MAN single decker 22237 prepares for its departure to Ashton-under-Lyne on the 219 route.

We’re all guilty of it at some stage: barging in at the bus shelter, or traipsing towards the bus at speeds which Usain Bolt would be proud of. Even the genius behind this blog is guilty of such trifling Crimes Against Public Transport Etiquette, such as surging towards the nearest seat due to gross overcrowding on the North of England’s often inadequate rolling stock.

Even fewer people know that queuing for buses was actually enshrined into law. The 1938 Road Transport Act enforced this by making sure passengers would stand in line, by means of barriers or shelters designed to instil that great British tradition. Bus stations were designed to allow this, with pens leading to each stand. This was legion till the abolition of this clause in 1995, though passengers, if desired still prefer to wait in line for their bus home. Increasingly, passengers tend to wait for buses facing the road rather than towards the stop.

With fuel prices climbing and improved multi-operator through ticketing in most urban areas, this theoretically should be a good time to revisit our bus network. What is unattractive to many people is the waiting environment and the timetables. The dimly lit stop is anathema to the convenience of the motor car. Though new bus stations in many town centres have dramatically improved the waiting environment, for many people, it is stuck in the 1930s, with a bus stop and (if you’re lucky) a shelter offering spartan comfort.

Whereas the motorway and road has its own rules and subculture, there are other unwritten rules involved in bus travel. As someone who has spent an entire life travelling by bus, catching the bus – or explaining the vagaries of bus operations – is sometimes alien to motorists who have learned to drive on reaching 17. Yet, when our cars break down, or happen to be in the midst of being repaired, we need a sustainable public transport system which wins friends on a permanent rather than temporary. Ditto the above if our driver wants to enjoy a few scoops after work and begrudges paying taxi fares.

There is an etiquette to bus catching. Remember: a bus is for life, not just for schooldays.

The Art of Beautiful Bus Boarding

Queuing along with grandmas on bicycles drinking real ale and watching cricket, is deemed as much a British institution as the NHS, Coronation Street and trainspotters. It is something which many persons of an older generation are most willing to enforce (and who can blame them in some cases). I personally prefer to sit down till my bus/train/tram/rail replacement airship arrives, and assume a standing position two minutes prior to its arrival. For buses or trains at request stops, I raise my arm horizontally in the hope that the driver sees me. If you’re at the front of the queue, this is straightforward. Then I board my bus with the right amount of money for my fare or show him or her my bus pass.

Step One: Waiting for a Bus on a Quiet Route:

  1. Depart from your home, workplace or shop in good time so that you have 5 – 10 minutes to spare before the bus arrives;
  2. Sit down in the bus shelter or stand by the bus stop;
  3. With two minutes to go before arrival, stand in line, awaiting your bus;
  4. Hail the bus by raising your arm horizontally, almost as soon as you see the bus emerge.

Sounds simple? If there’s only one route and one queue for that journey, yes. Now imagine if the bus stop is used by more than one route. Using The Commercial Hotel in Uppermill as my example, four services continue to Oldham (350), Denshaw (354), Carrcote (353) and Huddersfield (184). The southbound stop has another more direct service to Oldham, on its way back from Huddersfield or Diggle.

Just to complicate things further, the more direct 184 leaves a few minutes after the 350. The former stands a chance of being bogged down in Slaithwaite whilst the latter has taken 35 minutes to get to Uppermill from Ashton-under-Lyne.

Step Two: Hedging Your Bets Between Buses:

  1. Decide whether you would wish to take the direct route or the scenic route: sometimes, late running from the more direct route may make the latter a most attractive and faster proposition than the former;
  2. Choose the direct route (subject to prompt running) if you’re pressed for time or need to pay single fares;
  3. If you’re in less of a hurry, choose the scenic route (season ticket or concessionary pass recommended);
  4. Whichever way you choose, make sure that the stops are in close distance. Normal Kerb Drill/Green Cross Code road safety rules apply as normal (look both ways for ongoing traffic and cross carefully, avoiding parked cars).

Step Three: One Stand, Several Buses:

Now we’re getting towards MENSA levels of bus queuing. In these situations, the system of an orderly queue is tested to the limit or thrown out of the window completely. Or so we assume.

  1. At a principal bus station of the modern variety (i.e. Manchester Airport, Shudehill Interchange or Middleton), it is better to sit down prior to seeing the bus itself;
  2. After making use of the seats, gently walk towards the stand doors if your favoured bus arrives. If desired, form an orderly queue;
  3. (On good bus territory) If you turn out to be the only person waiting for a hourly service, whilst other passengers opt for the more frequent counterpart, stand aside from the more frequent service queue. Look towards the opposite direction of traffic flow so that you can find your favoured bus;
  4. If your favoured bus is directly behind, walk to the back of the more popular bus (which would have 20 – 30 people trying to board);
  5. (Now this is slightly trickier) At a narrow bus stand, for example, one which straddles an entire width of a pavement, this requires courteous negotiation with passengers wishing to board other buses. Firstly, ask the passenger in front if they are catching your desired bus. If so, queue directly behind him or her;
  6. If the passenger in front of you isn’t waiting for your favoured bus, stand behind him or her, though about one metre away. The passenger in front of you might board before you;
  7. If your bus arrives before the other passenger’s desired bus (other than your favoured one), politely say ‘excuse me please’, signal the bus (horizontal arm) and board as normal.

Step Four: ‘And I think it’s going to be a long long time…’

Before I make some flippant comment about Marske’s family friendliness (you’ll catch my drift if you listen to the middle eight/bridge of Elton John’s Rocket Man), there are times when we are compelled to wait longer than half an hour for our desired bus. Particularly at evenings and Sundays.

  1. If you’re familiar with the area (most important!), retire to the pub closest to the bus station or stop for a quick pint or half pint. On finishing your drink, make sure you arrive at the stand or stop with at least 5 – 10 minutes to spare before its departure. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, a nearby Wetherspoons house is often a safe bet;
  2. If you prefer tea or coffee, the local café/franchised coffee shop/fast food joint is a serviceable option. Some bus stations have cafés, but they tend to close when least convenient for otherwise stranded passengers – like Sundays, Bank Holidays and evenings;
  3. (Mobile phone users) Keep a good stash of local taxi/minicab operators on your mobile phone’s ‘Phone Book’ if you prefer to arrive home quickly;
  4. Some bus stations or stands are near taxi ranks, which is a useful though more expensive option if you wish to arrive home early;
  5. Instead of waiting 30 minutes or more for your local bus, there may be a more frequent route departing earlier which may stop short of your home destination. Consider boarding the more frequent route then completing the rest of your journey by taxi. There may be another bus due a few minutes after which will drop you off nearer home, saving you more money.

Any More Useful Suggestions?
If you wish to help a bus noob even more on the joys of queuing, feel free to direct them to this article. If you have any further tips on the joys of waiting for buses, feel free to share them on this hallowed quark of server space. You know you want to…

S.V., 14 October 2011.

7 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Waiting for Buses

  1. saw 22237 broken down in Ashton yestaday with recovery truck 97014 F798 KND there as the bus is at Stockport depot now

    see they still use Charles street for storing withdrawn buses loads there at the moment

    20882 was last reported withdrawn November 09 at Glossop nothing since


  2. Hi

    What an informative article, brilliantly written as always. Who would’ve thought that waiting for a bus could conjure up so much thought. Another slant to this is the Opportunistic Round the Corner Journey. For instance, with my pass tucked in my wallet as usual, me walking down the road/round the corner, there have been occasions where I have been passing close to a bus stop (sometimes on the wrong side of the road!) and suddenly spot an in-service bus heading in the same direction as I am going, and make that split-second decision to leg it to the stop (always making sure I don’t get run over if applicable) to see if the driver will stop/wait for me. If it does, woohoo! If not, nothing lost, I simply walk to my destination as planned. I suppose that could be classed as breaking the etiquette though!


  3. Hi Mark,

    As for running across the road to a bus opposite to my preferred one, I’ve done that several times. However, this method has its limitations. One, the stop must be directly opposite the other one; and two, traffic conditions also has an affect on the passenger’s ability to waltz from one stand to another. For instance, the Albion Hotel stop requires split second timing. Likewise with The Commercial Hotel, Uppermill (though the junction is less busier and that you could always ‘flag’ a bus by skillfully timing the pelican crossing so that your 184/350 is held up for a few seconds).

    I may consider doing a ‘Murphy’s Law of Public Transport’ post, with emphasis on how to tip the scales in your favour!

    Bye for now,



  4. came out of Mossley train stn not one double deck on 350 coming but 2 31927 and 31943

    got a ride on 31929 last night great bus

    also 34260/63 have gone to Chester to replace 30069/77 now withdrawn


  5. 31927 the best something matter with 43s destionantion box does show place on but not all of it

    waiting for 17.07 train from Ashton to Mossley it said Exp 17.18 and it came on time people waiting at Stalybridge for it where told it was cancalled so they where shocked when it pulled up in stn


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