The bells were ringing, for me and my bus… in our long awaited eighth part of this series

A row of bell pushes, seen on a First Greater Manchester Optare Solo.
A row of bell pushes, seen on 40321, a First Greater Manchester Optare Solo.

Ever since John Greenwood’s original bus service ran from Salford to Pendleton in 1824, there has been a way of reminding the driver to stop the vehicle. Firstly, coachmen would announce certain stops along the route for the benefit of its passengers. On trams, a bell code would remind passengers of their stops. This was perpetuated on trolleybuses and standard diesel buses.

Before the advent of one-person-operation, conductors would operate the bell push. The standard system of bell codes on UK buses is as follows:

  • One push: bus stopping;
  • Two pushes: bus ready to leave;
  • Three pushes: bus full.

With OPO buses, it is the passenger who calls the shots. A single push is enough to remind our driver that he or she is about to dismount.

The common protocol involves our passenger pressing the bell and remaining seated till the bus has stopped. On several occasions, he or she (myself included) is likely to make their way to the door after pressing the bell. Woe betide anyone who dares to dismount if he or she has to brake quickly.

Sometimes, passengers leave the bus without ringing the bell. The driver is at a loss to understand if he or she is leaving the bus or moving to another seat. Sometimes, the driver may realise this as the passenger makes their way to the doors, so long as he or she makes fleeting eye contact towards the driver.

In Greater Manchester, many passengers – myself included – opt for leaving their seat and making brief eye contact with the driver. This approach seems to have been inherited from the early days of driver-only operation and continued well into post-bus deregulation years. Today it seems a little bizarre as ringing the bell to leave is the norm.

From DIPTAC to the Equality Act 2010

Cast your mind back to 1995, or 2000 even. Back in Greater Manchester, the GMT standard double decker – whether Daimler Fleetline or early Leyland Olympians – had the bell pushes on the ceiling of each deck. The bell pushes were on long strips with the symmetry upset a little by the “PUSH ONCE” instruction.

Though they were less obtrusive than the present day bell pushes, vertically challenged passengers were unable to press the bell push. Unless they opted for the seat above the rear wheels on a MCW Metrobus, Bristol VRT or Leyland Olympian. Being as they discriminated against smaller passengers and children, the early 1980s saw changes to the bell push positions.

Thanks to the Disabled Persons’ Transport Access Committee – DIPTAC or DPTAC, bell pushes began to be placed inches above the seat backs. The Roe bodied G-reg Leyland Olympians (as operated by Potteries Motor Traction, after 1990) had ceiling and seat back height bell pushes. From the start of production, the Leyland National was years before its contemporaries with seat back height bell pushes.

In the late 1980s, the lower bell pushes had a red button inside a grey case. Though discreet and at a lower height, they clashed with the chrome rails. This was addressed with bigger bell pushes. Instead of being circular, protruding oblong strips. A step up, though with some shortcomings for visually impaired passengers.

By 1995, modern day buses had contrasting bell case colours. The button was still red, though with a white “STOP” in sans-serif type. The case, in yellow. Contrast issues with rails and bell cases sorted. Well, almost, being as the chrome rails gave way to red, orange, mint green or sky blue grip rails. Some with improved tactile feedback.

The change of rail colour from the standard chrome to vivid colours not only offer contrast for visually impaired users. They are also a manifestation of the bus operator’s colour scheme. Light orange rail: a Stagecoach bus after 2001; sky blue: pre-2012 FirstBus/FirstGroup vehicles; shocking pink: FirstGroup vehicles after 2012. Thankfully the bell case colours are yellow as standard.

*                         *                        *

For our long awaited ninth part of the Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations, we shall be looking at the foibles of bus seats, designs and positions. All from the slightly impartial eye of a regular passenger.

S.V., 18 December 2015.

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