Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #11: Queueing for Buses

Much to do with the way we queue for the 192 (well, other buses are also available).

London General TEN5 on Route 192, Tottenham Hale Bus Station
A queue for the 192, though not the one we are more familiar with in Greater Manchester. Here’s Transport for London’s version of the 192 service, seen loading at Tottenham Hale bus station bound for Enfield. Image by Aubrey Morandarte, 2014 (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved)

Queueing, it’s a very British phenomenon. It is something which, supposedly, sets Britons apart from their overseas peers. It is something certain generations did a lot of in the Second World War for buses, rations and trips to the local cinema.

Today, queueing is still the norm for a lot of activities. It is associated with Post Offices, sometimes public houses. Depending on where you go, it is commonplace with public transport. On Family Fortunes, ‘Bus’ or ‘Taxi’ would be Top Answers under the question “Name a mode of transport you queue up for”.

Queueing: it’s the LAW!

In London, it is illegal to jump the queue for a London Underground ticket machine. Passengers wishing to board have to join the queue from the back, with jumping the queue subject to a maximum £1,000 fine. Before 1995, this was true with buses. The London Passenger Transport Act 1938 stipulated how queue jumping meant a £2.00 fine. Which in 1938 rates was a princely sum. Nearer to four figures in 2016 money.

Outside of London, the full weight of the law didn’t apply. Even so, municipal and private operators enforced queueing at its bus stations, stands and termini.

Queueing systems

Before 1995, steel pens were a popular way of containing bus queues. Shelters would typically have an entrance at the bottom, leading up to the exit on the left or right hand side of the shelter. In Manchester, there was queueing pens at bus stands without shelters till the 1960s. Sometimes, if the shelter is of similar width to the pavement, there would be no room for a queueing pen.

The boarding point (which meets up with the bus stop itself) either faces oncoming buses, or sees passengers facing the same direction as the bus itself. How we queue for buses also depends on the termini’s design as well as self-discipline.

In Greater Manchester, most of the city region’s bus stations had tubular steel queueing pens (more like goalposts). With bus stations designed by Essex, Goodman and Suggitt Architects, some would double on each other, making best use of free space. At the (1978) Rochdale Bus Station, the pens doubled up with wooden bench seats opposite the queueing area. The seats backed on to a wall marking the bus stand’s entrance (each stand had entry and exit doors – latter for boarding the 409, 17, 528, or any other desired bus).

At Bury Interchange’s bus section, the pens ran the length of each stand, with some smaller stands doubling up on pens to save space. The stand entrance was separate to its exit as at Rochdale, though the seating area was between the two access points. At Ashton-under-Lyne (1985 – 93), Stockport (1980 – to date), Hyde (1981 – 2003), same again, though with seats backing on to the windows. As at Rochdale and Bury, the queueing pens doubled up at Ashton.

Side by side

With most of today’s bus stations opting for single termini layouts (user-friendliness, better security and improved shelter), the queueing pens of platform style bus shelters seem to have disappeared. At Manchester Airport’s bus station, the pull-in and reverse-out approach makes queueing less of a necessity. Instead, seats act as a boundary between stands as well as their intended purpose. Instead of queueing, he or she can sit down till their bus appears and, possibly, form a queue. This is true with many of Metro West Yorkshire’s bus stations, especially Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Bradford Interchange.

Some bus stations have a central waiting area, whereby passengers take their place at a stand closer to the bus or coach’s arrival time. This was true at Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, and the late 1960s version of Burnley bus station. Narrow pens would direct passengers toward their desired bus or coach. Both Burnley’s and Lower Mosley Street’s examples were more akin to cattle pens.

Prior to refurbishment, Birmingham Coach Station – hitherto known as Digbeth – had narrow pens in the zig-zag form, as seen below.

Digbeth Coach Station Interior.jpg
A photograph of Digbeth Coach Station in 2006. Its queueing system had been ‘improved’ by then.

On a smaller scale, this is true with Ramsey bus station on the Isle of Man. Passengers sit in a waiting room and go to the correct bay for their desired bus.

The future?

With single termini bus stations increasing in popularity, there may come a time where queueing will be obsolete at compulsory stops. Future bus passengers could be given the bus’ proposed arrival time on their phone and set off in good time. (Perhaps I should retract that statement on queues being obsolete). In bus stations, a combination of automated and in-person public address systems could be used to inform passengers of their desired bus route.

Push notifications and Near Field Communication could be used to announce fluctuations in service or suggest alternative connections. This could work well at request stops as well as bus stations. No amount of bus-related technology will see the queue confined to history outside principal transport interchanges. Ever.

S.V., 07 April 2016.

Image Credit:

Digbeth Coach Station by User:NRTurner – self-made, GFDL, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15132575.

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