What are the signs of Beat The Bus Syndrome?

Whether you take the 192 to work or the 216 to Town, you expect the bus to get you from A to B as trouble free as possible. Stopping every so often on a busy route is inevitable as several other passengers fancy going the same way. Loadings vary according to the time of day, which is why journeys are faster in less busy periods.

Whether driving the vehicle or sat down as a paying passenger, there are several things that can throw the timetable off kilter. One could be traffic light cycles not playing ball with the working timetable and the passenger timetable. Another could be temporary traffic lights: at best they are a necessary evil; at worst, they introduce younger passengers to the joys of waiting several mind-numbing minutes for things (getting them ready for dinner queues and airport check-in desks).

The above peeves are trifling compared with the perils of Beat The Bus Syndrome. What, might you ask is Beat The Bus Syndrome? In a nutshell, it is the art of trying to outdo buses or coaches in revenue earning service.

Why is Beat The Bus Syndrome prevalent?

There are two possible examples, both of which in fictitious and non-fictitious guises. In the former, we could turn to Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s legendary Railway Series of books. Particularly the Thomas and Bertie story.

As the Island of Sodor is the preserve of Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Henry, James, Edward, Toby and Co., the motor bus couldn’t be seen to beat The Fat Controller’s rolling stock. This plot device reinforces the message that travelling everywhere is faster by rail. In the end, Bertie the bus said he enjoyed his race but couldn’t do it again, as passengers weren’t happy with the bumpy ride. Even in the 1950s, fictitious passengers on fictitious islands couldn’t be doing with bad driving techniques.

Fast forwarding our way to non-fictitious situations (ten years later), we were led to believe that motorways were the future. Instead of steam engines, motorway express coaches and private motoring were the most with-it trends. A future of Thunderbirds-style motorway service area towers inspired The Reshaping of British Railways. Twenty-five years on from Dr. Beeching’s infamous report, private motoring usurped public transport as Britain’s Favourite Mode of Choice.

Despite claims of bus deregulation cutting prices and improving standards, Nicholas Ridley’s peers thought bus passengers over 30 were losers in lie and didn’t fit the Thatcher Government’s individualist narrative. The bus was seem as inferior, and this was reinforced by less compassionate motorists. At the start of the first lockdown, travelling by bus was seen as dangerous by our present government, and passengers were encourage to cut their journeys or drive more. This message proved to be more effective than under Thatcher’s government in its second term of office, which is why bus patronage outside London has yet to reach 2019 levels.

The DSM-V1 Criteria for Beat The Bus Syndrome

With individualism comes Beat The Bus Syndrome in its personal context which has traits in the following areas:

  1. Trying to race the bus to the lights: a most common trait, especially when the driver is picking up or setting down at a bus stop.
  2. Hogging the junction: another common trait, often practiced by private motorists or drivers of delivery vans is dithering at traffic light controlled junctions. In many cases, the driver in front of the bus may hang on till the lights start to change from green to amber. This stops the driver from sticking to the timetable properly and frustrates passengers to a point where they might consider other modes of transport.
  3. Kerbside parking on a principal bus route: sometimes, due to the make up of the housing estate, off-street parking may be impossible. This poses many problems for bus drivers trying to negotiate their way past two sides of the street with kerbside parking. On a housing estate where off-street parking is available as standard, such actions are inexcusable and constitute acute traits of Beat The Bus Syndrome.
  4. Opening car doors whilst a bus is passing through: at best, this could be due to the driver’s ignorance of bus timetables in their locality. If blatantly synchronised with bus timetables, this displays a lack of empathy with fellow road users passing through a narrow street, exacerbated by kerbside parking (see also similar attitudes with drivers of refuse lorries).
  5. Oppositional lane hogging: sometimes, if another road user is hogging a lane in the opposite direction, the bus driver could lose track of the timetable if required to wait a bit longer than desired. This is more marked on roads with chicanes – even where oncoming traffic has priority over incoming traffic. (In Greater Manchester, examples include Oxford Street in Werneth).

In the institutionalised context of Beat The Bus Syndrome, this could mean:

  1. Reinforcing the image of ‘bus bad, train good, car better’: after previous lockdowns, we need our buses more than ever. They are a lifeline for local economies and an important part of our leisure industry. Under the deregulated structure, some big bus-owning groups have made buses a realistic alternative to local trains (or complemented rail services). On the other hand, bus users should be given the right to access one part of their town to another without changing en route.
  2. Stubbornly refusing to have bus lanes: seriously, our urban centres need more bus and taxi lanes. Better still when coupled with bus priority measures at every set of traffic lights across the UK. Being sat on a bus on A Good Bus Lane is like being at the school dinner queue and gloating at your friends because the Prefect or Head Boy/Head Girl let you through early.
  3. Refusing to build town centre bus stations – or demolishing them in favour of on-street stands: without bus lanes and traffic priority measures, a set of on-street shelters instead of a purpose-built bus station with off-street access gives the bus passenger a Second Class experience of their journey. For people unfamiliar with the town, no bus station – nor a railway station – denies them a proper gateway into a town centre. It also stifles passenger demand. Where do drivers layover without a proper bus station?

A personal perspective of Beat The Bus Syndrome

In my years as a bus passenger, I have seen the following traits of Beat The Bus Syndrome such as:

  • Trying to race the bus to the lights: numerous occasions across the UK, predominantly on Stockport Road near Morrisons;
  • Hogging the junction: again, numerous occasions across the UK. More often than not at BT Roundabout or Albion School junction.
  • Kerbside parking: a gazillion times, not only on narrow streets designed for minibuses rather than double deckers; also arterial roads. More than anything, a peeve I have had on the 339/340/41/335 routes in the last 20 years.
  • Opening of car doors whilst a bus passes through: I have seen isolated cases where one driver on a street has done that. The worst I could recall was on a local street where three drivers opened their car doors in (seemingly) Busby Berkeley fashion. Worse still was the fact I missed a tram, and that the bus which had difficulty negotiating that street was a narrow Plaxton Primo single decker!
  • Oppositional lane hogging: numerous occasions across the UK, often on roads with chicanes.

And finally…

What else would you say should be added to the DSM-V1 criteria for Beat The Bus Syndrome? Have you identified any other traits, whether the Individualised or Institutionalised forms? Are you a bus user that has seen this first hand? Feel free to comment.

S.V., 15 September 2021.

For the purpose of this article, DSM stands for Dodgy Steering Method.

One thought on “Beat The Bus Syndrome: A DSM Criteria

  1. In your mention of iconic situations of bus v train, can I add that wonderful film “The Titfield Thunderbolt” as another example. Young Sid James challenging the locomotive with his road roller is a sight not easily forgotten as also that of the Bishop working on the footplate during the special run.

    Liked by 1 person

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