London Buses and other public services

This week yet another London bus route, the number 38, lost its Routemasters to be replaced by bendy buses (commonly called happy buses or free buses due to the scarcity of inspectors). The only route left is the number 159, an internationally known tourist route due to the Routemaster bus and the bus’s route through architecturally scenic parts of London. The Führer Ken Livingstone intends to replace that with a plain old double-decker in a few weeks’ time as well, against a lot of advice and evidence. If the callers on the Vanessa Feltz show were anything like representative (I’m no fan of Feltz, but the Nazi astroturfers who used to call in to “tell it like it is” on immigration, etc., don’t seem to appear so much on her show), people generally are very much opposed to it; I heard at least one caller lament that these people are too set on their pet projects and refuse to listen to anyone.

This weekend I made an arrangement to meet a friend (and a friend’s friend) in a Moroccan restaurant in Golborne Road, London W10. Golborne Road is not itself a bus route, but it is close to Ladbroke Grove along which a number of buses from central London run (the 52 from Victoria, the 7 and 23 from Edgware Road). My visitors had come down from Edinburgh and didn’t know London that well; they had been visiting Oxford Street and asked the driver to drop them at Golborne Road. Several drivers told them that the bus didn’t go there; then one did, and ended up dropping them at Queensway.

When I got the call saying that’s where they’d been dropped off, it was 7.30pm - half an hour after the arranged time. I was furious; a bus driver had clearly given them the wrong information, whether deliberately or just because he was plain stupid I can’t tell. I mean, if you don’t know, why give people the wrong information? I had to have a friend drive me to Queensway to pick them up, and it was 8pm by the time we got down to dinner.

One thing I find frustrating about London is that people who deal with the public often have little knowledge of where they are working. Of course, not everyone can be a walking map book, but bus drivers should know of tourist attractions and other landmarks along their route. Golborne Road happens to be a major destination for Moroccans in London. It also happens to lie at the northern end of Portobello Road, a famous street market. And the number 23 goes past both ends of it! In fact, it goes along a short stretch at the end, on its way to its terminus at Westbourne Park tube station.

It’s not just bus drivers. Even some corner shop owners don’t bother to find out about what lies around their shop. A few weeks ago, I had to go to a new job in a road quite near to Old Street, on the edge of the City of London. I walked up City Road, having seen on a map that the road I was looking for (Lever Street) started somewhere near it. Problem is, Lever Street doesn’t quite reach City Road, so you won’t find it just by looking at signs on roads off City Road. You’d think local shopkeepers would know these things, but they don’t. (These particular shopkeepers were Indian, as I recall, and didn’t know English that well either.)

The Indian corner shop is a British institution, but I really do think that people who serve the public should need to demonstrate some local knowledge. They are often the first port of call for anyone who wants to know something about the local area. In the case of bus drivers, while there’s no need for them to do “the knowledge” as black cab drivers do, they should need to learn about where their route goes and what lies a few streets off it. Having lived here all my life, I found it difficult to understand how someone could fail to find Golborne Road, W10 - there is, after all, only one W10 and one Golborne Road in it. But not everyone knows that you can walk into a bookshop and look it up in a street atlas without buying the atlas. My Moroccan friend, who actually lives in Slough, said that London is actually a big city and not easy to find one’s way around. These bus companies should start training their drivers to be public servants, rather than the reckless jobsworths the public sometimes encounter.

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