The wheels on the bus

My quest to (slowly) re-join society after 18+ months of (near) isolation is speeding up these days. So much so that I enjoyed not one, but two bus journeys last week. Which, after so long avoiding public transport, feels like a jet-set life!

I planned the first journey specifically as a test run so that I could familiarise myself with the new protocols and general practices and behaviours for using public transport. That way, I would (hopefully) have less anxiety when I had to ride the bus. I also wanted to get a feel for how busy the bus might be at different points along the route.

When I first got on the bus (as the only passenger) I felt relatively calm for the levels of excitement I was experiencing. Other passengers began to board after a couple of stops and by the time we were halfway through my journey, I started to wonder what would happen when the seats began to fill up – and the only options for people were to sit right next to others.

That’s when I started to feel a little anxious and started to plan where I would get off at. Thankfully, the weather was nice, I wasn’t in a rush, and I knew I would be able to walk a bit if needed. In the end, I got off the bus where I had originally planned (4 stops before my destination) – which is where I would have gotten off even if I’d planned to go further, as it was getting too crowded for me and my desired levels of social distancing.

My return journey on that first trip was more challenging. There is only one bus option for me (unless I walk 1-2 miles on both ends) and that bus is only every 30 minutes – and only runs until 6.30 for the return home. I timed everything so that I would have less than 5 minutes to wait for the bus to go home, but when the bus came by it was “full” and didn’t stop. That meant I had to wait another 30 minutes (by which time it started to rain). But there was plenty of space for me when the next bus came – and I was the last person on the bus towards the end of my journey.

The lesson learned was that buses don’t cram people on in sardine fashion anymore (which is a good thing). The lesson remembered was that getting a bus home during the “pupil peak” is a challenge – all of those teenage school kids have already taken the spaces! It’s a little frustrating because I know that the bus would be empty in a mile or two, but that’s life.

Just Frances, masking on a bus

My second bus journey came much sooner than expected and was planned the day before the first journey. It was for a long-overdue optometrist appointment (the last one was cancelled during the lockdowns). This journey was a Saturday, which meant I go to see the difference between a weekday and weekend trip into the city, along the same route.

As with the first journey, I was the only passenger for the first few stops. However, this time the bus began to fill up more quickly when it got into the “people” zone (the first bit is more rural). That’s when I realised that people would be sitting next to me in another stop or two. To prevent that, I moved to the wheelchair space to stand for the last two stops before I got off the bus. (I would have left the bus if someone needed that space.)

The bus only runs hourly on a Saturday (and not at all on a Sunday) so I was a little worried about it being too crowded for my return journey. However, my fears were unwarranted as the bus was almost empty when I got on. Had I been at the city-centre start of the route that might have been different, so I will have to think of alternatives for the future.

My next (planned) bus journey will be back to Morningside for work. If everything goes to plan for my new visa, I’ll be starting my new job soon – and that will mean regular (but not daily) bus journeys to the office. Now that I’ve had a couple of test runs, I think I will feel more confident about making the commute.

Luckily for me, my “normal” bus goes between my rural cottage (I’m the 3rd stop on the route) and the city centre – and most of my destinations are on or near the route. The primary purpose of the bus is to bring people from the city to work at the nearby science research facilities, which means that I travel in opposite directions from the “peak” riders. That, in turn, means that the start and end of my journey tend to be a (near) empty bus – even pre-pandemic.

I am also lucky that I can get off the bus early if it’s getting too crowded and (in a pinch) I can even walk towards home for a mile or two in the evenings to get a less crowded bus for my return journey. (A pre-pandemic aside: There is a “sweet spot” on the route where the bus goes from full to empty. If I was crammed in and standing on my return journey, I always knew that I would have a seat by that stop and a nearly empty bus in another couple stops.)

Whilst it was a little unsettling at times, it felt good to be on a bus again, doing “normal” things. I will still avoid public transport when I can so that I am not putting myself at greater risk than necessary, but also so that I am not adding to the congestion for those people who don’t have the option to walk or to stay home. Although I am looking forward to the day when (overly) crowded buses are a normal part of life – without the shadow of a deadly pandemic.

I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but I am feeling more confident about it all now. And soon, I might be ready to (safely) get on an airplane for a visit home to see my parents. I can’t wait for that day!

[Photo note: That’s me next to a vintage bus in Glasgow way back in 2019.]

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