Monday, July 30, 2007

Buses Done Right

I hate taking the bus. In part this is because, in Seattle, the bus comes about once every half hour, and from where I lived, I could be downtown in 1/3 the time it took for me to wait for the next bus. Also, I tend to get motion sickness on buses. I don’t know why, but I have to steel myself for the experience every time I go. Our three days in Italy and the winding, sheer-drop roads of the Amalfi coast were difficult for me (and the bus catching fire on the motorway didn't really instill confidence in me, either). Pretty much as soon as I sit down on a bus I start to feel ill. Clearly there is something psychological about this, because the seats aren’t necessarily less comfortable, nor the motion necessarily more pronounced, than many of the trains I ride. But psychological or not, it’s difficult.

One of the joys of London is the Underground. Trains are fun, and the Tube goes everywhere. You can ride the Tube for hours, for days even, and continue to see new places. Or maybe not, because it’s mostly underground. But you’ll be in new places.

Ian, being the clever, technology-oriented guy that he is, insisted we buy transit passes last time we were in London. I have no idea why they’re called this, but we each bought Oystercards, and they’ve helped to entirely change the way I feel about buses, as it turns out.

They’re an excellent deal, first of all. A one-day travelcard for the Tube costs something like £6, but if you have an Oystercard, you only pay up to £4.50 per day, and it’s good on buses too. And then, suddenly, here we were in a far reach of Islington and the closest Tube station is a 30-minute walk away—completely negating my previous statement that everywhere in London is on the Tube.

I’m not against walking 30 minutes—in fact, I frequently enjoy it, and London is a place I walk a lot. But London is, just by the sheer scale of it, a place most people end up having to walk regardless, and so it’s nice to be able to go around the corner and pop on the #38 bus to the Angel Tube station.

The recent floods have messed up the Tube tubes, too, and have shorted out signals and whatnot, so buses have been all the more necessary for getting around. Ian mentioned the other day that no matter what the scale of your map is, London is so huge that you find yourself walking 3 or 4 times as long as you’d thought, so a bus is frequently welcome—and welcomingly frequent. During the day, most routes seem to run in 8-10 minute intervals (more often during rush hours). Buses run all night, in 20-30 minute intervals from midnight to 4:00am. So you know you can catch one when you need it.

And finally, London buses are just fun. Many of them, even most, really are still double-decker buses. And the thrill of sitting flush up against the windscreen on the upper deck definitely makes up for, and even distracts from, any feelings of motion-sickness.

But the Oystercard, the transit pass, is the icing on the cake. All you need to do is swipe it over the reader and continue on your merry way. No need to search for an unknown amount of change or worry about whether you pay at the beginning or the end of the trip. Buses are clean, buses are fun, buses are convenient. I could become a convert.


Shelley said...

Well, if you like london's transit card you will like Hong Kong's. Works on the Star Ferry, the MTR, the Ding Ding and some convenience stores.

I guess it make sense since the two cities were kind of tight a while back.


CMT said...

I have no idea what the Ding Ding is, but boy do I want to use it!