July 08 2021

Regular bus user Will has written for CPT about his experiences returning to bus travel as lockdown restrictions ease.

With the gradual easing of lockdown giving me more reasons to travel I’ve dug my bus pass out from the depths of my wallet where it has been hiding among the unused cash and set out of a few bus journeys.

On boarding my first bus I found the wheelchair space occupied by a buggy with the mother entraining the child by showing them a video on her phone.  As I manoeuvred round to see if I could find a safe place for my short journey the driver was already out of his seat politely telling the woman she had to move.  Without any concern she moved to the flip down seats on the other side of the bus, the only protest coming from the child about the interruption to their viewing.  I offered a smile of thanks to everyone, before realising that face-masks make such gestures go unseen.

Looking round I saw that the yellow and red closed seat signs of last summer had gone.  Only the middle of the 3 flip-down seats now seemed to be out of use, and that was marked by a muted white on black sign.  However, passengers were doing their best to socially distance sitting one to a seat, with any baggage ostentatiously placed on the seat beside them. 

All the buses I’ve used have seemed cleaner than usual apart from the odd muddy footprint on the floor.  The window vents are open, with instructions not to close them.  Unfortunately, on all of them the audio announcements have not been operating.  As a wheelchair user I find them helpful as facing backwards I only recognise where I am when we’ve passed the landmark, and I’ve forgotten the sequence of stops on some routes.  I’m really looking forward to the law making them mandatory being implemented.

On a couple of journeys I’ve noticed a passenger travelling without a mask.  They stare straight ahead of them with shoulders rigid, avoiding all eye contact. Obviously they are aware of what they are doing.  I’ve wondered whether they are exempt and fearful of challenge, or just showing their determination to flout the law (or perhaps they have simply left their mask at home by mistake) but their body language discourages any attempt a conversation. It has been reassuring to see the majority of passengers following the rules.

Drivers have seemed more inclined to engage with passengers with a welcoming nod of acknowledgement as cards or passes are accepted.  A couple of drivers have asked my destination so that he could position the bus correctly at the kerb on arrival.  I hope that this more friendly approach can continue, I certainly don’t regard the question as at all intrusive.

My first bus was late.  Reportedly traffic levels in Bristol are already back to pre-pandemic levels, but the city centre seemed quiet with many fewer people about.  It seems likely that many more people are preferring to drive rather than take the bus.  But the roads and car parks of Bristol can’t cope with everyone driving, the city will just collapse into gridlock.  I felt safe on my journeys and I hope others will build up the courage to get back to using buses.