For my third and final installment about the joys of British transport I’m going to take a quick look at buses and taxis.
I am sure everyone knows the iconic red double decker London buses, but what about the rest of the country?
Well, the colours of the buses vary from network to network around the country. Some are red, some are green, some are orange, you get the idea. They come in all colours depending on where you are and what the bus company is.
You can also get double decker buses anywhere in the country, though you won’t find them on routes with lots of low bridges – unless the driver has taken a wrong turn of course. See my last post about trains for that story.
One of the largest networks of buses over here is Stagecoach. When my local bus service had an inspection a few years back most of the buses failed the inspection and they brought in buses from all over the country to keep the main routes running. One of those replacements had a door that would not shut – that this one passed an inspection makes me rather worried about what was wrong with those that didn’t!
For regular bus journeys, not coach holidays or airport runs for example, you buy the ticket from the driver of the bus. You don’t buy them at a ticket office. In the past, certainly when I was at school, you would buy your ticket from a conductor, leaving the driver to simply operate the bus. Conductors have been phased out in most places, though I suspect there are a few still lingering somewhere in the country. I suspect the bus companies realised they were losing profits on the most crowded buses where the conductor simply couldn’t get round everyone in time and too many people were getting a free ride. But if you are doing a story set in, for example, the 70s or 80s then a conductor wouldn’t be out of place.
Buses pick up and drop off passengers at designated stops. These stops are usually marked with either a shelter or a sign on a post. Shelters used to be enclosed on all sides, but more recently more and more half shelters have been appearing, meaning you get nice and wet if the weather is rainy and the wind is going in the wrong direction. The timetables for the buses that come to each stop is usually on display at each one. Some of the more modern ones have computerised timetables on display too. But don’t mistake those for anything useful like late running buses. They simply tell you what time the next bus should arrive, not what time it actually will. When the time for the bus has passed, the display moves on regardless of whether the bus has actually turned up or not.
Buses are a cheap alternative to taxis and running your own car.
Most decent sized towns and cities have a taxi rank (or even more than one in the larger cities) where you can queue for a taxi if you don’t fancy the idea of getting the bus, or if the last bus has gone since they don’t generally run all night.
Taxis from the rank are expensive. Their “tip” is already on the clock before you even leave the pick up point. It’s far more cost effective – if you can – to book a taxi in advance by calling one of the local firms.
It is also better to book one in advance if there’s a large group going out for a night on the town. You can ask for vehicles with more seats, though you’ll probably get charged more for that. There is also an extra charge if you find yourself throwing up in one of them. 😉
Mostly public transport gets a lot of bad press, but its handy to know at least the basics if you plan on setting a story in the UK.