Amol Rajan: Driven nuts by 'full' rush-hour buses with empty seats


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The Independent Online

Many of you will be reading this during morning rush hour. It's easily the worst time of day, the period in which all the optimism of morning is sweated out of us in remorseless, overcrowded carriages. It is also an intrinsically selfish time, when we think only of ourselves and the need to hit our desks by 9am.

I take that to be the cause of a social phenomenon that has been driving me nuts for years: the scandal of empty rush-hour buses.

You know the deal. You're waiting for the 259. It arrives. A few people get off. But the bus driver doesn't open the front door, because the bus is full up. So 15 infuriated commuters are left stranded. And late.

Except, the buses aren't full. There are several seats vacant upstairs, even some downstairs, and plenty of standing room. It's just the selfish, myopic, utterly reprehensible chumps who got on at the last stop can't be bothered to move down the bus. And the driver, who is paid to tell them to do just that, is a coward.

There's a multiplier effect here, of course: the more that people are stranded at each stop, the less likely each driver is to open his doors, and the more workers are left hyperventilating in indignation.

This disgusting incivility, which uses rush hour as an excuse for behaviour that deserves to be slapped with an Asbo, drove me over the edge last year. I blogged about it, and swore to take action.

Now, each time I get on a bus at rush hour, if the driver threatens not to open the front door, I shout from the back: "There are loads of seats here, driver. If a couple of people just move back, or go upstairs, there's plenty of room." Naturally I feel like a vainglorious buffoon saying this. But the cost in personal humiliation is outweighed by the benefit in social solidarity, transport efficiency, and office punctuality. Recouping all that lost productivity might even be a boon to our economy.

And do you know how I can tell it's working? Yesterday, on the 259 at 8am, the front of the bus was packed, when an amazing thing happened. As the bus halted, a vaguely familiar black woman bellowed, "There are plenty of seats back here" – and then looked at me, knowingly.

In that moment, I felt I understood the meaning of Big Society.