True Gripes: Uncivil service: Why are London bus drivers so rude?

Heather Pinchen
Wednesday 14 September 1994 23:02

I know negotiating traffic about town is a stressful business but why are London bus drivers so rude? Take an incident which happened last week. One minute I was sitting happily on the 134 to Tottenham Court Road absorbed in a good book, when the driver interrupted, shouting 'Get off] Just get off the bus]'. Looking up, I saw a woman wedged between her two young daughters assert in a refined accent: 'Don't you talk to me like that. Just tell me how much the fare is.'

Suddenly, all the ground floor passengers were no longer individuals but commuters - united against the horror of yet another aggressive member of London Transport's staff. And, with the doors open and the driver refusing to move, we were going nowhere fast.

'Anyone here got change for a tenner?' called out a flustered Mara - as I later learnt her name. We all quickly fumbled through bags and pockets. Luckily, Sarah Chippindale, a health adviser sitting opposite, had some change. 'I gave her the money because I couldn't believe a driver would treat a woman with children in this way,' she told me afterwards. 'I was shocked.'

We waited with baited breath as Mara Kirk-Reynolds, a Hampstead teacher, proffered the required pounds 1.40 from Gower Street. Our driver took the money reluctantly as she peered at the identifying number on his epaulette. 'Oh and do you want 25 pence for the stamp as well?' he sneered.

For many female passengers, being on the receiving end of this sort of treatment by a London bus driver is by no means unusual. Watching the surly behaviour of this one I recalled past conflict with a No 9 driver at Hammersmith. 'Whereabouts in Barnes do you stop?' I'd asked three times - without understanding his incoherent reply. 'Are you deaf, stupid or what?' he'd yelled, leaving me to retreat, red-faced and outraged to a seat.

So, if you want to come out on top in the event of a public showdown with someone who is supposed to be at your service, answering back assertively - and complaining to customer services at London Transport (who have promised to investigate this incident) may do the trick.

'It's ironic because I usually drive everywhere,' explained Mara. 'I hardly ever use public transport. It's unreliable, takes an age and now there's the possibility of a contretemps with a driver.

'It's lucky that I was feeling fairly relaxed. If it had been some other time of the month I might have got really upset.'

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