London Double Decker Bus
Everyday Adventures

My January Challenge: Start Riding the Bus

Chalk it up to the fact that I’m American, but I don’t get the bus.

Now, I don’t have anything against public transport.  In fact, I’ll ride the subway / tube / metro anywhere.  London, Paris, New York, Chicago, I’ve explored them all using the underground trains.  The tube makes sense to me as a way to get around, especially in a big city.  You avoid the snarling traffic in the streets above.  I understand the maps and codes of the underground, when to get on and off.  If you dropped me off in a subway station in most cities, I’d feel confident enough to find my way from point A to point B.  And, before I became a stay a home mum, I spent a year commuting by train and tube into London.  The train is comfortable and familiar.  But the bus?  Not so much.  The complexity of its timetables and stops, it’s like hieroglyphics.

Maybe it’s a function of my childhood.  Where I grew up, the bus wasn’t simply a way to get around, it was a measure of socio-economic status.  You didn’t ride the bus as an efficient means of getting around town.  You rode it because you were too poor to own a car.  And the bus line typically doesn’t extend out of the inner cities and into the suburbs where most of middle class America lives and works.  The vast expanse of America necessitates the car as a primary means of transport.

Europeans, however, are happy to accept public transport, bus and train, as their primary means of getting around.  Riding the bus is normal, it’s efficient, it’s accessible.  I now know people who don’t own cars and who use the bus exclusively to get where the need to go.  The only people I’ve ever known in America to use the bus are friends I’ve had in the big cities, places like New York and Chicago.  They live in the middle of the city and they don’t own a car because it’s too expensive to park.  But outside of those dense urban landscapes, I don’t think I know a soul who uses the bus.

So maybe it’s a culture thing or maybe it’s just my control issues but for whatever reason, taking the bus has been outside of my comfort zone.  If I’m going to brave the traffic on the surface streets, I might as well drive myself.  It will take less time than figuring out the timetable for the bus.

But, I’ve decided it’s time to break out of my comfort zone.  I’m not saying I’m going to start taking the bus everywhere because, well, that’s just not going to happen.  I didn’t go through the pain of getting a UK driving license for nothing.  But, very specifically, I’ll start taking it into Oxford.

Oxford, the charming city steeped in history, has one big flaw.  It really, really hates cars.  Oxford seems on a mission to make it as difficult as possible to navigate its historic streets by car.  With a maze of one way and restricted streets, extortionate parking fees, and traffic jams no city of this diminutive size should ever have, Oxford sends a clear message to anyone behind the wheel of a car, Keep Out.  We live just a couple of miles outside the city center, a drive that at 7 AM in the morning, when there is no traffic, takes me about 5 minutes.  More often, the road into the city center is choked with traffic.  This two-mile journey has, on occasion, taken me 45 minutes to complete.  Now, I know you’re thinking the bus won’t help me with this.  But, there is in fact a bus lane which allows buses to navigate the queue of traffic with ease.

There are great things to do in Oxford, places like the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Ashmolean, good outings for me and the Little Monkey.  But I tend to do other things instead just to avoid going into the city.  I would do these more often if it weren’t such a hassle.

So, as there is bus stop more or less in front of my house(!), I’m going to give the bus a chance.  Plus, the last time we were in Oxford, the Little Monkey expressed an interest in riding the bus.  Given his obsession with modes of transport it’s only fair of me to give him that experience.

Stay tuned for more on our adventures riding bus.

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  • Reply Matma January 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Now there’s a thing!
    Personally, I have lots of happy memories of taking the bus. The banter on the back seat, the fun in the front and on and on … When I grew up in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire using the bus was cheap, cheerful and ubiquitous. Now I’m not so sure. For me, taking the bus is expensive and the restrictive timetable prohibits spontaneity. Forgive me, but the thought of waiting for the bus on a winter’s day does not feel like a positive step forward. However, I do know that if everyone does it then the economics become an unstoppable force. We would get back to what I remember as a kid and I think that would be as beneficial as playing outdoors and home-cooked food. I think the sense of what you propose is great but after you Katherine. If you don’t mind – I’ll wait a while – until the next one comes along.

    • Reply katlightner January 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Yes, the middle of January might not have been the best time to start this, but is is cheaper than parking in Oxford!

  • Reply Amanda January 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Well done Katherine, the offer still stands to come with you on your first bus journey!

    • Reply katlightner January 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      Of course our conversation yesterday was my inspiration. Heading out to the stop to take a photo of the timetable. That’ll give me a few days to figure it out!

  • Reply Matma January 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    As with most things, I think time and place plays a big part. The place is definately favourable – I agree that trips into Oxford are probably less tedious by bus. As for timing, I think little monkey will have the time of his life! What could be better? An unfettered journey with Mum surrounded by interesting people to stare at.
    Just wait until he wants to go up to the top deck and enjoy the view!!

  • Reply Riding the Bus Update February 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

    […] couple of weeks ago, I challenged myself to learn to ride the bus.  It’s not like this was a Herculean task, but it was outside the norm and my comfort zone. […]

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