Public Transport Infrastructure Blues

My mom spent much of her adult life in Berkeley, California. In the 80s and 90s, when the vegan-to-heroin addict ratio favoured junkies much more than it does today. It was a rough place, she says. She knew those streets.

It was therefore only with great difficulty that I convinced her not to attempt the bus journey from her hotel to my flat unaccompanied. Intrepid traveller though she was, I tried to explain, those who venture too deep into First Bus’ spiderweb of bus lines don’t always return the same person that left.

How bad can it be? She asked me.


I was going to tell her that trying to plot bus journeys is akin to a roll of the dice – do the buses not come essentially at random rather than according to any fixed schedule? – but to call it random feels too generous.

Having taken one semester of entry-level statistics courses, I feel qualified to speak on the nature of randomness. Statistics is centred around analysing, quantifying, and describing random data because the randomness of the universe is a force to which logic can be applied. The randomness of First Bus, however, exists entirely in a universe of its own, a sort of Public Transit Dimension not governed by the rules I came to take for granted in my time in other cities. That buses, even if not always on time, would come eventually, and go where they say they will, and stop for me, and let me off, and make apparent where they go and where they stop and how much they cost.

True randomness is neutral: even if the odds are stacked against you – say, roulette in Vegas – it all comes down to the numbers and probabilities. You lose as much as you bet. All risks can be calculated. It’s comforting to think you live in a largely ambivalent universe until an ill-fated venture into the depths of the First Bus network rips in all away in one fell swoop of poorly-managed infrastructure. First Buses skip ambivalent altogether, take the first left down hostile, and beeline straight for malicious. They relish in the confusion of the inexperienced traveller; delight in her downfall. How else do you explain:

-Waiting for an hour on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Sauchiehall street, growing more hungry and listless with every passing minute, then finally capitulating and beginning the hour-long walk home only to be passed in the space of three minutes by not one, nor two, but three buses?
-Charting a route on google maps, boarding the bus, and, upon sharing one’s destination stop as stated on google maps with the driver, being met with a blank stare and, upon repeat enquiries, the information that no such stop exists, nor ever has?
-At the end of a long month, bank account emptied by Friday and Saturday nights filled with rational, sober-minded purchases, boarding the bus after a final hurrah at Subbie, fumbling around in one’s wallet for change, failing to produce said change, producing instead a £20 note, staring at the driver imploringly, beseechingly, him staring back impassively, words unspoken but written clearly across his face, and once more beginning the long walk home?

I do try to live according to the whole “it’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination” shtick, but when the destination is somewhere I was supposed to be ten minutes ago, and the journey is, by some opaque machination of the First Bus network, through Giffnock, it becomes harder to fall back on proverbials. There are times when we enjoy taking the scenic route, but often a straight, clear path is the most appealing.

However, as we enter 2019, just as we enter a public bus, it’s okay to not have a clear picture of where we’re going. Though the looming uncertainties of both may be frightening – and indeed, random chance is not always the kindest of companions- a bit of ambiguity is, to me, what makes the future exciting. Isn’t it fun to think of ending up in strange new places you had no idea you could even go?

If your answer is no, you’re probably better off taking the subway.

-Olivia Swarthout, Freshman Writer

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