So here I am again, at the St Peters House University of Brighton Library, at 8.23pm on a Monday morning. I left exactly the same building just an hour and a half earlier, with the intention to go to Aldi and buy a cucumber before getting the bus home at 7.30pm from The Level.
Oh, how wrong was I when I thought that was what would happen!
By 7.20pm I was at the bus stop and I distracted myself from the cold by posting some pictures on my instagram. Then it was 7.35pm and the bus still hadn’t arrived; the boy sitting next to me, the only other person at the stop, asked if I was waiting for the UB1 bus. I said yes. We chatted and it turned out he was studying medicine, after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from a London university in 2020. Poor us, both graduates of the pandemic.
He called the 24h helpline which the University has kindly set up for us after I’d asked them to do so. The person at the other end said the bus was 15 minutes behind schedule. So we waited and then it was 8.05pm, and he called the helpline again, and it said that the bus was so much behind schedule that the driver reached his maximum work hours and skipped the last round because he needed a break. So now I’m at St Peters Library because there’s no way I’m coughing up another £3 for a nauseating bus ride that will drop me off still 15 minutes on foot away from my home. Over my dead body, you damn Sussex traffic.
You could say that this is the issue with buses, but the truth is that this is not a bus issue. It’s a car issue. Though if you wanted to be picky, it’s an exhaust engine issue. Doesn’t matter. Let’s focus on how cars can be to blame here.
By blocking the roads and clogging up the traffic (bus lanes are still the exception rather than the rule), cars cause delays on the road. Cars don’t run according to set schedules, but bus do. Therefore, a car cannot be late – only a person in it might be late to whatever it is they’re meant to do – but a bus can be late. (So can anything else that runs according to a set schedule, e.g. tram, train, the Tube, ferries, etc.).
Thing is, if you’re in a car and you’re stuck in a traffic jam (because you and others like you have created a traffic jam), you are usually in a warm, heated, comfortable car (though my dad’s car certainly isn’t like that), and though you might be upset that you’re not going anywhere fast enough, at least you have that comfort and the guarantee that at some point you will get to where you’re going.
However, if you’re waiting for a bus that’s delayed (due to the cars on the road), you (1) have no certainty that the bus will arrive, because you’re not in control of it; (2) might be freezing cold, if it’s cold outside (like it is today, though fortunately not as much as at the weekend); (3) might be in danger if it’s dark, susceptible to shady characters at the bus stop or passing by, and could be robbed or assaulted, instead of being safe in a car. So bus goers are at a disadvantage here.
Do not take this as an argument for cars. I want to underline here the inequality between people who take the bus (which might be their only mode of communication, and I would dare to say that it often is so, as they cannot afford to call a taxi or they don’t have a friend or family member who could give them a ride at any time of day) and those who drive a car. The impact of this inequality is only experienced when a disadvantageous situation is created by the car-driver.
Compare this to a situation where you have two people: a house-owner and a person who doesn’t own a house. (Though we could speculate what ‘owning’ really does or ought to mean). The person who doesn’t own a house is fine as long as they have a secure lodging – they might rent a room, or live with squatters in an unused building. The house-owner also has secure lodging in their own home. The person who doesn’t own a house is only put at a disadvantage when the property-owner decides to create trouble for them. For example, one person suddenly remembers that they own the building in which people are squatting and that they have the right to that building, so they tell the squatters to bugger off and leave the property and go elsewhere. But they don’t have a place to go. Or the property-owner who’s leasing their house to the tenant decides that they want to sell that house, or maybe double the rent. So the tenant has to leave. The issue is not in the fact of renting a house, but in the fact that the property-owner produces trouble for the tenant.
And so driving a car is not inherently bad. And using bus services is not inherently troublesome. It is the poorly managed interactions between car-drivers and bus-users, where the power imbalance leans towards those with cars (‘ownership’ as the source of domination) and the person with existing disadvantage (e.g. smaller purchasing power) is put at even more disadvantage (being exposed to the cold, the danger, or deprived of the means to get home from the city).
It’s 8.47pm and I don’t know exactly when my bus is coming, but I know that I am very grateful that the Library is open until midnight. Though this won’t stop my frozen broccoli from thawing prematurely and becoming a possible threat to my intestinal health at my next meal.
At least the three quid stayed in my pocket?
As a reward for reading this, you get this picture of a cappuccino I had today in Cafe Arte. The place is surprisingly cozy and the coffee surprisingly comforting.