While driving a bus, we have a lot of things to concentrate on. At the top of the list is the actual driving; steering safely, not bumping anything, what the other idiots on the road around us are getting up to and so on; we also have to have half an eye and one ear out for our passengers; is someone out of their seat? About to ring the bell? – and we have to eye up the approaching bus stop and the people waiting there to assess whether they want the bus.
But that should be obvious, you tell me. They’re waiting. At a bus stop. Of course they want the bus! However, we often have more than one route servicing each stop, and more than one bus company serving our town. So the people at the stop might want a different bus, or they might not want a bus at all – the bus shelter might be the only place along a stretch supplying a bench, which is used by the elderly needing a break or the young needing a hangout – people, in short, who are not even planning to become passengers at all in the near future.
We could pull in to every occupied stop just in case, but firstly, we look a bit silly opening our doors to no one, and secondly, we would never get the bus round on time that way. Our schedule assumes we wouldn’t need to serve every stop, so is tight enough not to allow for that eventuality.
This necessitates becoming an expert on body language, on assessing the likely want of the people at the stop. This body language takes on many forms and nuances:
The Clear Signaller
This person is our perfect passenger. They stand straighter when they see us, read the destination blind and hold out their hand (or their stick, bus pass or whatever they’re holding) in a clear demand for us to pull in. Or they make eye contact and shake their head firmly, no. You are not my bus.
You have to be watching because you could miss this. The person at the stop sees you approach then either steps forward, indicating an expectation to board, or steps back, the only clue they will offer you that they are not interested.
The Back Turner
This person will have seen you are not their bus then will studiously turn their back on you, perhaps assuming that giving you eye contact will bring you in to the stop. They may well pretend to be reading the timetable, often the one belonging to the other bus company, easy to see from a distance because they use a different background colour to us. At least once, I have almost missed a person because they were so busy actually reading the timetable, they didn’t notice my approach until the last second.
I know it’s awful of me, but when I see these, they make me laugh. They see you are not their bus and they actually attempt to hide from view – behind the shelter, in the hedge, behind other people waiting and once, hilariously, behind a telegraph pole so that I could see only his feet and belly, just like in a cartoon.
These are clear signallers, but they are also deadly. The person who shooes your bus away, often firmly, almost crossly, as if it is somehow your fault you are the wrong one for them, are sometimes completely unaware that a) they are not the only person at the stop and b) not everyone is waiting for the same bus as them. So while you are distracted by their wild, angry flapping, you fail to spot that another person has stepped forward, that easily missable but clear signal that they, in fact, do wish to catch your bus.
These people are a nightmare. They stand at the stop, watch you approach, and do not react at all. They simply stare through you unseeingly. Is it because you are not their bus so they are simply disinterested? Is it because they are daydreaming and haven’t actually registered your approach? Is it because they assume you would know they want your bus and expect you to pull in automatically on seeing them? So you slow the bus slightly, peering at them, trying to make eye contact and elicit a response, often without success – they are avoiding your eye contact because they don’t want your bus. Or are they? Just as you draw alongside, they might suddenly snap out of their reverie, realise you are driving past and all but fling themselves in your path to stop you! So you haul in at an angle (to the annoyance of the traffic behind) and scoop them up as quickly as you can with an apology for missing them and an admonishment to signal clearly next time.
A sub-group of the inscrutables is the device-viewers. They sit or stand at the stop completely engrossed by their mobile, and do not respond to your approach. I’m afraid I can be a little impatient with these and doggedly keep going, and I know I’m not the only driver who does this. I wonder how many people miss their bus because their technology has so completely consumed them. It would be ironic if the reason for their engagement is a fascination for the App that shows where your bus is in real time…
So there you have it. Even something seemingly as simple as serving a bus stop is not always completely straightforward, and requires a small degree of psychology to execute efficiently – pulling in only when we’re required to keep the bus flowing with the traffic as much as possible.