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Sofia's Letters from London #6
by Sofia Gkiousou
2007-05-03 10:59:08
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This week – due to the untimely death of my trusty moped – I ended up taking the bus to work and I remembered exactly why I bought the moped in the first place.

I am not a motorcycle sort of person. When I lived in Greece I used to have a car – which is of course what every self-respecting young person aims for as a sort of status quo. You might be paying the damn thing for ages but if you have a car you are on your way to true capitalist paradise. Or at least true environmentalist hell.

The horrors of Athenian traffic jams behind me I was under the impression that London’s public transport network would be more than enough to serve my purposes – not to mention the absence of any real money with which to buy a car. A wise decision you might say especially after the introduction of the Congestion Charge for central London, initially priced at 5 pounds and recently – after its expansion westwards – rising to 8 pounds. Not to mention my growing unease about cars and the environment and a firm decision at some point to do what I can if only to ease my guilt, like taking the bus, riding a bike and recycling. Ah, the delusions of city folk.

Hence when I moved to London I bought a monthly travel card and started commuting to work by taking the bus and the Tube – what lesser cities around the world would call the metro or the underground. Well that lasted less than a year when, disgusted by the delays, horrid smells, feeling of dirtiness and just down right ugliness of the Tube, I stopped buying the monthly travel card and went on to a monthly bus pass instead.

The busses it turned out took longer but they were always there on time and due to the bus lanes they always took the same amount of time. You could be more or less sure of what time you would get into work.

Yet after some months my initial enthusiasm about buses dwindled also since I had to face ever growing delays (Murphy’s law: there are always no buses for 20 minutes and then five of them come all together). Not to mention erratic changes concerning their final stop – about which nobody ever bothers to notify you. Five stops before your stop the bus stops, a tired driver asks you to leave the bus and the next driver expects you to pay the fare all over again – unless you have a transfer ticket which the previous driver neglected to tell you it even existed.

A further complication with me was the need to be at university during most evenings which meant that I missed all the rush hour times and ended up waiting from 15 to 45 minutes for a bus to take me home. After a few months of returning home one hour later than expected I decided to take the bold step and buy a moped that would take me from A to B whenever I wanted. With the added bonus of not having to argue with tired and irritable bus drivers, who treat all your questions as a personal insult. I also moved closer to work so going to work, university and returning home became an easy feat.

There was only one occasion that I would actually miss the bus: When I had a good book to read. I am one of those blessed people that can read in buses, trains and cars and I used to cherish the time I could spent with a book on the bus. I missed the opportunity to immerse my self in a book and when in need of a break, look outside the window to a different picture.

That silly little nostalgic pang was put to rest for good this week. On Monday my moped’s battery decided that it had had it with my erratic and slow driving and decided to take a rest. It died in the process and is now beyond hope. Being extremely busy at work and university meant that I could not take the moped to my repair wiz so I took the bus instead. BIG mistake.

The erratic timetables are worse than I remember them. The food is back, under the seats, on the seats just everywhere. Youngsters sit with their feet on seats. Drivers drive as if they are participating in a F1 championship. Not to mention the dreadful smells. Even though it’s spring and hence sunny and humid people tend not to wash. At all. Ever. The worst was today though, when I had to get off earlier as the driver announced the dreaded ‘last stop’.

I climbed on board the bus behind my one trying to explain politely and smiling that I don’t want to pay again since my bus stopped running and I wanted to go on without paying again. After 5 attempts to explain this to the driver I had to stand there and be shouted at by a man old enough to be my grand father and irritated enough to be my first teacher faced with spoiled brats.

Being Friday my mood was not going to be spoiled by a spoiled pensioner so I descended and climbed the bus immediately after it where the driver was infinitely more understanding and asked me to request for a transfer ticket the next time. She was smiling. I smiled back and thanked her. There. How hard was that?

All in all I finished my book this week but decided that I am getting that moped of mine fixed pronto and if it dies completely – it’s been giving me various problems lately – I will get into debt and buy a new one. You can give me all that environment arguments all you want, the Transport for London authority may try to convince me that public transport in London is perfect but (a) my moped emits less than all the people that decide flatulence is a good idea in a bus and (b) those suits are faced with smiling faces the minute they flash their official free transport pass at the driver.

Until public transport starts operating for me the customer and not for its own benefit I will stick to my moped.

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Get it off your chest
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Asa2007-05-04 20:10:31
Sounds as though London Transport has really improved.

I think it is still cheaper than HKI though.

Sofia2007-05-10 13:45:08
ahhhh. I wouldn't mind paying more if the service really was worth it. It just isn't.

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