I did most of my travelling by bus when I was really young; from the age of five until I was ten I went to school eleven miles away every day. It is true that often I was taken there in the morning by my father in his car before he went to work, but I came home by bus. Sometimes my mother came to travel home with me (especially when I was five), but mostly I travelled alone (with some school friends). I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a six-year-old being expected to make his way home alone by bus today. Even an eight-year-old would be shepherded home by his mother, even if it was only a street or two away. Yet we saw nothing unusual about this unaccompanied travel in 1955; youngsters were not regarded as being in constant danger from ill-intentioned adults or natural disasters. How things have completely changed in couple of generations, and not wholly for the better. From the age of ten I was at boarding school, so the business of getting to school did not apply; I was already at school when I woke up in the morning.
My next experience of using the bus was as a student at university. In less than a decade the nature of bus travel had changed completely to more or less its modern version. The old kind of buses, as shown the illusration above, had gone; no longer were there bus conductors – only in London, where the Routemaster held sway for decades, were they still employed. Everywhere else, by the end of the 1960s, the front entry bus allowed the driver to take your fare, so there was no need for a conductor. Also, the entrance was now controlled by a door, which went some way to making winter journeys a warmer experience. On the other hand the corresponding lack of fresh air made coughs and sneezes (those other features of winter journeys ) more infectious.
Apart from these two periods of my life I have done most of my travelling by other means. Once I could ride one, a bicycle was my main means of transport when I was a teenager. After that I was a car driver – railway travel hardly featured; it was not that I did not like trains, but by then they did not go where I was going. All the branch lines that I would have used had closed.
Bus tickets are not cheap, and I feel sorry for those young people (who on account of their youth do not qualify for the minimum wage) who have to spend so much of their meagre pay on the daily commute to work. With the free bus pass it is another matter; it opens up the world to the nation’s old folk. They have to make their way to the bus stop it is true, and they have wait for the bus, but then they can relax. There is no hurry to get to work for the retired, and nothing to pay. Free bus passes are in fact nothing of the sort; it is just that the ticket is paid for by the local authority rather than by the traveller. It is the bus companies who really benefit; instead of running buses throughout the day nearly empty, they are now filled with pensioners using their bus passes. It was a brilliant idea by somebody, a way of getting something in return for subsiding the bus companies. Few people appreciate that it is these commercial concerns who get the money, not the pensioners. They merely take advantage of off-peak transport. Politicians, who ought to know better, purse their lips at all the wealthy pensioners who are swanning about at other people’s expense. Would they prefer that these bus routes were simply scrapped, or that the subsidies were paid directly to the bus companies with no pensioners benefiting? For they are the only two other alternatives for uneconomic bus routes.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA