public transport’s a killer without these eight tips

Speed bus

It was pouring with rain when we all clambered onto the bus an hour late.

We were packed in so tight that the way we swayed against each other was almost indecent as we wound along Delhi road. We were too tired to care. If you’ve ever wanted to know what zombies really look like, ride a bus or a train at evening peak hour.

All of a sudden the engine cuts, the bus lights go out, and we roll to a stop.

There were no street lights along this part of the trip. We were embraced by darkness, still and silent. Then a low and shaky voice spoke.

‘We’re all gunna die!’

Tips for surviving public transport

I’m not going to labour the benefits of public transport, you know them already: saves you money, avoids the traffic jams, better for the environment, potential to meet your future husband…

Instead I want to talk about the practicalities of riding with your local urban transportation service.

1. Make the most of your down time

As passenger rather than driver, you have the luxury of twice daily down time (ah, yes those were the days). Use that time productively to read a book, learn something new, listen to an audiobook or study.

Knit. Write. Sleep. Suduko. iPod. Socialise.

Things have changed a lot since I last commuted. You can now email, facebook, tweet and otherwise catch up with friends on your mobile phone. You can write your to do lists or even shop on eBay (how good would it be to do your grocery shopping online during your commute to work!?) These technologies often come with a price tag, so balance out the extra cost with the convenience.

2. Carry a bag big enough for your essentials.

But not too big. Apart from what you need for work and the usual bag paraphernalia, don’t forget to carry water and a snack for wait time, your book, and a compact, fold down brolly or better yet, a lightweight raincoat. Yes, it was sunny when you left home this morning, but don’t get caught out in the afternoon shower. There’s nothing worse than sitting soggy in an over-air conditioned train.

3. Pay a fair fare

If you commute every day, then it will be cheaper (and easier) to get a weekly or monthly pass. Each city uses a different ticketing system so take some time to find out what system your city uses and to work out the cheapest way to travel public transport.

If you have to travel using different modes of transport (train then ferry for instance) look into a multi-pass that you can use on everything.

And if you have to pay cash like the dinosaurs (some cities don’t take cash anymore), keep the bus driver happy and have the correct change ready.

4. Get your timing right

It’s true. Trains often run late. Busses sometimes don’t show up. But then again, an accident on the freeway can mean you’re hours late if you drive.

Plan you trip right and you will never be late again:

  • Arrive at the bus stop or train platform early. If there is anything worse than a bus arriving late, it’s one that turns up early. Avoid the dash for the door by getting to the stop a few minutes before you ride does.
  • Plan to arrive at your destination earlier than you need to. Sundays my bus trip was an hour earlier than I needed to start work. It was my favourite time of the week and I would treat myself to a coffee and a muffin (back when it was $4 for the two) and read a good book. It always put me in a good mood before work. Early arrival gives you leeway if your ride is running late.
  • Keep up to date with timetable changes. These are often advertised in advance around stations and on busses. Or check online regularly for timetable updates.
  • Carry a spare timetable. So you’ve decided to stay back for after work drinks? When’s the next train? Check your timetable so that you can avoid missing the last ride or standing around alone for ages on an empty platform.

5. Stay safe

City. Night time. Empty train. Travel safe by following a few simple safety rules.

  • Ride with friends if you can.
  • Avoid isolated bus stops, wait in well lit areas and have someone meet you at the other end if possible.
  • Carry your pass or fare in your hand rather than fishing your purse out for change.
  • Sit near the bus driver or near the guard compartment on the train.
  • If your carriage becomes empty, move to one where there are other people.
  • Keep an eye on the behaviour of other passengers.

6. Manners maketh man

If you’re a public transport connoisseur, then you will have experienced the following:

  • loud phone conversations
  • seat hogs
  • broadsheet readers
  • garlic eaters
  • thigh rubbers, elbow flappers, knee knockers
  • drunken revellers
  • door blockers

There is however, one courtesy rule you are allowed to break: eavesdrop to your heart’s content.

8. Smile and say hello sometimes

If you’re a regular you get to know the regulars, by sight at least. And often you have your seat. After a while you start to wonder if  ‘bald guy’ is sick if you don’t see him one day, or if ‘stripy-pants girl’ really did get that new job.

And that’s the great thing about commuting with others, you get to meet people.

It’s life Jim, less boring than we know it

The story at the beginning of this article is true, by the way. We did eventually get home that night after waiting for another bus to complete the trip. I never found out who prophesised our doom in the darkness.

I have many more bus commute incidents that I could relate.

Like the time the bus driver took a quick detour to drop off his ‘little fellas’ at the fertility clinic in the hope of getting his wife pregnant. The whole bus cheered as he ran out of the building.

Or the time a lady flashed the driver her cleavage and he got so flustered he threw the gear into reverse, slammed on the accelerator and we hurled backwards down the freeway.

Or the time the driver got lost and we ended up deep in Sydney’s Lane Cove National Park and he backed into a tree trying to do a twelve point turn on a dirt track (not the only bus accident I’ve been in).

Or the year the bush fires cut half the train lines in Sydney and it took six hours, two trains and three busses to make a one hour trip.

I kid you not, these stories are all true.

Life would be boring without public transport.

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