The 29-Day Blogging Challenge: B is for Busses (and the privilege that is public transit)
One of the first things one must learn in a new city is how to navigate the city itself; the general layout of its sectors and suburbs, the distinct neighbourhoods, which roads lead to where, etc. If one drives, obviously traffic laws and behavior fall under this obliged education. For me, being an avid user of and having a sincere fondness for public transit, I needed to learn the system in Stockholm. Over time I’ve become relatively self-sufficient in this form of transportation, relatively proficient in certain aspects, and have learned a few key – and surprisingly unique – points that one must assimilate into his or her general scope of knowledge in order to deftly transit through this city on… well, public transit.
Stockholm’s public transit provider, SL (Storstockholms Lokaltrafik) has its roots dating back some 95 years, and oversees the German-like efficiency of its local trains, busses, and subways. In that time it has earned itself a much-beloved and almost holy place in the hearts of Stockholmers. The magnificent and benevolent folks at SL, arguably the go-to authority for Saint Christopher himself, maintain and provide a networked system of transportation options that we, the huddled and mobility-desiring masses, should feel privileged to have at our relatively inexpensive disposal. Veneration should be afforded these kind souls, for without them we would surely be stumbling around in circles with no clear direction amidst a landscape of crinkled Metro newspapers.
In order to better understand, navigate, and maintain solemn respect for this, our great transit provider, I herein offer a few key points, guidelines, elements of attention that one should pay, so that we may enjoy SL’s bounty to its fullest and show thanks, in all our words and deeds, for their continued benevolence and care.
1. Whether you’ve bought a single prepaid ticket for 15 Kronor or a year-long pass for 7,280 Kronor, you must understand that this is all you bought: a paper ticket or a plastic card for your wallet. No other rights, privileges, or allowances are implied, promised, or guaranteed. Be thankful, mere citizen – there are children in 3rd world countries with no access to SL passes.
2. When riding the subway, overhead signage will generally tell you the arrival time of the next couple of trains. You can trust these messages from above, as they are more than often correct; however, were one to erroneously misinform you of an impending arrival, grovel not, for lo, you are not perfect, either.
3. Once your desired carriage arrives, there is absolutely no reason to queue patiently; in fact, doing so is considered a sign of insolence and you will be glowered at angrily. Congregate around the closest available door in a tight-packed semi-circle (a micron or two’s distance is permitted between prospective riders) and try, if at all possible, to keep existing passengers on the carriage for another couple of stops. Ever play Red Rover in grade school? Think of it like that. No one really wants to leave the comforting confines of SL’s embrace, do they? You’re doing them a favour.
4. If you are one of the passengers on the train when it arrives at a station, similarly there is neither reason nor expectation that you should permit anyone to leave, or to enter, without some element of physical contact. Stand fast in the aisle, or at the door, and ignore their elbowing jostles. If they really want on or off, they’ll push their way though. This shows their commitment and purpose, and it is pleasing.
5. Once on the train, do not expect or feel entitled to a seat, regardless of whether you are pregnant, on crutches, carrying five newborns and a 12-pack of Lambi, or were collecting a pension when the Titanic sank. There is an abundance of poles, straps, and perfect strangers to which you can cling. Similarly, if you have found a seat, feel no obligation to give it up under any circumstance, save for the Hail Mary hope that you can make a mad dash for the door and exit the train within a kilometer or two of your desired, but not guaranteed, stop. If you are of high school age and are carrying a backpack, or an impossibly small clutch, you are entitled to use an adjoining seat for its comfort as well. This right also holds true for those with feet, as the seat next to you provides a welcomed and relaxing footrest.
6. SL has, in its staggeringly awesome wisdom, provided mobile phone reception in all subway tunnels and stations. You are expected to utilize this service, for it is provided to you, and are to be thankful whilst prattling endlessly into your handset, or earpiece, or package of butter if you do not have the required technology but still wish to appear to feast upon the cellular manna set forth from your provider. Those around you reading quietly, or playing Brick Breaker, or staring at the bum 1.3cm from their noses, will welcome the cacophony of one-sided conversations, as if hearing a choir of angels cantillate in lilted tones about dinner plans or weekend shenanigans or the latest sale at H&M.
7. When entering or exiting a subway station, take note of the perils and dangers that exist around you, for they will test your commitment to and adoration of SL. In winter months, the stairs may become caked in snow, slush, ice, and discarded Pressbyrån receipts, so much so that at times spiked mountain climbing shoes would be an advised accessory for going up the stairs, whereas a sled or nearby child would provide a quick and oh-so-enjoyable slide down to your desired station.
While most of these rules apply equally to subways and busses, there are a few unique aspects to the latter that should be mentioned, internalized, respected, and obeyed.
8. Some bus stops will have electronic boards that display impending arrival times for most routes. Lift your eyes towards these signs, for they are indeed signs of SL’s love for you, mere citizen. Most stops, however, will have a printed copy of each route’s schedule, to which you may refer in times of boredom. They are not, however, to be taken verbatim, seriously, accurately, or even pretty-damned-closely. Truth be told, SL had extra advertising space it couldn’t get rid of, and some intern decided it would be great fun to post these ’schedules’ and watch the masses curiously glance at the timetable, their watch, the road, their mobile, back to the timetable, back to the road, at the nearest passenger-hopeful, back to their watch, then at the ground forlornly once the futility of it all sunk in. The ’schedule’ may indicate busses run at 10 minute intervals, but these 10 minutes may be spread out over any number of hours, shared with other routes, or disregarded all together. After 45 minutes a bus may arrive, followed directly by one or two more, which averages out to a decent frequency. Give thanks, jostle for a seat, and bask in the wisdom of your provider.
9. When a bus arrives, you must be standing at the stop, no more than 3.5 feet away from the door, with pass or ticket in hand, readily visible to the driver. At times the little old lady will have to rifle through her purse, pockets, or pantaloons to find her proof of fare, but no matter – you are expected to push past, sliding someone provocatively between the door and her rump, and scramble for the nearest available seat. She can stand for the remainder of her trip, clutching perilously at the grimy pole, in penance for her unpreparedness.
10. Once the driver has admitted his or her desired number of passengers and closed the door, abandon all hope of entering the bus. Even if it is stopped in traffic and has not budged an inch, there is no point in standing at the door and pleading your case, waving your pass, genuflecting subserviently or even crying. Your window – nay, door – of opportunity has closed, and you have been abandoned on the sidewalk of shame. Be not angered or dismayed, for it is the right and responsibility of all drivers to educate the citizenry, to mock the tardy, to ignore the beggings of parents with young children who stand in the cold wanting only for a warm bus ride home.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but fairly covers the expectations SL holds of its passengers-to-be in respecting and worshiping its authority. In no way are SL and its actions to be challenged, questioned, doubted, denied, or ignored. Public transit is a privilege, a bountiful gift, and should be treated as such.
Saint Christopher, in his precognitive 3rd century writings, leaves us with these words: “Only when one sheds unreasonable expectations and presumed courtesies, submitting to the all-powerful will of his faceless but benevolent provider, shall he truly find happiness and satisfaction, despite delays, inconveniences, questionable customer service levels, and fellow riders merely looking for a quiet place to put their feet up, press their butts into a stranger’s face, and/or hold mundane conversations with no concept of ‘inside voices’ or personal space.” Amen.
UPDATE: Although this post was not a reaction to the recent spate of delays, cancellations, altered routes and so forth, SL should be acknowledged for ‘doing the right thing’ in the face of its performance of late. Truth be told, most of the problems can be attributed to the less-than accommodating weather, but SL has still chosen – wisely, I might add – to compensate its riders with discounted passes and fares for the next month. Congrats, SL – my comments above still hold true, but I applaud your proactive response to the less-than-stellar service given to your riders due to the inclimate weather.
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