DCR is grateful to Nick Gill, playright, musician and composer, for allowing us to share the following letter he wrote to Transport for London in March 2009 [the footnotes are mine, not Nick’s].
Sadly, it seems that TFL failed to respond in any way. Perhaps the cousins of the Bastard on the Bus work in the customer relations department. If anyone has any other bus driver letters, please send them in.
Dear Customer Relations,
Imagine the scene, if you will.
It’s a Tuesday night, coming up to Wednesday morning, in Shoreditch.1 I (like, I suspect, most sensible people) have no desire to be in Shoreditch at this time of day, but this is something I have to do on a fairly frequent basis, as I’m a musician and this is the sort of thing we have to do.
Having done this before, I’m well aware of the last bus time of the 78 from Shoreditch to Peckham Rye,2 and I’m at the stop on Calvert Avenue with 10 or so minutes to spare, to find the last bus already there and the driver having his break.
So far, so good. Drivers should be allowed to have breaks, and it seems very sensible to have one at the end, and beginning, of a route rather than in the middle. Now, dearest Complaints Manager, I don’t know if you were out and about last night, but it was cold. It was very cold, and it was raining very hard. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Calvert Avenue,3 but the shelter there has kept me dry on a number of occasions. I recommend you try it some time. Having noticed that the driver was still having a break, I once again stood under the shelter to wait for him.
Are you still imagining? The rain, in particular? It’s probably raining a little harder than you’re currently imagining. That’s more like it.
Now, as I may have mentioned, I’ve made this journey numerous times before, and this whole ‘waiting for the driver to finish his break’ is old news to me. What is new, Mr/Mrs Complaints Manager, is the driver starting up his engine and driving away without picking up someone who’s been waiting in the rain for the last 10 minutes for him to finish his break.
Let me talk you through my thoughts, at this stage.
First, as you might expect, is slack-jawed astonishment that someone, anyone, could be such a bastard. Next, as I’m someone who tends to assume that such things are normally due to misunderstandings rather than maliciousness, I think “Perhaps he didn’t see me”. It doesn’t seem likely. I will assume, Dr Complaints Manager, that you don’t know me personally; I’m assuming here that you’re not the one person I know who works in a transport complaints department, and so you couldn’t possibly know that I’m around 6′ 4″ tall, quite broad shouldered and (according to my fiancée) not bad-looking. Perhaps you could now imagine me with a large guitar case on my back, an amplifier in one hand, and a large bag in the other. The top of the guitar case now extends over 8′ into the air. I take up quite a lot of space, don’t I? Wouldn’t you say I was quite a noticeable shape, on an otherwise deserted street? I certainly thought so. Almost unmissable.
Knowing the bus route, I know that buses leaving that stop will, in a matter of a minute or two, come back along the same road. Hefting my equipment up, I jog over to the other side of the road to catch the driver as he returns; sure enough, back along the road he comes and I try to convey, through the medium of emphatic gesture, that “hello, I was the person at the bus stop just now, and that perhaps you could pick me up here and rectify the mistake”.
The bus roared past me, only narrowly avoiding knocking me over. At this point, the slack-jawed astonishment is back in full force. I run after the bus for a while, but soon realise that there’s no way I can catch it. In one final bid to pin the blame on myself, I check the bus stop one more time. Perhaps it’s one of those bus stops that says ‘set down only’?4
But, again, no.
It says ‘towards Aldgate’, 5 which is the direction I’d like to go. Which is why I waited for the bus there. I knew there was a reason I was hanging around there.
Other features that make the Calvert Avenue bus stop rather appealing are the fact that it is well lit, and that only one route leaves from that stop. The driver couldn’t possibly have thought I was waiting for a different bus, as no other buses stop there.
Let’s just recap on the reasons we’ve eliminated for not picking me up from that bus stop:
a) the bus wasn’t supposed to pick up passengers at that stop.
b) the driver didn’t see me.
c) the driver thought I was waiting for a different bus.
d) the driver thought that, perhaps, I would prefer to get a later bus.
As far as I can see, this leaves only the possible option being that the driver hated me. It’s the only reason left. This strikes me as unreasonable.
With the last bus exhibiting irrational hatred of me, the only option left me was to find a taxi and be driven home by it.
£18, Professor Complaints Manager!
As I might have mentioned, I’m a musician. We don’t tend to earn that much money, and I can ill-afford to spend £18 on a taxi because a bus driver has developed the strange idea that people shouldn’t be picked up from bus stops.
What I propose is this: You could refund the £18 it cost me to get home, in some appropriate way. I live in London, and have very little option but to use your bus services; if you wanted to credit this on my Oyster card,7 for example, that would be fine. Or a cheque. Not, dear Lord, certainly not any form of voucher. We both know that would be a cop-out. If you felt that this god-awful experience merited some other form of compensation, I would take it as a sign of contrition on your part, and would receive it as a gesture of good faith. It would also be an excellent idea to have a word with whoever was driving the last number 78 bus from Shoreditch to Nunhead on the night of Tuesday 3rd, and ask them to be a little less of a bastard in the future.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
As far as we know, TFL didn’t reply.
For the benefit of our American readers, Shoreditch is not a coastal earthwork but a part of London, between Islington and Bethnal Green. These days, it has become rather trendy ↩
For our American readers, Peckam Rye is also part of London, in this case sort of West of Greenwich and Lewisham. It is not a breakfast cereal or organic bread ↩
That is actually Calvert Avenue in the picture at the top. Just the background you understand. This bus is there courtesy of Photoshop. Same for the rain. That’s Photoshop too ↩
For our American readers, a ‘set down only’ stop is a peculiarly British invention. It is a bus stop where people are only allowed to get off the bus! Seriously ↩
You’ve guessed. Aldgate is also a part of London. In fact, Aldgate (Auld Gate > Old Gate) was originally the eastern most gateway through London Wall, leading from the City of London to Whitechapel but which now gives its name to a ward of City ↩
When this letter was first published in 2011, £18 was about $27. $27!! As I update the letter in March 2020,it is a meagre $20.90 ↩
Nothing at all to do with seafood. An Oyster Card is a clever card which allows you to pre-pay your travel in London. You can top it up at stations paying by cash or by credit card and to travel on buses or by tube, you simply wave it in front of a gizmo at the beginning and end of your journey. It also helps MI5 keep track of terrorists ↩