When I moved to North London one of the most enticing things about my new flat was my much reduced commuting time. No longer would I trail from one end of a bus route to the other early in the morning, watching the bus fill as it approached the centre of the city, then slowly empty as it grew closer to its terminus. People at work would proudly tell me how they commuted in from outside the city in less time than it took me to travel a few miles across London.
My new route to work was now an easy hop by bus, zooming down Camden Road to Fitzrovia, taking no more than 25 minutes on a bad day. I was giddy thinking of the time I would save, as well as the money, being dependent on buses rather than the more expensive Underground. But, alas, my new bus was not the lovely double-decker of the last few years' commute. I was unlikely to park myself next to the likes of British screen-legend Susan Hampshire on THIS bus! Oh no, my new bus, the number 29, is one of the cursed "bendy buses" of London. An introduction to the city's tranport system of former mayor Ken Livingston, they were so divisive that Boris Johnson ran his campaign for office using a removal of bendy buses from London's streets as a mjor selling point. He won and, surprising even himself, became mayor in 2008, yet these horrendous vehicles remain on our roads.As a passenger, the bendy bus is quite the least comfortable mode of transport on offer in the city; it combines the hideous proximity to one's fellow passengers of the Tube with none of the speed. Like a vehicular push-me-pull-you, travelling in a bendy bus gives one an odd sensation of not really being sure which way one is moving. This may be due to the somewhat haphazard placing of the seats, which are scattered around the floor of the jointed bus, facing forwards, backwards and sideways. But a vacant seat is a rare treasure by the time I brave the No. 29, so I usually end up standing, down the central gangway of the bus (annoying those who need to get off when the bus stops, and those whose heads I clout with my handbag when squashing myself in for the benefit of those disembarking), or in the bus's corrugated middle. This is a particularly disconcerting feeling as at times the rubbery folds seem to eat you up when rounding a corner, then spit you back out again when bending in the opposite direction.
The front of the bus contains the driver and a series of utterly useless luggage racks which are too small, and positioned so that loading and unloading them smashes shopping bags and (only the very smallest of) suitcases into the heads of those sat nearby. The driver is thus a long way - a good 18 metres in fact - from the other end of the vehicle of which he or she is in control. Concentrating on their front half, they have no regard for any other road users proximate to their back half, which swings round like a lashing tale, sending cyclists and cars flying across the nextdoor lanes of traffic.
On a traditional double-decker bus, passengers get on by the driver up front, swipe Oystercards or brandish travelcards, and then hop off at the back of the bus. Bendy buses have numerous sets of doors which allow both entry and exit, and in theory, travel payment. Having watched everyone hopping on and off the 29 however, I have no idea how these bendy beasts pay their way - they are vehicles which make it easy to travel, illegally, for free; to which, as a now fully financially responsible Londoner, I object! But then this may be a specific trait of the 29; the bus route proudly ranked 3rd most dangerous in the city in a thoroughly unreassuring report published by TfL in 2006. Yet how is a driver to police bus-stabbings and muggings when they are so far from the action? It would take a fair while to realise anything was amiss at the far end of the bus, let alone for anyone to get from the front ("Excuse me, sir. Sorry madam. Could you just move that buggy and six bags of shopping, please? Sorry, I need to intervene in that mugging on the back row of seats.") to the back. Crime rates in N7? I blame the buses.