Transport companies have made some unusual and unpopular decisions over the years. Just in London, we had the bendy buses, which tended to get stuck and catch fire; we somehow still have the Emirates Air Line cable car, which approximately four people have ever used; and we have the current ‘green paint’ trial, which, as we have extensively covered, undercuts decades worth of painstakingly-accrued commuter skill.
Not to be outdone by their rivals in the capital, though, regional bus service Go South Coast has emphatically raised the bar, with the worst public transport ‘improvement’ since the advent of Southern Rail in 2001.
On 13 of its buses in Wiltshire and Dorset, Go South Coast has introduced large, horseshoe-shaped seats capable of holding eight people, all of whom face one another. The ideas behind the new banquettes – which appear to have been salvaged from the VIP areas of derelict provincial nightclubs – is that by sitting opposite someone else, passengers will be discouraged from staring at their phones and taking up the seat next to them with their bag, and instead encouraged to make shoot the breeze. Because maybe the real treasure is the friendships we make along the way.
“People have this idea of passengers sitting on the bus on their smartphones protecting the spare seat next to them. This idea is about trying to get away from that,” said Andrew Wickham, managing director of Go South Coast, who may or may not have ever taken a bus.
"We're not claiming we're going to undo the smartphone revolution but if we can get people to look up from them and chat that can only be a good thing.”
Can it? Chat? Social interaction on Britain’s transport network? Inviting bus nutters to approach you even more than they do? Let’s consult the Twitter replies to this paper’s news story. After all, Mr Wickham said the response has been “really positive.”
Talking? While having to press knees with a complete stranger ? Can’t think of anything more awkward. Embarrassed silence more likely— Buggy Swires (@BuggySwires) October 12, 2017
The last thing I want to do on a bus at 6 in the morning is talk to anyone. I’m not even happy with myself that early.— MaTT FLaMMaBLe (@MaTTFLaMMaBLe) October 12, 2017
Oh good I enjoy the idea of even more creeps having access to my legs.— A Spooky NPC �� (@grumpwitch) October 12, 2017
For Gods sake we are English!— Nicholas Bradshaw (@necbradshaw) October 12, 2017
Never mind. Here are five changes to public transport that definitely would go down well.
USB chargers by every seat
In fairness to Mr Wickham, who does not deserve to be pilloried like this, he does make the following point about being anti-smartphones.
"Most of our buses have free wifi connectivity and you'll find USB charging points on a lot of them too.”
To that, we can only say bravo. If we aren't to speak to strangers on public transport – and we aren't – then the least that can be done is introduce more USB charging points, so we can never have our phones run out on us. One per seat, then a few stuck in the ceiling, maybe on the floor. Just smother the place with them.
Headphones on the walls
In 2011, HMV closed 60 stores in Britain. Earlier this year they announced all 102 of their Canada sites were shutting up. It begs the question: what happened to all those headphones that dangled from the walls and played the latest albums on repeat?
They’re out there, somewhere, and they should be installed on our trains and buses at once.
A dog in every Tube carriage
Apart from that time a dog bit a man in the groin on the Piccadilly Line, no journey on public transport has ever been worse for having a dog on it, and no measure would produce more smiles.
If TfL got rid of something entirely surplus to requirement like, say, Charing Cross station, they could use the savings to purchase a dog for every Tube carriage. We don’t mind what breed, and they don’t necessarily have to wear a little train driver’s uniform or anything (though that is also fine), but we love them.
The dog on the tube just winked at me today’s gonna be a good day ��— Ben Warburton (@BenWarbMedia) October 9, 2017
Is there anything more cheering than someone bringing an adorable dog on the tube? I think not. pic.twitter.com/gZHHI2R7du— Hannah Bond (@hannahbond8) September 16, 2017
Earlier this year, researchers from the London Metropolitan University analysed buses and trains to test their cleanliness. They concluded the Tube network is “a hotbed of bacteria”, hosting some of the world’s most deadly bugs, like Staphylococcus Aureus, the cause of toxic shock syndrome, as well as E.coli and Klebsiella Pneumoniae. That’s quite aside from the everyday germs from ill people.
We could do with hand sanitiser points, while we’re here, but why not make a carriage just for anyone who's under the weather? It can have free Lemsip, duvets, and maybe those gateway puddles of disinfectant people we traipsed through at swimming pools when Foot and Mouth was a concern. After all, there used to be a whole separate train line for dead people.
We can all agree that lifts are helpful on the Tube network. We can all agree that escalators are great, too, especially when the stand-on-the-right rule is enforced.
We can also all agree that slides would be better than both.*