Saturday, December 4, 2010

Public Transport

Why why why is public transport so antisocial?

Twice a day so many of us are emphatically reminded that we have become mindless drones. How did we let it happen? How did we accept that joining the daily livestock transport to our daily drudge was a normal existence? 

Public transport. There’s clearly an innate, if not consciously acknowledged, loathing of it as we engineer our morning preparations so that arrival at stops and stations will be at the last possible minute. And maybe it’s that established inner despising of this inescapable, robotic indignity that causes us to treat everyone else subjected to it with such lack of care.

Spontaneous interaction at a bus stop is rare – there’s never a “Nice day”, at best you’ll get a grumbled agreement on scheduling deficiencies. From the moment a bus arrives you can sense every commuter’s judgement of every other as inferior. Queuing? Ha! It’s everyone for themselves. “You’re buying a ticket?”, anyone caught behind is thinking, “Why weren’t you organised enough to buy a pass? Cretin.” And the driver is perpetually bemused that no-one uses the machine next to him/her.

Even though we know the bus will be full in two stops we’d sooner die than sit next to a stranger as long as there’s an empty seat. (It can’t be for the window – it’s the same dreary view as yesterday.) Try plonking yourself next to someone “prematurely” and you’ll receive a look usually reserved for lepers. And when seating capacity is reached and it’s standing room only we expose our inability to learn what must be life’s most difficult lesson. Despite being coached day after interminable day the modern bus traveller is incapable, incapable, of moving to the back without being told.

Yet there is glimmer of unity as the bus pulls up to a stop – for some reason a fellow passenger’s needs will be considered if only to join in a chorus of “Back door, driver!”.

If you take a bus and a train your fun is doubled. Train travel has brought about its own subtly unique conditionings. Here, for instance, we see a juvenile mindset that survives heartily into adulthood, ie: once an immediate need is met no broader consequences can be considered. Notably, entry into a train. (Again, every man for themselves.) But the instant footfall onto the carriage is achieved, the momentum of each commuter ceases. Never mind that there is a yawning void within that would easily accommodate the twenty clamouring behind. And despite this identical situation occurring the last 750 trips, inertia. A lab rat could grasp this in a single day! For humanity’s sake, keep moving in!

So. Anyway. Time for egress. Once more a curious hint of recognised mutual suffering is displayed. Those on the platform being pulled into will often actually stand either side of the opening doors to allow smoothish passage from within. Wow. (A routine exception to this phenomenon is witnessed at Martin Place. Telling?)

Finally, the station exposes us to one more opportunity to show our minimum regard. The escalators. This is a pet topic all on its own so I'll simply reiterate that the inability of the adult mind, after years of repeated drilling, to equate left with “stand” and right with “walk” never fails to leave me perplexed.

Anyway - this just lands on the beach of this whole sub-continent in the world of "why why why" - there are dark jungles beyond few would wish to explore. As individuals we probably can’t do much to change the greater machinations of public transport. But we can change the way we treat each other. I don’t care if I sound like George Kostanza when he exasperated: “You know, we’re living in a society!”. Ultimately, we’re all only in this for one ride together – why not get along? I don’t believe in Karma in a mystical sense but I do believe that consideration shown to others will yield positive return. Join me. It won’t hurt a bit.

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