AS ALL of my friends are only too well aware, the current love of my life is my “free” bus pass. Being of a certain age, I am eligible for this little liberating square of plastic courtesy of the Scottish Government, and nothing delights me more than presenting it to the driver, hearing that pleasing “ping” as it registers, and then off I go to wheresoever I may choose.
It isn’t “free”, of course, just as all the other current freebies in the People’s Republic of Alba – prescriptions, eyecare, elderly care, free burials and cremations for children etc – aren’t either. They’re all paid for by the taxpayer, thank you very much. But as somebody who has, Lord knows, paid my fair share of taxes over the past forty years of a working life, I don’t feel too bad about that fact. I’ve done my bit, so I have, and I’m happy to reap the benefits. Whether succeeding generations will be able to avail themselves of similar benefits when they get old and grey is another thing altogether. Good luck with that one, as I frequently say to my kids.
Travelling frequently by bus has allowed me to observe my fellow travelling Scots at close hand, and I have to say with some fondness and not a little amusement. Buses seem to have more than their fair share of dafties and jakeys compared to the trains or aeroplanes. Recent encounters include being regaled with tales of “jist getting’ oot the jile” and “see my man he’s no’ right neither he is” amongst others. I don’t think many of our politicians travel by bus, otherwise they might be just a little bit more connected with their electorate, don’t you think? Power corrupts, and travelling expenses and ministerial cars corrupt absolutely.
And I never realised just how often we Scots say “aye” in our everyday speech. On a crowded journey one mid-morning, and without consciously eavesdropping on anyone, I was amazed at how many times that particular word was sprinkled throughout the dialogues between travellers. It must be right up there with “wee” as the most used word in Scots conversation. Maybe the SNP government can make it our national word? I mean, we have a national animal, and a national bird, and even a national flower. Why not a word too? It could then rightfully take its place in the pantheon of great achievements of recent Scottish politics, alongside baby boxes and the minimum unit price for alcohol.
There are buses and buses, though. The smooth Edinburgh to Glasgow express (No. 900, departs every 15 minutes betwixt and between St Andrews and Buchanan Bus Stations) contrasts favourably in terms of “passenger experience” with the bone-jarring trips on some of the local providers out here in deepest, darkest East Lothian. It would be churlish of me to mention any providers by name so I won’t, but if East Coast Buses could just ask a couple of its mechanics to take 20 minutes to tighten up all the screws holding their buses together it might just alleviate the noise and rattle considerably. And maybe it’s possible to improve bus suspensions? Some extra springs or whatever might provide some relief for us oldies.
It isn’t the bus companies’ fault entirely, of course. Travelling by bus makes one only too aware of the plague of potholes that is sprinkled liberally over our public roads. Years of neglect by local administrations of all political hues and their concomitant budget cuts have left a legacy that, in all likelihood, will never be fixed. I’m told the only decent, pothole-free roads are in Orkney but I have never been there so can’t confirm. Scotland seems increasingly to be a First World country with Third World roads.
Be that as it may, and notwithstanding all of the above, we should raise a glass to Scotland’s bus services. For many folk, mainly the young, the poor, and the elderly, they are a lifeline, and often the only public transport available in rural and remote areas. For old folk like me they are a source of joy and freedom in a world which oftentimes can seem increasingly restricted as time and tide takes its toll.
I may have my “free” bus pass as an oldie, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have one? It isn’t as daft a thought as you might think, and it’s arguably self-financing as I explained previously here. Indeed, I understand that Estonia of all places has just introduced free public transport across the country and, whilst it may not be one of the model economies advocated in Andrew Wilson’s recent Growth Commission Report, perhaps we should be open minded and confident enough to dismiss the usual “not invented here” attitude so beloved of Scotland’s political apparatchiks and give it serious consideration?
In the meantime I’m off to see my sister in Glasgow. And, with all the money I’m saving by travelling by bus, I can afford to take her a wee present as well.
© Stuart Crawford 2018