How Riding the Bus Reminds Me to Be Patient


Last week I took a bus downtown to get my hair cut. It's a distance I could have walked in roughly half an hour, but the bus certainly makes it easier and at least a little faster. It's not nearly as fast as it could be, though, and at some point I might want to talk about some of the actual, physical things we could do to make bus travel faster. Things like greater signal priority at intersections and dedicated rights of way or strategically reducing the number of stops without any real drop in the area covered by a bus line. But there's one variable that will always impact just how fast buses can go, and it's one that's pretty tough to change. People. As in, the ones riding the bus.

Riding the Bus is Great. Except for the People, Amirite?

Humans cause all sorts of delays and slowdowns, and as a fellow passenger they can make for excruciating tests of patience. Here's a list of some of the things that I've seen recently on bus travel that make me gnaw my knuckles into bloody stumps in order to suppress frustration.

  • Wait until the last minute to get off at a stop, right before the bus would have otherwise pulled through an intersection. Guess what? Now the whole bus has to wait because the light turned red.
  • Take forever to pay by using nickels, dimes and quarters.
  • Exit at the front of the bus forcing the line of people trying to board and pay to get out of your way, even though the signage onboard instructs you to leave out the back.

I pride myself on getting on and off the bus as quickly as possible, minimizing the impact I make on the speed of travel. I use a payment card that allows me to simply hold my wallet or the card itself up against a terminal that quickly debits fare. I have that card ready to go before I even step onboard. Unless it's impossible due to the bus being crowded, I exit at the rear of the bus, as indicated by the onboard instructions, so that I am out of the way for those trying to pay and board up front. I want to be fast and efficient because that's how I want everyone else to act. Treat others as you wish to be treated, right?

Aren't I good and wonderful? Why can't everyone be like that? Ugh, riding the bus would be so much faster if everyone just did things the good and proper way.

*pats self on the back*

*scowls and judges everyone else on the bus*

Finding My Chill

Here's the thing, though. This is a bad way to think about people. It's exactly the kind of mentality that causes road rage among drivers. We overestimate how well we adhere to traffic laws and cultural conventions while turning into wild-eyed, teeth-bared monsters ready to tear a throat out when someone cuts us off or drives too slow or doesn't merge properly. They are dangerous and irresponsible while we are careful and respectful. We would NEVER do the terrible things they do, right?

The difference on the bus is I have to look at these terrible humans who have so grievously inconvenienced me whereas in a car we remain much more separated (this is not a good thing).

Over time, this proximity to the folks who slow things down on the bus has given me some perspective and helped me become more tolerant. Never, not once, have I seen someone cause the bus to miss a light or otherwise experience delay where there was any indication that the person did so on purpose.

That guy who waits until the last second to get off? He lost track of where the bus was and realized it was his stop. The woman paying with small change? You know, that's probably the only way she can pay. How much of a piece of garbage am I for being impatient about that? Most people don't realize they're supposed to exit out the back. Should they know this? Yeah, maybe. But they're not trying to screw up my day.

I am not that important, and people are not out to get me. They're not trying to ruin my day. They're just trying to get through their own. Riding the bus helps me remember that, and as trying on my patience as that can be in the moment, it's a good thing to relearn from time to time.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hicks under Creative Commons 2.0