The Psychology of Bus Riding

Above picture is from the MTA website and is uncredited. I don’t think they would mind if I use it. Over on the coast we have the smaller buses. For a look at them go to this picture on Garth Hagerman’s website. Since my experimental “green” birding year is less than 4 months from the finish line I think I will refocus a little on two of my main themes, birds and buses (I.e. alternative travel). I’ve been using the MTA buses to bird for over a year now and certainly have some thoughts about the experience.

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I was writing a series of articles about “getting around without a car” for the small newsletter here at the Woods where I live. The Woods is a senior community in Little River, CA. What has been the response? I actually didn’t expect much of a response and that’s what I got. One very senior woman said she was reading my articles closely because she expected to fail her drivers test soon. Another said she got motion sickness when she didn’t do her own driving and she also had her dog with her most of the time. I’ve had several, “I’ve enjoyed your articles Richard”. One woman that I talked to had just come back from Ukiah and was complaining about how tired she was from the drive. I pointed out the bus schedules I had left in the clubhouse and she said that I would never find her on a bus. One of those, “you’ll take my steering wheel from my cold dead hands”, types. The most surprising responses was from a local environmentalist that said taking the bus was a poor person’s way of travel.

There are actually good reasons for not using the bus here in “rural” Mendocino. Schedules and convenient are probably at the top. Quite frankly, I don’t find many people that think they should change their lifestyle because of a warming planet and they are not going out of their way to find out more on the subject. 

In a “metropolitan” area things are a little different. You can easily get by without a car and schedules are more flexible. Due to traffic congestion many are forced to use alternative travel.

In general people don’t want to ride a bus. Why? We are a product of our experiences good and bad. Maybe it all starts at an early age. I found one study titled, “The School Bus: A Neglected Children’s Environment“.  It is authored by Bruce B. Henderson of Western Carolina University. 

The abstract states: “Many children and youth in rural communities spend significant portions of their lives on school buses. This paper reviews the limited empirical research on the school bus experience, presents some new exploratory data, and offers some suggestions for future research on the impact of riding the school bus on children and youth.”

“Over half the children in the United Stares regularly ride a school bus (Howley & Smith, 2000). In some primarily rural states the percentage of bus riders is much higher. For example, in West Virginia almost 80% of children are transported to school on buses”

“The initial survey of 22 former bus riders consisted of a number of open-ended questions, including ones asking them to describe the bus riding experience in one or two words, what they did on the way, what they learned on the bus, and three or four positive and three or four negative memories about their trips to school. Seven of the 22 characterized their experiences as positive (“fun,” “interesting”), nine as negative (“horrible,” “extremely bad,” “boring”), and seven as neutral (“okay,” “sleepy”)”

“Bus riders said that what they learned on trips mostly had to do with socialization (e.g., “some people are nice in the world and others are nasty,” “popularity comes with beauty,” “how to make fun of people,” “how to communicate with the opposite sex at that age,” “how to laugh,” “how to accept being made fun of,” “everybody else’s business,” “all the gossip going on,” “I learned to keep to myself and to defend myself verbally”)”

The report goes into several aspects such as  “Bus riding and child behavior off the bus”, “teachers perceptions of behavior”, “Bus riding and achievement”, and the perspectives of the, “Parents, Bus Drivers and Safety”.

By the way, taking the bus to school was the safest way of getting there when compared to walking or the parents driving them. 

Part of the conclusion states, “However, taken together, the results of these exploratory studies along with the largely anecdotal information from earlier studies provide an impressionistic picture about children’s experiences on the school bus. First, it is clear that school bus experiences create memories that are positive for some and negative for others. Sometimes the affects associated with remembered experiences are quite strong. It is impossible to know to what extent time has weakened or polarized these memories, but the nature of some of the college students’ memories imply the potential for long-term influences.”

I was never bused to school. We always lived within a short walking distance. The only bus trips as a student were field trips which were generally a good experience and discipline was maintained by the teachers.

My earliest memory of taking a bus trip was probably triggered by this post. My parents came to Torrance, CA from Chicago when I was around two years old. We took the train and I still vaguely remember the sleeping coach and the Los Angeles Station. My first bus trip was with my grandmother who lived with us. It was to visit another relative in downtown Los Angeles. I can’t remember most of the trip but when we got into downtown Los Angeles I have memories of being in sort of a canyon of tall buildings on both sides of the street. While we were stopped a grouping of three or four balloons came floating down and landed in front of the bus. The driver got out an picked up the balloons and returned to the bus and handed them to me. The only other part of the trip that I remember was hiding under a table while my grandmother visited. The bus driver and the balloons must have made a deep impression in my memory. It would explain my affinity for bus drivers. The MTA bus drivers are made from the same mould. Recently one got out of the bus to retrieve a soccer ball that had been kicked over a school fence and threw it back to the kids. Another makes sure that loose dogs are off the road. Another carried an older women’s suitcases to her doorway. 

So the message here is don’t fear the bus driver. I will soon post on the phobias and the stigma of riding the bus. I’ve also found some good sites on bus riding etiquette. 


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