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Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

On Bus Drivers and Theorising

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Why are bus drivers frequently almost aggressively literal? I get a bus from campus to my home most days (about a 2 kilometre journey), and there are two routes. Route 1 goes about every five minutes from campus, takes a fairly direct route into town, and stops at a stop about 100 metres from the West Station before turning off and going to the bus station. Route 2 goes about every half hour, takes a convoluted route through campus before passing the infrequently-used West Station bus-stop, then goes on to the bus station.

Most weeks—it has happened twice this week—someone gets on a route 1 stop, asks for a “ticket to the West Station”, and is told “this bus doesn’t go there”. About half the time they then get off, about half the time they manage to weasel out the information that the bus goes near-as-dammit there. I appreciate that the driver’s answer is literally true—there is a “West Station” stop and route 1 buses don’t stop there. But, surely the reasonable answer isn’t a bluff “the bus doesn’t go there” but instead to say “the bus stops about five minutes walk away, is that okay?”. Why are they—in what seems to me to be a kind of flippant, almost aggressive way—not doing that?

I realised a while ago that I have a tendency towards theorising. When I get information, I fit it into some—sometimes mistaken—framework of understanding. I used to think that everyone did this but plenty of people don’t. When I hear “A ticket to the West Station, please” I don’t instantly think “can’t be done” but I think “this person wants to go to the West Station; this bus doesn’t go there, but the alternative is to wait around 15 minutes on average, then take the long route around the campus; but, if they get on this bus, it’ll go now directly to a point about five minutes from where they want to get to, so they should get this one.” It is weird to think that lots of people just don’t theorise in that way much at all. And I thought I was the non-neurotypical one!

Design Puzzles (2)

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

For a while I wondered what these benches were all about:

Benches at Stratford International

They appear at a number of London and South-East railway stations, and when I first saw them I thought they were a bizarre and out of keeping design decision. Why choose something in such bright, primary-ish colours against a generally muted design scheme. They wouldn’t be out of keeping somewhere—but, not here! And after a couple of years it suddenly struck me—they are the olympic rings, that hung up at St. Pancras during the games, sliced and turned into benches! My supposition is confirmed by Londonist here.

Honest (1)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

I like this honest and noncommittal sign:

Welcome to St. Pancras International: We Wish you a journey


Friday, September 20th, 2013

It’s weird seeing things like Gluten-free products in supermarkets overseas. Of course there are Gluten-intolerant people in Germany, Spain, Japan, Bolivia or wherever. But, a little thing pops into the back of my head, just for a fraction of a second, to say “but surely they aren’t that fussy here”. It’s weird how the idea, held as truth by people of my parents’s generation and perhaps a little younger, that all food allergies were just people being “fussy eaters”, has left a little limbic trace in my mind.

Scam (1)

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Interesting scam attempt on the tube t’other day. Someone came up close to me as I was entering the gates, briefly flashed open a wallet revealing the sort of “police officer” badge that you can buy from Toys’R’Us, and said “Can I follow you through? I’m a police officer so I get free travel anyway.”

Waiting (1)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Virgin Trains (IIRC) tried an experiment a couple of years ago with making the experience of waiting for a train to leave its first station more like the experience of waiting for a plane to take off. When passengers got on the train, there was music playing in the background, and, perhaps I am remembering this wrongly, dimmed lighting.

The effect of this on me was negative. Usually, when I get on a train, I don’t really care whether it is moving or not—I settle into my seat, put my headphones on, and start reading. At some point the train starts moving, and I hardly notice this. This redesign of the experience made for quite the opposite effect: by constantly reminding passengers that the train hadn’t started moving yet, it can create the effect of “drumming your fingers waiting for something to happen”, which is quite the opposite of the relaxing effect intended. The important difference is that take-off is an unignorable part of a flight; a train starting moving is eminently ignorable.


Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Over the last few years lots of money has been spent building automated ticket barriers at stations. However, I wonder if this is all going to be rather wasted, as train companies are gradually moving towards e-ticketing, and the barriers are designed to take a very specific form factor of printed ticket. At the moment, e-tickets have to be checked by a human operator, which kind of defeats the point. I wonder if this is why the new barriers at King’s Cross have some kind of barcode scanner thingy on them?

Advertising Opportunities (2)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Almost all hotels seem to supply generic no-name toiletries, sometimes branded with some ad hoc private label, sometimes branded with the name of the hotel. This seems to miss a tremendous marketing opportunity for manufacturers of shampoo, shower gel etc. I’m surprised that such manufacturers aren’t falling over themselves to give free samples of their products to hotels, as this is one of the rare occasions where people use products that aren’t “the usual”. I wonder why this doesn’t happen.