Field Note: Transportation
Title: Buses in Oxford
Buses in Oxford are the best and cheapest form of transportation, next to walking. I have come to love the bus system in Oxford and I use it everyday! I am beginning to recognize familiar faces that use the buses at the same time that I do.
Besides vacation, I have never used public transportation. Coming to Oxford, I have needed to learn the ins and outs of the bus system. Learning new things such as bus time schedules and bus etiquette (I did not know I needed to hail a bus to stop) have been very useful information that I can use when I travel to different cities.
How do people get around?
There are many ways to get around England including car, bus, taxi, train, the underground and, of course, walking. In Oxford specifically, the majority of people take the bus and walk. In the city centre only buses and taxis are allowed on the streets. People who drive to the city will park in big parking lots and then take the “Park and Ride” bus into the city. In the heart of Oxford, walking is the best way to get from place to place. Many streets are walking only streets and even alleyways are labeled streets. When I go to school, I take bus number 9 from my house and take it to High Street. When I get off the bus I will take Catte Street, which looks like an alleyway. This walking passage will open up to a College courtyard. While it was a bit confusing at first, I am starting to get used to it. Why do you think these alleyways are given street names? Because Oxford is such an old city, these passageways have been named for hundreds of years. Before cars, there were horse drawn carriages and those were only for the wealthy. The majority of people walked and so the names of these streets remained whether or not in present day they are walking streets or car streets.
Streets in the city are usually two lanes and at the most four lanes across. The sidewalks (English call them pavements) are usually crowded with walkers. You can hear the buses driving up and down the streets, but they are not as loud as you might think. The buses here are hybrid. When the buses are at a stop, it sometimes sounds as though they shut off, but they have simply converted to battery mode. There is rarely any honking and it is actually quiet compared to large cities. You hear the constant chatter of people and the hum of buses.
There are many different types of buses. There are “Park and Ride” buses, city buses, Airport buses, and Oxford Tube buses (these buses take you to London). I have bought a bus pass called the Key that allows me unlimited city bus access to get from the neighborhoods surrounding Oxford to the city centre. This bus pass cost fifty pounds, which is about seventy-five dollars.
How did I feel when I tried this way of getting around?
I was a little nervous using the bus because I have never used the bus on a daily basis to get around my hometown. Being free to use my own car and leave whenever I wish is very different from using a bus and being restricted to specific times when I can get into and out of the city. I have come to love the bus because it forces me to get into the city early for my classes and different activities. Having time to kill is the best way to discover new places and familiarize myself with the city! As a passenger, instead of a driver, I am able to discover and study the city as it goes by. My favorite sighting from the bus is an interesting architecture choice. A family home has a huge shark tail sticking out of the roof! It took me three bus rides past the home for me to believe that my eyes were not deceiving me.
I was also nervous for another reason. The British drive on the opposite side of the road! I have been here a little over a week and I am still trying to get used to the bus being on the opposite side of the road. Can you think of a few things that I have to keep in mind because cars are driving on the opposite side of the road? The most important thing I have to remember concerns crossing the roads. In the US, when we come to an intersection, we look left right left. In England, I have to look right left right. Can you imagine walking out into the street looking the wrong way? A bus could easily hit you.
Is this way of getting around connected to the culture and environment, How?
It is very normal for people to take the buses or to walk. My homestay dad works in a factory around the corner and he walks to work everyday. My homestay sister takes the bus to and from school everyday. Especially in the city centre where there are buildings that have existed for hundreds of years, it is not possible to expand roads to accommodate for more cars. It is better for their conservation if only buses are allowed in the city centre to transport people into and out of the city. Outside of the city centre many people do have cars and will drive to get form place to place. Instead of major intersections, there are huge and intricate roundabouts that allow more than four streets to intersect. At the roundabouts there are no pedestrian crossings to facilitate the flow of traffic. On many streets there are bus lanes that allow them to bypass signals and traffic.
I have been using bus stops as places to meet friends in the morning or after classes. I have noticed that people will meet on a particular bus in the morning to go into town together. People also become familiar with those who take the same bus at the same time everyday, especially the buses after the workday. Taking the bus encourages people to interact with each other and make new acquaintances. Taking the bus is a great way to get to know the city and those who live in the city.