Roads and Road Transport History Association

The Roads and Road Transport History Association, let’s call it RRTHA for short, is something I’ve been involved with for a few years now. It is an association of people interested in researching historical and contemporary developments in all things road transport. I’ve met some wonderful people through the Association all with a particular passion – or a few – who are welcoming, supportive and non-judgemental, characteristics all too lacking in much of day-to-day life.

We meet twice a year for a conference and are always eager to give researchers an opportunity to speak at the conference or publish in our quarterly journal so do visit if you’d like to get involved. The other thing that RRTHA does is publish books. At our meeting in Coventry a few weeks ago I purchased the Companion to Road Passenger Transport. A work of over a decade, involving contributions from 157 people to create a compendium of 850 names/articles involved in the development of road passenger transport in the last two hundred years in Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It’s a really good introduction for students and people interested in getting more involved in research, with lots of texts referenced and an extensive range of subjects to learn more about. It’s also got a summary in French and German.

Autumn Conference, 2016

This was held at Coventry Transport Museum on Saturday 29th October. I decided to travel on the day and was super impressed to get from my door to the museum’s in about 2.5hours. We had a number of speakers: Roger Torode talked about writing his book on the privatisation of London’s buses, Rod Ashley spoke about nostalgia and motoring (particularly interesting was the dilemma of utility value v. pleasure and ideas surrounding social responsibility), Martin Higginson spoke about bus liveries and heritage branding of companies and Richard Wallace shared lots of information on buses in East Kent. A day well spent.

Roger’s talk was particularly interesting to me and I noted the following:

  • Very intrigued by the formation of 8 bus districts in the late 1970s (with very beautiful logos which I can’t find on the internet, further proof that it is not the source of all knowledge!).
  • The militaristic nature of London Transport pre-privatisation with huge hierarchical separation, poor performance, unreliability and a low expectation culture; unions held a lot of sway which made scheduling buses incredibly difficult. How to incentivise good performance in the public sector?
  • Lack of political consensus surrounding the issue of transport in the UK context. How do we work toward political consensus on such an importance issue?
  • Red was kept as a unifying colour for buses, in part to make privatisation of the buses(11 different companies in 1988) less obvious, and therefore more palatable to the public
  • Tendering works in the London context but only because the service is still within a publicly owned and coordinated network, i.e. regulated; it favours big companies due to short contracts and has delivered a more reliable service overall

Becoming the 213 bus

My  life has become the bus. This project has been on my mind for the last 7 months, and there has been no escape because I have to use the 213 bus every day to get to work and back again. On Tuesday I have to hand something in for my MA degree at Kingston. It’ll be ready, but I’ve got the sort of work ethic which makes me want to go right up to the wire, even if that isn’t entirely necessary.

One of the earliest memory fliers that I received was from my course mate Pirrko and this is what she wrote:

My bus stop is NA

I’ve been using the 213 bus for – years

I walk past the Fairfield Bus Station on my way to University of Kingston and often see the 213 bus, which makes me think of Amy who is doing a creative project on that bus route. In a sense, the bus has become to symbolise Amy – her creativeness and love for quirky things.

You may remember from a previous post that I did joke about dressing up in a cardboard bus costume at Malden Fortnight. Unfortunately, with one thing and another I didn’t quite get it finished in time. However, it is finished and last week I went on the bus as the bus…You might ask why, and to be honest, if I’d been asked that on the bus I don’t quite know what I would have said.

The essay component of my project is all about the everyday, and how we should find more joy in our daily lives – bus travel can be joyful if you look at it the right way. Yes, waiting at the stop in the cold and rain is rubbish, and the stink of stale alcohol and wee on some late-night journeys can be really unpleasant. But looking out the window, you are bombarded with endless images, some of which are incredibly beautiful: the sunset, daffodils in bloom, pouring rain which makes everything glimmer. The buzzing of the air con relaxes me so much I tend to fall asleep, and eavesdropped conversations can be so funny, or thought-provoking, or utterly bizarre.

On the bus, you are with a whole load of strangers who you might never meet in another aspect of you life. This is important for social equality, if you sit in a car all day you might feel safe, but you are also isolated from the world and other people. On the bus you have to be with people who you might totally disagree with, or you might meet a future husband or wife. The bus is a place of possibilities.

I became the bus because I wanted people to think about the bus for once, I wanted people to be intrigued or amused, I wanted to intervene in the everyday lives of a few unsuspecting bus users. Secondly, I felt the need to possess the bus – I’ve invested so much of my life in this project, I’ve often felt totally consumed by it, becoming the bus is kind of taking it over, making it mine. Thirdly, I’ve got an epic fancy dress costume for Halloween and a great talking piece in the form of a bus costume-bedside cabinet!

A lot of people simply won’t get the point of this project. And it may mean absolutely nothing in the long run to anyone but me. On the other hand, we all have a 213 bus: it might be the bus or train you get to work or school everyday, or even the route you walk to get to your local shops. It’s a time and place where you live most of your lives – I hope my project inspires someone somewhere to re-imagine their 213 as joyful, something worth paying attention to, as you simply don’t know what will be revealed.

It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations

Jane Bennett (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life. Woodstock: Princeton University Press. p.95. Originally from Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

P.s. Next week the local history starts in earnest with Fairfield Bus Station (K1)  – a history of the Cattle Market Car Park in Kingston. Bet you can’t wait?!