My epic adventures with Glasgow Transit

Here’s an observation about Glasgow that I think most would be hard-pressed to take issue with: The transit system is baffling at best, labyrinthine and often infuriating most other times.

There are multiple operators in the city. By this I mean, of course, that there are different services. In our neighborhood we have access to the bus and the overground rail. There’s a subway line in the city as well. None of these services speak to one another, which is to say that if you buy a ticket on one, you cannot travel on the other just because it’s in the zone or part of the transit website’s suggested journey plan. You have to buy a separate ticket for each, which as you might imagine, can render a very expensive trip, regardless how short the actual distance. To spice things up further, there are also multiple bus lines offering local services, and they don’t speak to each other, either. You cannot buy a day pass on boarding one bus and then transfer onto another operator’s bus with it. Tim found this out by accident, and ended up buying additional fare on top of a day pass because he had to get to an appointment with the government.

I should note that each service has a unique fare system as well. There’s seemingly no easy way to know what the bus will cost you, because each provider has different rate schemes. It’s also all but impossible to find clear route maps so that one can actually plan a journey. When I use the online journey planner, it doesn’t recognize inputs such as “University of Glasgow,” or the address at which we’re staying. I’ll come back with locations in the south of England with similar names, but not the obvious local places. Google maps is a much more effective tool for deciphering transit here.

Now, when riding the train, one can buy tickets at the station or platform, using one’s preferred method of payment. Likewise when on the train, if, say, the ticketing machine was broken, one can buy a ticket from the porter, who roams with a mobile e-payment machine and a pocketful of change. When boarding the bus, one must provide exact change, every time. In cash. Which is often awkward, in part because the fare system is complicated, and in part because it’s rather challenging to always have the right coinage on hand when you’re accustomed to paying electronically, or being able to buy a book of tickets at the corner grocery. There have been numerous times when we’ve been forgiven a few pence fare, and times I’ve overpaid because that’s what’s in my wallet.

Let me just say I’d use the train more often if it wasn’t a 15-minute walk in often inclement weather; there (was) a bus stop just down the corner from the house. Although slower, the veritable door-to-door service is compelling.

I’m currently on my first-ever week of work in Glasgow. Great! I thought; I’ll buy a weekly pass and save the hassle (although I couldn’t work out how a £17 ticket that I’d use for 10 rides would be better value than £3.20 return fare). I pored over the fares page (when I finally, excruciatingly found my way to that provider’s specific site; the umbrella-group Strathcyle Partnership for Transport (SPT) page is useless for fares information). Oh, it’s £3.60 return during peak hours; £3.20 is off-peak. That makes the weekly pass *slightly* more attractive. So there we are, early Monday morning, pooling our pocket change and coming up £10 short. “That’s okay; I’ll just buy return tickets and make sure I have the fare ready each day.” Off I go to the bus, 8 am, when the driver tells me bluntly that he can’t sell me a return ticket before 9 am. Okay. And although I can buy a weekly pass on the bus, I cannot buy it electronically; I need to produce £17 cash. So I coughed up £2 to go one way, and resolved to get a weekly pass from one of the merchants in town. I remembered seeing online that there was a directory of these.

Maybe the bus is only about 1/3 full during peak hours because it’s really not user-friendly.

I get to work, and in a slow moment, look for that list of merchants. Before I get there, I find a downloadable mobile app that lets you purchase and produce your tickets via mobile phone. Why, I promptly messaged Tim, has no driver *ever* mentioned this, for all the times we’ve fumbled with change and asked about using plastic to pay? All manner of passes and tickets are available in this manner, and I am tempted to try it. No, I think. I’ll probably buy the wrong pass and have wasted the money. Never mind, I see there’s a retailer just around the block from the office.   It’s a convenience store, a chain. So  off I go at lunchtime and ask for a one-week city ticket so I can get to Bearsden and back. It’s all but ready to print when I produce my bank card. “It’s cash only, ” I’m bluntly informed. Ohhhhkay. so off I go down Sauchiehall Street, to the bank, where I withdraw enough cash and then some. I go back and purchase the pass, which it turns out, is the till receipt sealed in a plastic sticker twice the size of any normal person’s wallet (in fact, it’s nearly the dimension of my handbag). Never mind. We got this thing sorted.

Much to my relief, the sticker-ensconced receipt was duly accepted on the bus, and I got home without issue. Meanwhile, Tim had tried to purchase tickets through the mobile app described on the website, not least of all because the nearest ticketing agent to the house is about 20 minutes by foot; it’s not a fun hike in monsoon-like weather. As it happens, the app online is just a scheduling app. After you download it, you apparently have to download another app to actually manage ticketing. It’s all too much! A cruel, Orwellian joke or something.

Anyway. This morning I left for work, having emptied my purse of copious amounts of change that I purposely acquired yesterday. It’ll remain on hand to serve my busing needs after this pass expires. I’m also aware, when I leave, that the stop closest to the house is currently not in service (or so I assume because the stop sign is laying along the sidewalk and there’s red ribbon tape running down the sidewalk barring people from using the pavement. Oh, and copious heavy machinery clutters the stop). They’re installing trial bike lanes down Milngavie Road (in what looks like a really ill-concieved plan, but never mind).  The road is a mess of pylons, and it’s precarious enough to cross without all this palaver. This past week we’ve had to use the next stop up, a few extra minutes’ walk and a more precarious crossing due to a curve in the road that causes blind spots, but it’s not far and at least has a shelter.

Not so fast, Stolarskyj. Surprise!! This stop is also decommissioned this morning. S**t!! I think. I have no idea how far it is to the next stop, and I have to catch this bus or I’ll be late to work on my second day!  I ran down the road, one Doc boot unlacing as I went but not daring to take the time to tie it.

I made it to the stop in enough time. But I got there and was horrified to find my shiny new weekly bus pass NOT IN MY PURSE!  *”&U%$”*_$*!!  Dread and panic are setting in. I can’t think what to do but I have to get on that bus! Thankfully the driver was really nice and let me aboard when I nearly burst into tears telling my story and producing the five pence that was the sum total of change in my wallet.

I texted Tim right away, and asked him to have a look for the pass. Amazingly, he found it in someone’s driveway, on Milngavie Road, across from the closed stop with the shelter. I must’ve dropped it while checking the time on my phone, and in the panic of not wanting to miss the bus, didn’t notice the wayward pass.

So that was solved. But why wasn’t there notice posted at the stop, advising of a pending closure, and suggesting an alternative stop (as I have seen in so many other cities?) Tim must have read my mind, because he sent me a link to that roadworks project at the East Dunbartonshire Council website. I emailed their customer service address to ask how a person is supposed to plan for these service disruptions. They emailed back, advising me to phone SPT, the service provider. I do, and the defeaten-sounding man on the other end tells me that the roadworks are a project of the Council and Transit Scotland, and that they don’t communicate project plans to the SPT, so the SPT doesn’t know in advance of the disruptions. What?? It was news to him that the bus stop signs now for both stops were lying atop the sidewalk. He took my number, went to investigate, called back to confirm that last detail, and that’s the last I’ve heard.  I have NO IDEA how far I’ll have to go to get to a working stop tomorrow morning, but it does stress me out just a tad.

I have no idea what tourists do. We’ve been here six weeks now, based in the same location and relying on the same service. Thank goodness. If I had to figure out difference routes on a regular basis in addition to the current challenges, I’m not sure I could handle the fun.

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