Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bus Drivers in Stockholm

Bus drivers suck. I never really rode the bus in the US. A few times while at university, but otherwise I drove myself around. I’m American after all. But bus drivers suck. At least the ones I have been riding with recently in Stockholm.

I try to avoid the bus. I much prefer the subway if I need to use public transportation. Sometimes it can’t be avoided though.

That’s why I took note when the bus driver started huffing and puffing. And honking. In Stockholm, the bus drivers only stop at a bus stop if you tell them to stop, or if there is someone waiting at the bus stop. It’s handy and speeds things along.

Of course, this policy, if it is an official policy of SL, came to mind when I noticed the bus driver pulling over to stop when no one had pushed the button and no one was waiting outside. Then the honking started. Angry, aggressive honking. Un-Swedish honking really. There was a car in the way. Pulled over in the bus stop lane.

The honking continued. The bus driver just kept pulling up closer and closer, all the while honking. At this point, nearly everyone in the bus had taken notice. One lady even got out of her sea to look out the front window.

Finally, the car started moving, getting out of the bus stop lane and pulling over in a non bus stop lane. It seemed like the poor guy was lost. And now confused. And maybe partially deaf.

The bus driver never actually stopped to open the doors. He just kept driving. And while driving away he was mumbling under his breath and shaking his head. Almost like he just needed an excuse to blow off some steam.

A slight case of road rage it seemed. Except from a bus driver. With quite a few people on board. Awesome. Road raging bus drivers with me on the bus make me nervous.

Of course, it got better a few days later. Different bus driver this time. Don’t ask me why I know this; it’s just one of those things that I notice. I’m a very strange person. I know.

Anyway, different bus driver. Different day. Different experience. Same nervous reaction.

I was seated just a couple seats behind the bus driver so had a good look at the front of the bus. And everyone climbing onto the bus. A woman and her small child stepped onto the bus. Got their little bus ticket stamped and moved to the back.

If you aren’t the proud owner of a 690 SEK monthly SL card (as I am) you can buy a strip of trips for 160 SEK (I lied, it's 180 SEK, thanks to Kit for that). Then you get them time stamped which allows you a certain amount of time from that time stamp. I think it is about 90 minutes (I lied again, it's an hour. Thanks again to Kit). So it is important to have the stamp on the ticket if you plan on continuing your journey with a different form of transportation.

So when the lady came back to the bus driver and said “You need to fix your stamp because I can’t read the time on my ticket,” except she said it in Swedish of course, it wasn’t a huge surprise. What was a surprise was that she did it while we were driving. What was even more of a surprise was that the bus driver decided to have a conversation with her. As we were driving. And not just have a conversation, but actually re-stamp her ticket. As we were driving.

The frightening thing was that this interaction led a noticeable devolution of the bus drivers driving skills. The bus slowed noticeably. We drifted just a tad to the left. Cars behind us started lining up. And I got a bit nervous. Finally, the lady walked away, sufficiently appeased by the new stamp. And seemingly unaware of my rising blood pressure, dilated pupils, and increased heart beat.

Please tell me this was just a coincidence. Two isolated incidents that weren’t all that isolated. Please tell me that other people don’t have similar experiences. Please.

As a general rule, I like my bus drivers to focus on driving. Not getting angry at cars. Not taking the time to stop and stamp a ladies ticket as we were driving. I like my bus driver to get me to my destination without wondering whether I should get off at the next stop and just wait for another bus. Or walk. Walking seems safe.

On a completely unrelated note, I saw a guy walking around Slussen the other day with a medical face mask on. He’s been paying way too much attention to the Swedish cases of swine flu.

Welcome to Sweden.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden


  1. I think the method of not stopping at bus stops is a general Swedish thing not just SL.

    With regard to cars stopping in bus stops, you really shouldn't do it, no matter how confused. In fact even up here in Norrbotten, I've seen people take care not to stop in inter-city bus stops out on the countryside. And these are roads where you may not see another car for hours, let alone a bus. Obviously, Swedes consider this an important issue ;)

    I can kind of sympathise with the driver though, because once I have seen a consequence of a car at a bus stop. The bus has to stops at an angle, blocking one lane, the people getting off have to get off on the road instead of the side-walk (think seniors, infants), and people getting on come up to the diagonal bus which means the traffic is blocked until everybody gets on, even if the bus stop is subsequently cleared.

    Or, maybe just your driver was having a lousy, "not feeling Swedish" day.

    P.S: If you are easily unnerved, do not attempt to use public transport if you are ever in Turkey ;)

  2. I agree with netadminion, and the second busdriver you had was doing a nice thing! I believe that all the city's busdrivers (ok, most) would become nicer and more service minded if we, the passengers, actually said "hello" and made eye contact when we got on the bus. The way it is now, most people don't even look at the driver (so good on you for knowing that you had two different drivers!).

    I don't know if you've ever been on public transport in Vancouver, but when you get off the bus there you look tords the front and say "thank you!" - a tradition I just love!

    And what about London? In that city the bus won't stop even if there's people waiting unless you actually hail it, like it was a cab! Fantastic!

    Hope to see you on bus 1 some day!

  3. Could be that the guy you saw with the mask IS the guy with swine flu!

  4. Crappy bus drivers are a cross-cultural phenomenon I'm afraid. I've had bad experiences in most of the countries I’ve visited. My all-time worst bus experience was in Dublin. I had a driver who stopped at some random stop with a bus full of people and had a cigarette, leaving his door open so the inside of the bus could fill with smoke. Later, the same driver kept driving on the right side of the road, which is decidedly the wrong side in Ireland. It was really quite scary.

    Hey, don’t judge the poor masked man. Maybe he has cancer or something. Sometimes people who have compromised immune systems wear them. Or, maybe you're right. Maybe he is scared about the swine flu. Poor thing. Someone should just tell him not to eat pork and he’ll be safe.

  5. @terander - when I do say thank you to the bus drivers they just kind of look at me weirdly. I guess I could go back to trying. It is nice. It makes me feel less guilty that I have (in my opinion) a better life b/c I'm not stuck driving a bus.

    @E -You don't get swine flu from pork. Barely anyone even got it from live pigs. You get it from other people who have it, like a normal flu. I'm home in the US right now and people are going F'ing crazy. The masks are supposedly useless but people wear them sometimes anyway.

  6. @Hairy - Another sign you've been in Sweden too long: "while at university."

  7. I take the bus quite often (I pay 180kr for the strips. Oh and the SL website says that they're valid for 1 hour, just in case anyone else reads this)

    I've had mostly good experiences. The worst drivers are just aggressive on the brakes (I find myself standing a lot, so it's pretty noticeable)

    Late at night, I've had some pretty interesting conversations with the bus drivers. I think that they get pretty bored, and I'm eager to listen. I've only lived here for a short time, so I still enjoy getting Swedish opinions on things. :)

  8. I agree, I like my bus drivers to concentrate on the driving - I get a little concerned when another driver is standing up the front, and they chat away for the whole journey.
    Here in Uppsala, most drivers do say hello as soon as you get on. On the whole I have more problems with other passengers who don't take their bag or feet off the last remaining empty seat, car drivers who park at bus stops (sometimes it's the only place to park, but please keep an eye on the rear view mirror and give priority to the bus), and cyclists who flash out into the traffic and expect the bus to give way.
    On my first trip to Stockholm, I played the dumb tourist routine, and the bus driver let me on without a ticket - twice - so I can't complain about SL either.
    BTW, shouldn't the title of the post be "Bus Drivers"?

  9. m8surf - I was joking about the pork thing. I live in the US & a week or so ago you couldn't miss learning everything known about it on the news...including the little fact that you can't actually get it from pigs. Everyone was making a big deal about calling it H1N1 instead of swine flue. It's really not making the news these days though. It's not been anything like the seasonal flu...especially with summer coming on. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it seems like it was a really good distraction from things like...oh...the economy.

  10. I feel your bus pain-Chicago bus drivers are notorious for being horrible drivers. Riding to school once, our bus took out three side view mirrors and then t-boned a jetta while running a red light. Turns our the driver had had a little too much fun the night before-everyone on the bus had to give witness statements to the police who then cuffed the driver and shoved him into a squad car. Oh-and I could go on and on about the poor public health practices on this whole swine flu thing here in the States-the media is totally blowing it out of proportion. I'm just waiting for a "real" pandemic to happen.

  11. While I was in Sweden we took a lot of different kinds of transportation but I can't complain about the bus drivers. There were a couple times I didnt have the correct change to pay or didnt know there were tickets, etc and they just let us ride for free. Also when we were coming back from a concert in
    Stockholm the driver was so nice and was joking around with everyone on the bus and everyone was singing and having a good time. It was so nice, even though we were packed like sardines.
    However the rental people that pick you up from the airport,this one guy was driving so fast and crazy my eyes were wide, I was scared for my life. But that was in florida...

  12. You should come to Uppsala and take a ride with Amos Makajula, the best bus driver in the world! The first time he was my driver, I thought "Wow, he must be new. That attitude won't last long." That was years ago. Since then, he's become famous. Google it and see for yourself!

  13. i was hanging around somewhere near slussen i believe and there was no sign of the swine flu, by assosiation the whole thing happended to you my friend was an accident löl :)

  14. @netadminion – I agree with you about the not stopping in bus lanes. But it seemed like the bus driver was just trying to cause trouble. Which I wasn’t a fan of.

    I really want to go to Turkey, I have yet to check it out though. But I’ll be sure to avoid the public transportation if at all possible though. Thanks for the tip!

    @terander – you know, I actually thought about that when writing this. Because I complain about Swedish customer service a lot. And he was doing a nice thing. I just wish he was doing a nice thing while we weren’t driving down the road.

    I like the thank you in Vancouver. Maybe Ill start using that here in Sweden. Just yelling tack! As I step off.

    @PiNG – oooh…. I like the way you think. If that is the case I appreciate him being cautious.

    @E – you win. Hands down you win. That is ridiculous. I think I would have been tempted to tackle him and take over. Is busjacking legal if the driver is driving on the wrong side of the road?

    @m8 – my problem is that I usually sit at the back of the bus and would really have to yell to thank them. That might scare people. Much like swine flu.

    And yeah… the at university thing is something I picked up kind of early on, I manage to say college while in the US though. As long as I can keep doing that I think Im safe.

    @Kit – good work on the research. I’ve updated the post with that.

    The braking thing is pretty bad. What surprises me though is how often the subway drivers brake aggressively. I just don’t understand.

    @Richard – damn my poor spelling. Youre absolutely right about the title. I’ve updated that too. Sometimes I struggle.

    I do remember while in Uppsala that the bus drivers seemed to say hello more often. Maybe its something abot the smaller town. I suppose saying hello to hundreds upon hundreds of people over and over again would get kind of exhausting.

    @E – whats funny is though, that by freaking people out, its probably just making the economy worse.

    @Tara – you might actually beat E’s Ireland story. That’s pretty good. Or bad I suppose. I have yet to get on a bus with a drunk guy driving it. I hope to keep it that way.

    @anonymous – sounds like you got yourself a very nice bus driver. That’s always good to hear. Really, aside from these two experiences which just happened to occur one after the other, Ive had pretty good experiences with bus drivers here.

    @passenger – I love it! Why does this man not have a Wikipedia entry?

    @Mike – glad to hear it!

  15. Hairy Swede - I think we're agreeing? I feel like the current administration (in the US, of course) want people freaking out. About everything. This way they can pass things through Congress quickly without much review or consideration...because it's "an emergency" and there's no time to think about it...and you can't possibly love America if you don't proceed with haste. I really feel like we've all become victims of some sort of insane emergency room governing strategy where freaking everyone out is key.

  16. Bus drivers are either nice or complete jerks depending on the type of day that they are having and I think that it is the same no matter where in the world they may be. I take the public transit because it is way cheaper than owning a car, but I start driving lessons in June, so eventually I have to get one. Hairy, just do what I do, put on your headphones and watch the world go by! As far as the swine flu is concerned, at work we are all in agreement that it is being blown out of proportion because the powers that be need to give people a diversion from all the grim news about the terrible state the economy is in.

  17. @E - wasn't it emanuel who said you should never let a good crisis go to waste. I think that probably says it all.

    @Néstor - I suppose youre probably right. But I was just kind of hoping. And I have definitely started using my ipod to disappear on the bus. Its a very Swedish thing to do actually.

  18. He did say that. Which would make him an opportunist. Fine. However, creating or even fueling a crisis for the sake of political expediency is something else entirely.

  19. agreed. but Im still not impressed with even saying that outloud.

  20. Yeah. I think it's pretty telling that he can get away with such an admission. By definition, an opportunist is someone who will take advantage of opportunities regardless of principles & consequences. Being that type of person is one thing. Not good, in my opinion. But, saying it out loud. I'm with you. Not impressed. A little troubled by it, actually.

  21. exatly, its like one of those moments that, sure, some people will think it, but you must either be a complete idiot, or a presumptious and arrogant asshold to actually say it out loud.

    Im not sure which is worse considering his position.

  22. I have only spent ten days in Sweden, but I am planning a move. My one experience on a bus in Stockholm made me nod in agreement with your post. The bus was packed. Lots of people were standing. An elderly woman in a motorized wheelchair had gotten on board but stayed in her chair just in front of the handicapped entrance. The driver must not of noticed her at first. About halfway through the trip he started yelling at her and told her she had to move her chair. She said, very calmly, that there was nowhere else that her chair would fit. He just kept repeating, in Swedish, of course, "Don't you understand what I am saying. You have to move. NOW!" The scenario ended with several people shoving in as close as possible and squeezing her chair in between strollers. The woman was shaken. As we were all unloading, he said, "I hope you are all looking forward to a long walk back. Everything is crowded today." I couldn't get over how rude he was. It was in such stark comparison to the attitudes of everyone else I met while there!

    On a side note, I love your blog. It's been very helpful in my planning.

  23. the buses are rough. public transportation in general is rough. there is one bus driver that I have had a few times now in the mornings and he is a horrible person. rude and sometimes downright mean.

    I will say this though... stick it out for a little while longer. it takes a while to get in the flow of things.