The trouble with the fact that transport seeps into culture is that all too often, it’s the stereotypes about it that do.
It’s taken decades for the railways to shake off their image as dirty and unpunctual. They’re not, and the statistics are freely available which refute that last one. While in the 1970s and 1980s train travel was seen as a distress purchase for London commuters (see the TV version of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin 1976-79) and a very second rate choice to the car for long distance travel, these days, trains are generally considered an acceptable form of transport. Expensive, but acceptable. Maybe the above-inflation fares rises every year are giving the railways the allure of some kind of exclusive luxury product…
Coach and bus travel are, I’m afraid, still stuck with the image problem that the railways have more or less shaken off. It’s a British thing. In mainland Europe regional coach travel is seen as a perfectly normal and sensible way for people to travel. In Britain, the efforts of businesses like the Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach with their highly-specified express coach services between London and Oxford have still to translate into widespread acceptability of coach travel. It’s all too often perceived as a budget option for the elderly and the socially and/or economically marginalised.
And so the case proved again when coach travel cropped up in Pramface on BBC Three this week.
Female lead Laura travelled to Scotland by coach to catch up with her friend Danielle at University. Edinburgh coach station looked smart and swanky, but Danielle’s friend Francesca trotted out all the usual stereotypes about coach and bus travel (and in particular, coach and bus travellers) as she met Laura there.
Francesca: “Oh my God, do these coaches only stop at, like, mental institutions and skin disease centres?”
…and moments later…
Danielle: “Shall we go?”
Francesca: “God, yeah. Before we catch anything from the coach people. Not you, Laura. obviously.”
It’s currently available on BBC iPlayer, with the offending scene starting at 06:25.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK clearly has some work still to do on changing the image of national coach travel.