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Thinking about how we could encourage greater kindness towards bus drivers…

Before you begin to read, take a moment to think about this following question - When was the last time you greeted or thanked your bus driver when boarding or alighting from the bus? According to London bus drivers this kind of interaction is a rare occurrence and we plan to tackle that as part of the Essential Mix project.

One of our four project strands in The Essential Mix involves encouraging greater kindness towards London bus drivers and over the past months we have been engaging with drivers, operators and TfL to discover the powerful opportunities that greater levels of kindness offer. What we mean by “kindness” in this context is harnessing the power of the micro-interactions between passengers and drivers to help build a more human connection between these two groups.

In the initial stages of this work we conducted desk based research to immerse ourselves in the bus context which unveiled three themes relating to how valuable kindness could be in the bus space:

  1. The number of journeys Londoners take via bus; 176.8 million journeys are made by bus every month meaning bus users cover a broad swathe of London society (2019 study). The sheer volume of journeys and passengers provides mass potential for promoting micro-interactions.

  2. Bus drivers' experience of COVID-19. TfL and ONS data found that London bus drivers had twice the COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 of the most dangerous occupations nationally and twice the rate of bus drivers nationally.

  3. Experiences of passenger aggression. Drivers note being spat at, being verbally abused and that generally COVID-19 precautions such as glass screens meant that many passengers failed to even see them as humans anymore.

In light of these emerging three themes we asked drivers what it might mean to them to have passengers say “hello” or “thank you” as they got on and off the bus. Though we may think of these interactions as small or seemingly insignificant, the reaction this idea received from drivers was overwhelmingly positive. One driver remarked that “when a passenger interacts with me it boosts my immune system and it can keep me going throughout the day”. Another driver remarked “the bus is my home and I am welcoming passengers aboard my space so when they say “Hi” it makes me feel acknowledged and valued”. Some drivers said that the interactions that they have with their regular customers are a huge boost in their day and that these short, informal and regular interactions make them feel like they’re part of the community and a part of something that is bigger than just the bus space.

Now knowing how valuable being kind to drivers can be and how integral drivers are to all Londoners in getting us from A to B, what is stopping you from saying “hi”? We encourage everyone to think how powerful these small interactions with your driver can be. We know that kindness can have a domino effect, when you get on the bus and chat to the driver, the person behind is more likely to do so and before you know it these micro-interactions on the bus could soon become the social norm. We hope to see the bus become a place where ordinary kindness thrives for both passengers and drivers!


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