COLUMN: March 30, 2011

A FEW years back, a policy decision was taken to remove the route numbers from the backs of buses.

The idea was to avoid accidents, specifically those caused by dozy people who are incapable of arriving at a bus stop in plenty of time and then run across roads, arms and legs flailing like Peter Snow demonstrating a swingometer on a bouncy castle, in an ultimately- doomed attempt to catch the bus. People like me, obviously.

Of course, it didn’t work. 

Because that sort of people (ie, people like me) did not think: “I say, it’s a bus! There is absolutely no way of knowing if it is my bus. Hmm, ah well, in that case, I shall continue walking in a sensible manner. Oh, look, a rhododendron bush.”

No. That sort of people thought: “Aarrgh! I’m going to be late! Is that my bus? It could be! Bumsocks! I’ll have to leg it and see what the number on the front is. Aarrgh!”

Consequently, there was an increase in the number of irresponsible leggings-it, because instead of that sort of people (ie, people like me) running for their own bus, they were now running for EVERY bus which arrived at their stop. I have a wealth of anecdotal evidence to back me up, and all of it originating with me.

I can’t help feeling that the increasing prevalence of puffin crossings, rather than pelican crossings, is going to take us down the same route.

For those who are unfamiliar with puffin crossings – the agoraphobic or the rich, for instance – allow me to explain. 

Puffin crossings are just like pelican crossings, except that the red man/green man signal is just above the button which one presses to cross and faces away from the road. They are called puffin crossings officially because it is short for “pedestrian user-friendly intelligent crossing.” 

Unofficially, of course, it is because somebody in marketing said: “We need another bird name.”

I am sure of this because there is also a toucan crossing, so named because both pedestrians and cyclists are able to cross, therefore “two can.”

If David Cameron is serious about reducing the deficit, he can start with cutting the department currently trying to come up with a tenuous justification for a penguin crossing.

“Right, lads, how about this? You can only cross if A) you are carrying a pen, or B) you are Drop The Dead Donkey star Haydn Gwynne.”

I digress. The point is, when you cross the road at a puffin crossing, you cannot see if the green man is still there, or if he has been replaced by the red man of doom. Because the signals face away from the road.

Ah-ha-ha, say the puffin boffins, but you do not need to see the green man. Our special sensors track you crossing the road and tell the computer inside the signalling system to keep the road lights red until you get to the other side.

And I say back to the puffin boffins, ah-ha-ha! I used to be a systems analyst. I work with computers every day of my life.

And I can tell you this, you can count on computers right up to just before the point at which you need them to work properly, and no further.

I need to be able to see the green man while I cross, not just before I cross. Crossing the road is stressful enough, I don’t want to have to work through my trust issues before I step off the kerb.

And if you say to me that I am inconsistent in my approach to road crossing – tearing across them in pursuit of a bus one minute, dithering at their side the next – then I say, yes. But awkward beggars like me are the price of living in a democracy.

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