How to survive bus travel in Scotland: 25 Tips for a better ride

It is costly to own a car and with the price of parking in the city, most people only use their cars on weekends/days off and for chores/emergencies. Know now that catching a bus in Scotland is not like catching a bus in Australia. Same. Same. But different.

25 Tips for a better ride

1. Do not trust the timetable.

They can be up to 10 minutes early and up to an hour late. It may also never arrive that day. If a driver does not turn up for their rostered shift, the bus ceases to continue on that route and returns to the bus station. Be prepared to get off the bus and walk to a nearby bus stop for the next bus.

2. Be prepared to run.

If you are walking to a bus stop and see your bus, you’d better run.

3. Get familiar with the bus company names, numbers, routes and timetables and check them often. 

Be aware that allocated bus stops can change (without notice) and you may need to walk (or run) to the new bus stop. Always check the bus companies and numbers that stop at the bus stop – you’ll find them on the bus stop sign.

4. Go to the toilet before you head to the bus stop.

An hour or so on a bumpy bus does not make for a happy bladder (or bowel). Especially after waiting a time for the bus to arrive.

5. Charge your mobile devices and take multiple forms of entertainment.

If you are on the bus for an hour or two each day, use your time to surf the web, catch up on emails, cruise your social media feeds or simply read. It’s no fun if you can’t see out the window (because it’s fogged up and/or iced over) and you get bored easily.

6. Be at the bus stop about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Buses do not stick to a timetable. If a bus stops it does not wait at the stop until the scheduled departure time. If it is running 10 minutes early and you’re not there, it will not wait. You will have to wait until the next bus which may not be for another hour (or at all).

7. Always hail your bus.

Do not assume because you are standing at the bus stop, that the bus will stop. Often several different bus companies and bus numbers stop at the same stop, so buses do not stop unless necessary.

8. Always be at your designated bus stop. 

If you are not at the bus stop and hail the bus – like when you’re running towards the bus stop or running after the bus – the bus will not usually stop. If you have the opportunity to run towards the bus, you can try running at the front of the bus and hope the driver will not drive over you. But, I have often seen the bus driver simply wait until a person is along side the bus before driving off.

9. Know your stop.

If you are unsure, use the GPS on your phone and know the bus route. When you think you are getting close to your stop, get close to the driver.

Don’t stand in the exit area or the bus driver may slow down and speed up waiting for you to ding and get the shits with you if you don’t ding. Then they speed up and stop brutally when you do finally ding. I stand in the pram/wheelchair area and watch the road ahead.

10. Be ready to get off immediately.

Do not hesitate once you ding the button. If you don’t push the dinger AND stand next to the bus driver BEFORE they arrive at the bus stop, they may not stop. If you miss your stop, they will NOT stop until they arrive at the next allocated bus stop. This is never convenient.

11. Near enough is good enough.

It is often safer to catch any bus heading in your direction and then walk the difference. Walking another 10-20 minutes to get home is much better than waiting another hour to hopefully catch the next bus.

If it is cold (often), standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus for an hour is not going to get you warm. You’re better off getting into a warm bus (hopefully) and then walking a longer distance home (to keep warm).

12. Hold on as soon as you get on.

An elderly woman died recently when the bus she was on had to brake suddenly. Sadly, she fell and sustained injuries she was unable to recover from.

Many streets in Glasgow are narrow and only one vehicle can fit through at a time. When you’re on a bus coming around a blind corner, and are suddenly faced by another bus or vehicle coming at you, you quickly discover how casually a bus can mount a kerb/footpath to avoid a collision. This usually involves sudden braking and the unexpected swearing by all passengers (kids included) as you are launched forward and then in every other direction before coming to a standstill.

13. Do not keep your knees on full-lock or they will break.

Buses will often meet or exceed the speed limit.  The roads are very uneven and hills and curves are many.

14. Keep your head down.

Beware the buses with low ceilings if you are taller than average (which in the UK is above 6 feet/183cm). If you are standing upright and go over a bump or hit a pot-hole, you will be launched into the ceiling.

15. Dress for all seasons.

Buses have their own climate. A bus in winter is not always warm. Many times in winter, the early morning buses are encrusted in frost and the heating is ineffective. You may also be lucky enough to have the air conditioning blasting arctic frost onto you in the evening. Be prepared to sit on the bus in your warmest clothes, beanie, scarf and gloves and yet still shiver.

Although, when it’s warmer (not often) the heating may work like a Hell. In this case, be prepared to strip off to a t-shirt and wish you had your sunglasses with you. If you find yourself short of clothing or sunglasses, the free Metro newspaper is great for extra padding or sun deflection.

16. Carry food and water.

It’s okay to eat and drink on buses. This comes in handy when you have been waiting for an hour or more for a lengthy bus journey and you find yourself home long after dinner time. Think muesli and breakfast bars, chocolate and a water bottle. The drawback here is that the floors and railings (and sometimes the seats) can be sticky. On a positive note this can help with grip… while navigating up and down stairs… when the bus hits the anchors.

17. Keep an eye on the date.

Remember that daily bus passes may not be honoured if you board the bus close to midnight. Some drivers will refuse you transport and ask you to buy a new ticket.

18. Carry change.

Make sure you have the exact money. No change is given. You can also pay by card on many buses and some buses have a handy app so you can have a daily to monthly pass on your smart phone.  Be mindful with apps to buy your ticket that they can fail, or your phone battery can fail, leaving you without a ticket.  

19. Save money with a bus pass.

Buy a monthly ticket as soon as possible. You will save between £50 and £100 a month. On our bus route (which is about 45 minutes out of Glasgow City) buying 28 days at £4.50 a day is £126 versus £48 for a monthly bus ticket. The freedom of not having to carry bus fare and having to carry the correct change all the time is a life saver.

  • First buses, McGills, Stagecoach, Megabus and City Link are the major bus companies in Scotland.
  • Lothian buses service Edinburgh.
  • You will save money buying bus passes from either their mobile apps or your local news agency (e.g. McColls) or supermarket (e.g. ASDA).
  • You cannot buy weekly/monthly/other bus passes on a bus.
  • When buying a bus pass you will be limiting your travels to that bus company so choose wisely. Some bus companies (e.g. McGills) won’t travel to certain places on Sundays and have very limited schedules for other days.
  • Check out the Traveline website for all things travel in the UK. They have great information and journey planners as well as links to relevant websites.

20. Keep your belongings close by your side.

If you are likely to fall asleep and don’t have a travel buddy, secure your valuables in case somebody decides to steal them from you while you’re sleeping.

21. Stay safe.

If you feel unsafe at any time, go and sit down by the driver and other passengers. Best not to get into an argument with randoms on a bus but sometimes they’re looking for a fight and they just decide to pick on you.

On the other hand, many late night passengers who are drunk just want to have fun and you can gather together some interesting travel stories. Like that girl on a hen’s night who decided to chew on your jacket while growling and giggling…while you were still wearing it.

22. Look for the free Metro newspaper at the front of the bus.

It is free and it is awesome. Its a great blend between newspaper and trashy magazine. It can easily fill an hour. It also gives you an excuse not to have to talk (or be spoken to by) random bus passengers.

23. Choose your seat.

Window or aisle? Legroom or not? On the side with the sun setting in your eyes? I prefer a seat next to a window rather than a window frame as it provides more shoulder-room when I have someone sitting beside me. I also avoid the seats that have a wall in front of them as you have less leg and foot room. If you’re wearing boots you need more foot room.

24. Travel on the upper or lower level on a double decker bus.

The elderly/disabled, parents with prams, passengers with pets, passengers with groceries and those with shorter journeys usually travel on the bottom level of a double-decker bus. When the bus is full, extra passengers stand up downstairs. Passengers who have had a bit too much to drink sometimes make their way up the stairs (against all the odds). Noisy groups of kids and partying locals sometimes take over the top deck.

I usually prefer to travel on the top level. The ride seems to be a bit smoother and the view is much better. But if the passengers upstairs are undesirable (e.g. swearing, fighting, stinky, too talkative) or the climate is too hot or cold, I will venture downstairs. Always head downstairs when approaching your final destination (refer to point 7).

25. Keep an eye on the time.

Often you can estimate when you will arrive and know when to get ready to get off. Remember that bus journeys are quicker on quiet days like Sunday’s and during off-peak times. You can also count down before you can get off the bus, walk home and find a toilet.

If you miss your stop (e.g. reading a book, on your phone, talking) it isn't always convenient to miss several stops. I found myself walking 30 minutes, in the winter rain, at night, through unfamiliar territory, cursing myself because I didn't pay attention.

There is an end to your bus trip. And sometimes that is the best part.

Do you have any good bus travel stories?