Claire Moore asks whether the future of travel has really hit the streets of York, in her look at the Ftr buses and their reception from the public
Is it a purple caterpillar? Is it some hideous form of genetically-enhanced duck escaped from the murky depths of the lake? No, it’s The Future, according to First Group Transportation and their now slightly-less-new ftr buses.
The connotations of their ‘ftr-istic’ picture disturb me in more ways than there are pasta meals in an average University student’s lifetime. As a self-confessed grammar purist, I find that the gratuitous removal of the vowels from the word ‘future’ causes acute nausea. So perhaps my reaction is a little extreme, but I am not the only person who feels aggrieved by this abominable abbreviation. Evidently, the First Group ‘powers that be’ are misinformedly trying to lull the hip-‘n’-happening student population into blissful ftr-love by writing in the only language that students understand: ‘text-speak’. Obviously. I’d rate this pretty high on the scale of patronising. I suppose given my predisposition to correct English, it comes as no surprise that I condone the commercial use of text speak as much as I do the Comic Sans font. I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone outside of the Claire’s Accessories pre-teen demographic that would actually decide to actively like a bus purely on the merit of its ability to write in text-speak. I have half a mind to write an angry letter of complaint to the company with all the vowels removed. This would perhaps be a language First would understand: illogical gibberish.
Perhaps though, I have been misled. According to the Facebook group ‘I Hate The New Bus Society’ the letters ftr could in fact be a cunning acronym, designed to subliminally tell us a thing or two about the company. Possible examples include ‘Futile Transport Revolution’, ‘Feeble Tram Replacement’, and my personal favourite: ‘Free To Ride’. Obviously the latter is not a deliberate aim for the company: although it would be nice, the £14.5m cost of the project would not allow it. It seems to me that the majority of this expenditure is entirely redundant anyway. The thinking behind ‘Free To Ride’ originates primarily from the dawn of the Ftr bus creation: a time when exact change was scarce and ‘pilots’ took pity on innocent students and let them ride for free. Oh, and the constant malfunction of the ticket machine, of course. These days it’s more of a reference to the ftr prepay tickets. This is a very well-thought-out plan on First’s behalf given that they hide their ‘pilots’ away behind glass and they have no means of actually stamping anything. Convenient.
Which leads nicely onto the subject of so-called ‘pilots’. Not trained in flying, the ftr pilots must instead undergo rudeness training. In one short journey from Heslington Hall to the station, I have had my ticket checked – by the driver – six times. But hark! Surely the driver’s locked away behind glass? Unfortunately, the glass did not provide enough fortification against driver attack. At every stop along the way he stopped the bus and checked everyone’s tickets. This resulted in a forty-five minute journey to the station and several people missing their trains. More so, the segregation of the driver from the passengers seems antisocial towards people who do not know York. Last week, I witnessed a tourist politely tapping on the glass to ask the driver how to get to the nearest park and ride. The driver angrily de-perched himself and rudely told the man to get off his bus. It’s not just tourists that the pilots mistreat. Also a group of nearly fifty students from Halifax College were ejected from the bus on the grounds that they were “acting like animals”. What provoked this? The driver trying to close the door on a student as he tried to board the bus and his friend pressing the emergency door release to prevent him getting crushed. After this, everyone on the bus was removed and the result was a much increased taxi-use rate that evening.
Ineffective technology and debatable worth aside, the buses do have a certain comedic value, lying predominantly in their aesthetics. Apparently their interior design is based upon a nightclub. Excluding the fact that the seating doesn’t look anything like any nightclub I’ve ever been in, First Group may actually be half way there with this description. Firstly, there’s the bus-stopping noise. Although the traditional ‘ding!’ is a favourite nationwide, First decided to go with a charming little ditty, one which inspires me to dance every time I hear it. And I hear it a lot. Should this noise be considered actual music, then the bus could indeed almost be described as a nightclub. It even has a revolving dance floor (of sorts) in the middle.
And so, it’s time to leave you with a chilling thought. Hang on to your hats (not to mention your loose change) because according to First’s website, ftr buses are going to be awkwardly manoeuvring their way into many other cities around the country very soon. Be very afraid.