Bus Routes

Number 11 bus, Birmingham Outer Circle

Number 11 bus, Birmingham Outer Circle

(With thanks to Adventures in Low VisionReconnaissance for making me think)

Imagine a ragged 36 mile circle encompassing the UK’s second city and you will envisage Birmingham’s Outer Circle bus route, home of the famous (infamous) No. 11 bus. This bus has been running since 1923 and takes approximately 11 hours from start to finish. It is such a legend that songs have been written about it.

Radiating inwards to the city centre is a complex spider’s web of shorter routes serviced by numerous buses with numbers that seem to defy logic but manage to cover most of the city locations. All the buses stop at varying distances and have different timetables.

The stops have signs indicating the identifying numbers of the buses which stop there and sometimes the timetables. Not only are the numbers and timetables difficult to see if you are VI, but the stops themselves can be quite obscure. Now, some have shelters and lighted signs indicating the next arrivals. But it is confusing. Even locals have difficulty on unfamiliar routes.

Once you have mastered the services complexities and confusions it is excellent and also free for pensioners. This gives valuable mobility for older people and is much appreciated. Most regular users, particularly children and young people, hop on and off with no difficulty, BUT for me it is problematic because

…I am unable to distinguish the numbers and destinations on the front of the buses (see illustration)

…I can’t always find the right stop at which to embark

…I can’t always find the right stop at which to disembark

Large cards are available to VI passengers to hold out at bus stops to indicate to the driver which bus they want and I do have an app on my iPhone to help plan journeys. With the cards you need to know where you are going and they are heavy and with the app it is difficult to use on the move, even with voice over. In practice this usually means that, on unfamiliar routes, I am dependent on the kindness of other passengers. This seldom fails in this friendly city. There is usually someone on the bus to help but not always at the stops.

I don’t know what the answer is although I do think Birmingham City Council could improve the accessibility of the signage. There are plans for updating the service and I hope these factors relating to travellers who are Visually Impaired are taken into account.

For cross city journeys I use the local train with its clearly defined stations and voice announcements. Also an excellent service and free for pensioners within the city limits. Less flexible than the buses but easier to manage.

I suppose I was spoiled as a driver and this is a new skill to learn. I would be interested to hear how other people with VI manage.


Listened to The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins on Audible read by Ian Holm. Wonderfully exaggerated melodrama with the best villain in literature, Count Fosco.

Film, The Long Walk to Freedom, about Nelson Mandela. Powerful acting and brought back memories of the appalling atrocities such as the Sharpeville Massacre. Well worth seeing.

Celebrated a friend’s birthday at Woktastic in Birmingham. Ideal food for people with VI and plenty of it. Good company too.

Thank you to Matthew for continuing to post this for me.

This entry was posted in low vision, Transport and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Bus Routes

  1. Nordie says:

    I was lucky during my period of VI as all buses that stopped at my stop into town went the same way and had the same stop going out, so I was comfortable that all buses I got on went to the places I wanted to be. It did. Meant however that I went nowhere I had never been before and where I was not comfortable in getting there on my own.

    My first holiday in 3 years was to York as somewhere I had never been before but still close enough that if something went wrong I was a mere 2 hours from my “local” hospital, so could be transferred by ambulance or family member (after suitable “come rescue me” phone call). Thankfully all was well and restored my confidence, which had been sorely dented

  2. Thanks for your comment Sorcha. That’s the problem…I tend to stick with the 11 or45 because I know the routes but it should be easier to get around on other buses. Well done travelling to York. I’ve been there and am told their eye hospital is excellent so don’t worry if you go again.

  3. My city–Baltimore in the US–uses buses with voice announcements. When drivers see my cane, they turn it on. I ride regularly, so I’m guessing most of the regular drivers recognize me as I have only rode silent buses a few days. I use a monocular to read the bus number as it approaches. If I doubt myself, I always ask the driver “is this the No. X bus going to Street name?”
    I have some other tricks, too. I will make a blog post, soon.

  4. Thanks for your helpful comment. I will try using my monocular….good idea. As I travel at random times I don’t think the drivers recognise me. The drivers here are shut away and passes are automaed so it is quite difficult to communicate with them. I sometimes wonder if they are discouraged from talking to passengers. In London the buses have voice announcements but Birmingham has a long way to go on the transport accessibility front. I don’t use my cane all the time but do find it useful at bus stops. I will write to our transport department with your suggestion about having a switch on announcement system. I shall look forward to your blog on the subject.

  5. CrazyOldMan says:

    I’m not VI but I have experienced the same problem in the US. Public transportation is marginal at best for many destinations and traveling to new destination can be a real test.My solution was to purchase a crossover GPS. It has an earpiece I use on the bus. I program the unit for the intersections I need to go to before I leave home. When riding it tells me “Your destination is 1 mile”, “Your destination is 1000′ feet” and “Ding ding your destination”. It fits in my pocket and runs on it’s battery for 8 hours.

I love hearing from my readers - do please leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s