From Iceland — Why I Think The Icelandic Bus System Rocks

Why I Think The Icelandic Bus System Rocks

Published May 24, 2012

Why I Think The Icelandic Bus System Rocks

Icelandic busses aren’t that bad. There, I said it.
Hear me out. I may just be a lowly American intern here at The Grapevine, but I’ve had my fair share of public transportation experiences.
It seems like every time I compliment the Icelandic busses to a native, they roll their eyes or laugh at my feeble American naïveté. Understand, though, that I commute from Kjalarnes to downtown Reykjavík so I spend nearly two hours of each day on a bus.
Seriously, though, after living more than eight months in the San Francisco Bay area, your busses might as well be chariots to the gods.
Let’s compare and contrast.
In San Francisco, there’s a subway (the BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit), the MUNI (bus line for San Francisco), and the AC Transit (bus line for the East Bay). I’m not as well versed on the MUNI, but I’ve become quite acquainted with BART and AC Transit as I have no car and for a while, no bike. 
Busses in Iceland are remarkably, incredibly on time. Icelanders I’ve spoken to complain about how the busses constantly run late, but let me re-define “late” for you.
Strætó’s posted schedule is pretty damned accurate even if it’s not clockwork.
For AC Transit, it’s more of a loose guideline/crap shoot. AC Transit busses regularly show up half an hour to an hour late (and sometimes not at all). This often results in two busses passing by one behind the other, moving the bus-dependent population that much closer to open revolt.
Maybe the average Icelander’s daily itinerary involves saving the president’s life or something equally pressing, but frankly a few minutes is nothing compared to 45.
BART is relatively better. Even if the subway car doesn’t come at its scheduled time, there’s a display in every station that notifies how many minutes away the next train is.
In Iceland, where a bus driver scolded me just as I was going to prop my feet up (shitty American habit; sorry y’all), bus cleanliness is a rule. It seems typically indisputable that busses here are supposed to be clean, and that passengers are expected to help maintain said hygiene.
Each and every BART car has upholstered seats that as far as I can tell haven’t changed since 1980. The greasy feeling (and odour) one gets after sitting on a BART seat is difficult to describe, but it’s something like sitting in a soft, sunken-in sponge that’s been used to clean an old hot dog grill.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two transportation systems is safety. Busses here must be pretty safe, because I’ve seen children riding them alone. Children. Alone.
Let me reiterate how unfathomable this is. I’m pretty sure American child protective services would relieve anybody of future parental responsibilities who let their kid ride AC Transit solo.
Naturally I’m assuming Strætó doesn’t have the occasional person smoking crack on their busses, or somebody leaving used drug paraphernalia around the bus, or even the chance bag of defecation left by a roving homeless person.
But before we start comparing broader societal differences and you say I’m simply throwing my country’s transportation system under the bus so to speak, all I’m trying to get across is that the Icelandic bus system isn’t that bad. Next time you’re getting ready to crack that joke about the busses being slow, think about all the poor suckers riding the AC Transit to work, or probably still waiting on it.

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