Recently, I had a fantastic time talking to Peter Dowden from Bus Go Dunedin.
Could you tell me a little about what the Bus Go Dunedin does in the local community?
Bus Go is short for Bus Users Support Group Otepoti-Dunedin and we aim to maximise people’s access to the bus service and to bring problems people have to the attention of decision makers.
What makes you angry or upset about our community?
Nothing gets up my nose more than hearing of people trapped in their suburb because of an accessibility or poverty issue preventing them from travelling.
What needs to change in Dunedin?
There has been so much achieved making Dunedin’s one of the most wheelchair-accessible bus fleets in the world, but the poor design of our streets let this effort down. Our city’s bus stops just do not match the quality of our buses.
What were your expectations coming into Bus Go Dunedin, and how have they changed?
I thought we needed to splurge money on the bus service, introduce free travel, double the number of buses and that sort of thing, but I have come to realise how much the system proscribed by central government squashes those sorts of visionary ideas. Now we concentrate on getting the existing budgets spent more fairly and efficiently. There is huge waste in the system, especially with empty seats being denied to passengers who can’t afford to travel.
What keeps you motivated?
I should explain that I have an abnormal, possibly unhealthy, interest in buses! A bus geek, if you like. If I wasn’t doing this I would be spending more time with another local club that restores old buses or do more work as a part-time driver for one of the local bus companies. But the “people” side of it keeps me most interested as I am not that mechanically minded compared to most bus enthusiasts.
What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?
I came into it as a greenie thinking I needed to campaign to promote bus travel to benefit the environment, but I found advocacy for social justice was what people wanted: folk came to us for help negotiating with administrators of the bus service.
How can interested students help out?
We’re keen to support bus users who find the service difficult to use. We have a plan for “Bus Buddies” – support volunteers who help people with disabilities or communication issues to use the bus service. We have plenty of potential volunteers but we need a few people with management skills to help establish the Bus Buddies scheme. It would be a great project for students of commerce, management or social work and when they had established the service they could hand it over as a running concern.
And finally, just a few fun questions:
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Sir Brian Souter, the Scottish bus billionaire: he’s cool in a bussy sort of way but he’s also a totally bigoted ant-gay Bible-bashing nutjob, we could have some fiery arguments. He lives in a castle, so I’d be his dinner guest.
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Ignoring my parents’ expectations and becoming a bus driver, and getting away with it.
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Well I can go a few days without buses in my other job (which is in media) but I get a bit antsy if I don’t get at least a few hours a week behind the wheel of a bus – that’s perfect week.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
When I see a bus stop that a bus can actually get into tightly alongside the kerb without hitting anything, so that passengers can easily step in or out… there are not many of those in Dunedin though.
You can get involved with Bus Go Dunedin here: https://www.facebook.com/busgodunedin/