The Smiths’ Story

Travelling with Lothian as an elderly person

“Someone nearly always offers a seat on the bus if it’s full”

Lothian native, Ellen Smith* (87) has used our buses for her entire life, with many fond memories of travelling on the 31 from Polton Mill into town during her working days.

Ellen and her work colleagues were dubbed the ‘bus bunnies’ in their day, such was the fun they had on their way to work every day. “We’d get on at Polton Mill and head into town. It was one joke after another,” she recalls. “Every morning the driver’s face would light up when we got on. And it became sort of routine, seeing the same faces every day.

“They were great days, the journey into town flew in because of the fun we had,” she says fondly.

Ellen’s husband, John, has both dementia and arthritis, which has resulted in him losing most of his mobility. Throughout his illness, Ellen has accompanied John on the bus and during the lockdown for essential journeys.

“I’ve only been on the bus a few times since this pandemic started,” Ellen says. “We’ve only made essential journeys and it has been difficult with John having little mobility.”

Although an avid supporter of the bus service in her area, she has noticed a few things that ‘niggle’ her while she’s on her way into town. The pandemic has really brought a few of these to light, and one new niggle in particular.

“Maybe it’s due to our ages, but I do get nervous when people get on the bus without a mask on,” she admits. “I know some people have a hidden disability, like John’s dementia, however some other people are taking advantage of that and ruining it for those who genuinely cannot wear a mask on the service.”

Despite some ‘niggles’ – as Ellen calls them – she remains incredibly positive about Lothian, the company that has served her throughout her entire life. Ellen says most of the drivers are extremely pleasant and courteous when she’s boarding with her husband.

Asked whether her and her husband had any negative experiences on the bus, Ellen replied “Oh, no! Not at all.”

This extends to the fellow customers on the bus, who exude a camaraderie which Ellen thinks has only mostly strengthened during the pandemic.

“We find that generally, fellow passengers on the bus are extremely helpful,” she says. “Someone nearly always offers a seat on the bus if it’s full and you’re never short of a conversation either!”

She adds: “With face masks on it’s harder to have a chit chat but we usually manage it.”

On the topic of hidden disabilities, Ellen is optimistic that awareness is improving, but adds that everyone can do more.

“Off the top of my head I can’t think of anything in particular Lothian could do other than keep promoting these things,” she says.

At the time of writing, Ellen was preparing to head for her second Covid-19 vaccination, and she couldn’t hide her excitement at finally getting the chance to hop on a 31 into town again.

“I’d like to be a bus bunny again!”

* Names in this interview have been changed for privacy.

Our thanks go to Ellen for speaking about her and her husband’s experiences with us.

Lothian remains committed to providing an efficient, world class bus service for the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians. Within that commitment, we reiterate that our buses are accessible for everyone. We would like to remind customers that not all disabilities are visible, and for a variety of reasons some of our customers cannot wear a face mask during their essential journey. Please be kind and considerate while on our buses.

Thistle Assistance is an initiative to help you feel safer and more comfortable when using public transport. You may prefer more time to get to your seat, or you may like your driver to speak more slowly and clearly. Thistle Assistance’s card and app let transport staff know in an easy and subtle way what extra support you’d like. Visit the Thistle Assistance website to find out more.