Distractions in a disruption: The soothing effect of the heritage bus ride during London Tube strikes

Distractions in a disruption: The soothing effect of the heritage bus ride during London Tube strikes


Written by:

Kevin KH Tsang

First Published:

01 Nov 2022, 3:18 am


Distractions in a disruption: The soothing effect of the heritage bus ride during London Tube strikes

As a scholar and enthusiast of buses, despite the vibrant bus scene in the city which made me fall in love with buses since a young age, heritage bus activities are unfortunately not permitted in Hong Kong where I am originally from. I was most astonished seeing photos sent to me from friends in the UK, with buses that are museum exhibits running on the busiest city streets with full loads during a tube strike – for a 1930’s bus to be running in service, back to the city where it used to serve, how could this be possible?


My paper takes an opportunistic research approach for the empirical fieldwork, as albeit the intense interest in this occasion, I had been waiting for several years until I had the chance to really see it, as such strikes can often be called off at the last minute. Yet I am immensely interested to see how people react to that, and how different it is from that of these heritage buses remaining as static exhibits in the context of museums. This opportunity finally arrived in 2018, for three times just within two months, which enabled the fieldwork to take place, and which made this paper possible.


The key findings in this paper include that different bus types indeed offer different levels and kinds of reactions owing to the differences in materiality and other sensory experience, which represents the evolution in different points of history for bus services. The diverse mix of passengers of different background in the cosmopolitan and multicultural city, also differed from the more standard mix of dedicated museum goers in the context of transport museum open days. This contributed to a more animated version of the bus history, as well as awakening other traces of the everyday urban history, intertwined with personal experience through the narratives triggered by conversations on these heritage buses. These heritage buses were also found to have shifted passengers’ attention from confusion and frustration towards showing appreciation towards the effort of heritage bus preservation, which was what the ‘collective soothing effect’ of this paper rests upon. Transport operators in other areas are encouraged to consider this approach when a strike happens, and transport museum curators can consider further how they can promote themselves by raising funds for their preservation projects, since it was found that passengers showed clear interests such as asking to pay for the rides (that were for free by the way), and asked where they could visit these buses again.


As for 2022, the replacement bus services for tube strikes no longer involved heritage buses. Whereas the reason for this might never be known – since the arrangement of using heritage buses during tube strike has never been official, nor is it advertised. If such use of heritage buses is no longer permitted, the collective soothing effects as researched in the paper could all disappear, since passengers are no longer distracted, and transport operators could well expect a rage from passengers in future strikes.

Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.