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Merseytravel bus stop

This question is asked of bus drivers between 9.15 and 9.29 am. You have to be over 60 to ask it because you need the relevant bus pass. At 9.30 it is legally valid. At 9.29 the driver will probably let you on. At 9.20 you are pushing your luck but it may be worth a try.

I use the buses a lot. On Wednesday morning I arrived at a stop at 9.21. Four of us sat on the bench. I must have been easily the youngest.

At 9.22 a bus came and the other three popped the question, only to be told that they were indeed 'twirly'. By the time the next bus came and let us on, I had got to know them.

One man has a granddaughter who passed her A levels and is now a student. This was a matter of great pride: I got the impression that he had finally arrived, having a family member who was a student.

It seemed, though I didn’t ask, that I was the only one of the four who could have paid the £2.10 fare without significant financial loss. This is not surprising: Liverpool buses leave one in no doubt that one is using a third rate system. London buses are incomparably posher.

The waiting seemed to me a symbol of our third rate status. Other people, important people, are busy, short of time, and rush about in cars. Spending time waiting at bus stops, for unpunctual buses which sometimes get cancelled without warning, reminds us that our time is not valued as highly as other people’s time. Compared with queuing up to apply for welfare benefits, at least it is not a deliberate time-waster; nobody positively intends to keep people waiting for buses. It’s just that the people who plan the service have cars and don’t empathise as much as they might with the people who use it. At least in Liverpool we can be sure they don’t: the Mayor has just decided to abolish bus lanes!

As we become an increasingly divided society, one dimension of the polarisation is time. Some people are busy; every minute saved is valuable. The plans for the HS2 train line could not make the point more clearly: to shave 20 minutes off the time spent getting from London to Manchester will benefit the economy by billions because of the extra productivity of economically engaged people, but if I and other bus pass holders spend 20 minutes at a bus stop, that’s irrelevant.

It affects us all in one way or another, either because we are busier or because we have to spend longer hanging around waiting, or both. We probably all spend longer queuing at post offices than we used to; the increased ‘efficiency’ for Royal Mail is at the expense of our queuing time.

It looks to me like a sign of an increasingly dysfunctional society. To call it dysfunctional is to imply that I have a vision of what society ought to be like, and we are moving further from it. Part of the problem is that, as a whole, our society does not have a vision of what it ought to be like. It is short of shared values, except getting richer and generating new technological trinkets year after year.

My own idea of a good society is derived from my sense that we have been made by a good God and put in a world where we can enjoy the good things without undue stress. God has given us enough resources to meet everybody’s needs, and enough muscles and brains to do what needs to be done. Every family naturally, without any need to theorise about it, allocates each job to the person best able to perform it so that everybody gets what they need. Yet as a society we seem to be losing the ability to do this. Some of us are time-rich and resources-poor. Others are paid far more than they can possibly need but are under stress at work with too much to do. In either case we are not living the life God created us to enjoy.

We need to regain a sense of the value of time. Perhaps it is worth remembering how the week got invented. It’s in the bible. Nobody is so important that they should work seven days in a row; nobody is so unimportant that they can be forced to work seven days in a row.

Being too busy, and not having any way to make a contribution, are both signs of an unbalanced society. It is possible to do better; but in order to do so, we need a vision we can believe in, of the better life for which the human body was designed.