Last week, I took the bus from Schiphol Airport to Haarlem. Just because I wanted to know what it is like. Because this bus has its own infrastructure, which does not only include its own tarmac – as in ordinary bus lanes – but also its own tunnels, overpasses, and bus stop design. I thought that was fascinating, so I boarded the 11.18 service of bus 300 from Schiphol Airport. Bus 300, that sounds like a real main line. Quite an ordinary bus though.
Leaving the Schiphol area, the bus immediately enters a long tunnel, with no other traffic than the occasional bus in the other direction. On an elevated road it enters Hoofddorp, where it descends to street level. At street level the crossings with other traffic include a sign saying: ‘take care, there could be another bus coming’ (the same text as used in railway crossings in the Netherlands). After Hoofddorp the bus lane runs parallel to a highway for a while before crossing it on a large overpass before entering Vijfhuizen. There it goes straight through the village, and then it enters Haarlem where, quite suddenly, the bus merges with other traffic.
In a way, there are many similarities with train travel. A dedicated track, its own stops or stations along the track, few level crossings, etc. But to be in this bus, to me, felt rather different than to be in a train. First of all, a bus is usually part of normal traffic, and that makes it kind of weird to see the other traffic, while the bus does not interact with it. Second, I associate driving on tarmac with a certain level of freedom, that you can choose where you go to. And eventhough I know a bus usually follows a strict route, the dedicated track made me feel isolated, and without freedom to choose. When I looked out of the front window it felt desolate, an empty lane in front of us, and oncoming buses of the same sort only every three minutes. I never had this feeling in a train. The last thing I would like to say about this is that you get the feeling that you have to rely more on the driver than in a train, because a bus does not keep itself in track.
A dedicated bus lane like this may give an sense of freedom, as there is no other traffic and you get to places in time, with a high frequency of service (every six minutes at daytime). But as I experienced it, there are other senses of freedom that are compromised. Let that idea not get in the way of taking this bus though, because it is a comfortable and fast way of travel. And, let me know what you think of it.