Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | May 27, 2012

Non-verbal signals, shuttle buses, and Autism

To get to my office and lab from my apartment, I take a series of two shuttles. It’s often very frustrating, because it takes 3-4 times longer to take the shuttles than to just drive, but unfortunately (or fortunately), parking is insane, so I only drive on days when I MUST have my vehicle with me immediately after I leave the lab. Ordinarily I don’t mind the shuttle ride – I have a smart phone (android), and my google reader is linked – I use the time to catch up on my reading. But there is one thing which drives me insane.

The shuttles all have timepoints they have to keep. They leave certain stops at certain times. This is really helpful for figuring out when to leave your apartment or lab and get to the bus stop, so as to avoid waiting aimlessly outside for 10-30 minutes (depending on what time of day it is). But the thing is, the shuttle drivers like to leave early, and I am sometimes running a bit late. Usually it’s fine, as I try to be somewhere 3-5 minutes early anyway, but I’m not perfect, and at least one day a week, I find myself rushing to get to the next bus. The frustrating part comes when I’m walking towards the bus stop, the bus is sitting there, the driver sees me walking quickly towards the bus, staring at it, and then shuts the doors and drives away when I’m less than 15 feet away from the thing. I must be sending the wrong nonverbal cues.

Obviously this does not send the bus driver the right message, to please wait an additional 10 seconds (literally) for me to get on the shuttle. I often can’t run, because it is too painful for my joints, and/or I’m carrying way too much stuff to run without dropping things, and I know that’s a universal signal for “WAIT I’M COMING”. But alas, after that, I’m out. What are your tricks for convincing the bus driver not to shut the doors in your face and drive off? Especially if your hands are super full and you can’t wave? Because obviously my bee-line for the bus with an intense look on my face, staring them down, is not sufficient to communicate my needs… Oh non-verbal communication, how you confuse me.



  1. If he’s the same driver each time, why not say to him/her next time you get on the bus, “listen if you see me running to catch the bus, do you mind waiting for me?” If it’s a different driver each time, then I find waving at the bus, while smiling usually gets them to wait for me. Every now and again, however, nothing works, and they will leave even if you’re at their door banging on it and pleading with them. These people are the ones who are simply miserable and take some small degree of satisfaction knowing they’ve made someone else’s life uncomfortable, but they are few and far between, I’ve found.

    • That’s exactly what I wanted to say – Ask the shuttle drivers, if they drive on the route regularly. (if you are able to remember their faces)

      Maybe the problem us that they don’t get your non-verbal hints (as you suggest), but there could be other reasons.

      Quick brainstorm:

      – They may not notice you or can’t see you properly from where they sit

      – There could be a convention about not waiting for late customers, maybe communicated in job training or through industry organisations or just informally between the shuttle drivers

      – There could be stubbornness and a culture of hating the job where shuttle drivers want to teach customers to be at the stop in time, so they can f## get on with their day and go home. Managers could have a go on them if they don’t stick to the time schedule 100%

      Even if they don’t want to tell you, their reply could still give a better idea about what the problem is.

      • Thanks 🙂 The shuttle drivers are nearly all students, and they’ve taken to leaving a bit early, because it means that they get more downtime at a different stop. So its really just them being super frustrating. If I am running late enough so as to miss the shuttle, I take it as my responsibility. But when I’m walking towards the stop, and they close the doors and leave before their timepoint, its a pain in the rear. Plus, incidentally, their training requires they wait. They get in trouble if someone complains to their manager if they didn’t wait… (And before you say “complain then, that’ll fix it”, I don’t want to do that. That would involve the telephone and a conversation saying someone is doing something wrong.) Mind, there have definitely been times when they’ve driven off on time, and I’m just late. That’s my fault. But seriously? 10 seconds?! They often have 5-8 minutes of downtime at the stop, they can afford to wait an extra 10 seconds if they see someone coming.

  2. It sounds like the problem is the shuttle drivers’ attitude, and not anything you do 🙂

  3. In days gone by, a bus driver’s primary job was to pick up passengers and they took great pride in this, helping people onto the bus and looking after kids going to school. Bureaucrats/admin people have taken over the world, buses and postman run to an admin schedule (my postie used to bring sausage for my dog, now he hardly has time to say hello), even doctors have to account for every cent they spend saving lives. Yuk

  4. I dont know where you are in the world but your bus drivers are wierd.

  5. This may be as uncomfortable an idea as wearing a live coyote on your head, but yelling, “WAIT FOR ME!” might work. (Though honestly the live coyote might make them close the doors even faster!)

    In all seriousness, I think Mados is right: you might ask the drivers what would work for them. If you know which drivers have driven off on you, ask them specifically what sign you should use to let them know you want to catch the bus. It’s information gathering. I don’t even think you would need to raise the topic of reading non-verbal signals. If they ask, just say that you thought hurrying toward the bus and making eye contact with the bus driver was sufficient, and would they please give you some ideas of what would work better.

    I can say that the approach you should not take is to throw yourself in front of the bus. I did that inadvertently one day – I tripped while running across the street – and then had to sit through a lecture from the bus driver that hurling myself under the wheels was not the right way to flag down a bus.

  6. On one occasion, I experienced the opposite; a driver remaining at her stop while I was taking a walk and not needing the bus at the time.

    I had a suspicion that the driver was waiting for me, and I felt bad about making her wait but I was not sure, as I approached her bus, how to communicate non-verbally.

    Next time I boarded, I asked the driver what signals I should use to indicate whether or not I wanted a bus. He suggested that if I WANTED the bus, I could wave my hands and if I DID NOT want the bus, I could make a horizontal, sort of chopping, gesture.

    Beyond this, after talking with the drivers and if that does not work — if you are repeatedly having this trouble — you may have to call the transit agency.

    I realize from your previous replies that you may find this difficult, you dislike getting someone in trouble as do I, but there is a posted time, the drivers are not abiding by it and you are being denied service as a result.

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