11/17/1986 at 01:00 AM EST
This fall all of downtown Glasgow, Scotland looks like the set for a weird sci-fi movie, Invasion of the Raging Buses. Huge, brightly colored buses are everywhere. During rush hour the smoke-belching monsters crowd the streets 20 or more to the block with their diesel engines roaring in awful crescendo. They grind along the city's main thoroughfares in motorized swarms, ever in quest of stray fares. When the drivers spot a likely passenger, the buses jockey for position and bear down on the bus stop in unison like a herd of outsize armadillos.
Oddly enough, all this pollution and chaos is welcomed in the name of progress and the pursuit of free enterprise. On Oct. 26 the United Kingdom deregulated its buses, thereby triggering a war that the rival companies immediately took to the streets. Densely populated Glasgow (pop. 700,000) is lucrative territory, and no fewer than 11 private fleets are trying to drive out the competition and make the turf their own. Thus the typical urban Scot out to catch a bus from here to there has become quarry for the diesel roves. Commuters are coaxed aboard by just about everything from piped-in country music to a blue-and-yellow squawking robot. Once inside, their tickets are notched by attractive, neatly uniformed young people—"clippies"—who chat passengers up for good measure.
On Saturday, Oct. 11, the day gridlock came to Glasgow, all the seeming goodwill backfired. The abrupt jump in traffic, from 214 buses per hour on the downtown streets to a horde of around 480, finally proved too much. Traffic came to a standstill for a mile in all directions from the city's center. Exasperated passengers demanded their money back as buses snailed along at half a mile per hour.
Things are somewhat better for the moment—now that no one dares drive a car downtown. But the war threatens to heat up again. Four more bus companies are poised to join the fray, as are an additional 450 smaller carriers that promise to have those double-deckers for lunch.