People who may or may not be bus drivers practice the Japanese martial art of aikido. Wikimedia Commons/Jdcollins13

Japanese breathing techniques, meet rush hour.

Driving a public bus is a notoriously stressful job. Navigating a hulking behemoth through oft-narrow and crowded city streets while sitting for huge swaths of time is bad enough. But bus driving is also a customer service job, one in which only people with a naturally calm demeanors, tolerance for irrational passengers, and low blood pressure can excel.

A number of studies show the horrifying impact bus driving can have on one’s health. A 1986 study of 1,500 American city bus drivers discovered these workers face significantly higher rates of hypertension than the rest of the population. Work from 1988 found bus drivers in the Netherlands to be twice as likely to become disabled as other male Dutch civil servants, mostly due to risks of back, tendon, and joint injury, mental disorders, and cardiovascular disease. A small British study of 22 bus drivers who had experienced violence on the job found that 23 percent had developed PTSD.

Bus driving, meet aikido. With the help of a government grant, the Danish bus company Arriva has introduced 80 of its drivers from particularly well-trafficked and high-risk bus routes to a Japanese martial art. The goal, Arriva spokesman Morten Nissum Larsen tells CityLab, is to give “our drivers a tool to deal with stressed situations—[for example,] an argument with a customer or in heavy traffic.”

An Arriva bus in Copenhagen. (Arriva)

Dispel from your mind images of portly bus drivers disarming irate passengers with one fatal chop. Søren Bidstrup is a seven-year bus driving veteran who now acts as the security and environmental coordinator for Arriva’s Copenhagen region, and says the company was more attracted to the martial art’s even-tempered approach to self-defense. (“Aikido” roughly translates to “the way of the harmonious spirit.”)

“You [are] taught a lot about remaining calm, about taking a deep breath,” Bidstrup says.

The bus company held 10 aikido classes for interested bus drivers between 2012 and 2014. Though a few showed up in the hopes of learning a more showy (read: violent) form of martial arts, they ended up arrayed on soft mats, learning simple interventions to de-escalate violent situations.

An Arriva driver practices aikido techniques. (Arriva)

Here’s an easy one: “[When] somebody maybe wants to push something toward you, you don’t grab hold of their hand—you block the hand,” Bidstrup says.

But the biggest challenge drivers face, Bidstrup adds, is not one-on-one combat with passengers: It’s road rage. The aikido classes taught participants that when they “choose to not be part of the conflict, you don’t have this psychological loss of dignity. You can walk away from this conflict [without] feeling [like] a coward.”

Arriva hopes to receive enough government funding in the future to continue the aikido training. Bidstrup says the company has been approached by other firms—including a few other civil service groups—interested in teaching the techniques to their employees.

“I was in the very first class,” Bidstrup says. “I found [that], in my 17 years in the bus business, it was the first time I was taught conflict management that I could use for something practical.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map of future climate risks in the U.S.
    Maps

    America After Climate Change, Mapped

    With “The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal,” the McHarg Center tries to visualize how the warming world will reshape the United States.

  2. photo: A man boards a bus in Kansas City, Missouri.
    Transportation

    Why Kansas City’s Free Transit Experiment Matters

    The Missouri city is the first major one in the U.S. to offer no-cost public transportation. Will a boost in subsidized mobility pay off with economic benefits?

  3. photo: A daycare provider reads to students in New York City.
    Life

    How Universal Pre-K Drives Up Families’ Infant-Care Costs

    An unintended consequence of free school programs for three- and four-year-olds is a reduction in the supply of affordable child care for kids younger than two.

  4. Design

    New York City Will Require Bird-Friendly Glass on Buildings

    Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds smash into the city’s buildings every year. The city council just passed a bill to cut back on the carnage.

  5. photo: a commuter looks at a small map of the London Tube in 2009
    Maps

    Help! The London Tube Map Is Out of Control.

    It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.

×