Manila, Philippines

Bus Conductors’ Own Morse Code

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Ever wondered who invented the sort of ‘morse code‘ being used by our bus conductors? Have you asked yourself how it all started? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but having ridden hundreds of buses in my life, I have learned to understand the uniform morse code that bus conductors use.
They communicate to the driver certain messages by tapping a coin on the hanging hand rails, or on the steel poles near the doors.

I am not sure whether this is an official procedure for them, whether they were actually trained to use them, or whether the conductors before them just shared the morse code as a best practice more than an official practice. Fruit of oral tradition more than anything else.

Regardless, what’s amazing is that different bus conductors from different bus lines use the same codes (there are actually very few anyway) which actually makes one think that it is indeed official. Or probably, they just want it to be uniform to avoid confusion from drivers, and in case bus conductors move from one bus line to another, at least the new drivers / conductors will still follow the same norms.


Uniformity, we try to stay within a certain semblance of uniformity even if there is no regulating body to enforce such.  I guess that’s part of being human. In fact, other passengers have also learned the code that they themselves use the codes, especially when they need to get off the bus. Anyway, as follows are the bus conductors’ morse codes (for the conductor wannabes!):
O (single tap): Heads-up to driver that he will need to stop soon. A passenger is going to get off the bus in the next/nearest bus stop. May also signal to driver that conductor intends to stop in the nearest bus stop to get more passengers.
O–O–O–O (series of slow taps with obvious intervals): Signal to driver to keep the bus on full stop. A passenger is in the process of getting off the bus OR in the process of boarding the bus.
OOOO (series of fast taps with no intended intervals): Signal to driver that he may now move the bus forward. Passenger safely got off / boarded the bus.
So there, the things that you see and hear and the fruits of trying to understand the underlying ingenuity behind it. We need more of these!
Ordinary happenings we don’t bother to observe and understand for most of the time.
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