Saturday, 11 June 2011

In Praise of Public Transport

Yes, that's right. I said praise.

I had a real moment of clarity a couple of years back when I arrived in an unfamiliar sports centre in an unfamiliar town for a one-day course for work. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and I'd armed myself with a book and an MP3 player and taken the train. I had to make a couple of connections but they were problem-free, the journey was smooth and timely, and I rather enjoyed the ten minute stroll from station to destination at the other end. It was a really pleasant journey and I arrived relaxed and happy... to find all the other course attendees moaning and grumbling over coffee about the traffic, the roads, the signposts, the one-way system, the traffic, their own cars, other people's cars, the sat-nav, the lack of car-parking, the cost of car-parking, the cost of petrol, the traffic...

So I'm getting sick to death lately of people looking at me funny, or even implying I'm some kind of loser or weirdo, because I choose not to drive. 

In fact, I only learned to drive last year, and Eddie doesn't drive either - I've always resisted, for the many reasons outlined here, but family insisted it was a life skill I must have. I'm insured to drive Mum's car, and sometimes I do. But I'll be honest; I'm not a very confident driver, and I don't like to drive anywhere by myself, and big roads, roundabouts with more than two lanes, and speeds over 50 scare the crap out of me.

But none of that changes how I feel about cars in the first place. They're expensive, they're hassle, they're dreadful for the environment, and there are way, way, way too many of them on the roads.

Anyone disagree?

My sister and I recently considered getting a car to share. Our brother fixes cars up for fun and offered us a little Fiesta for free - surely an offer to be snatched up! But then we started looking at running costs...

Tax: £130
Insurance: £1000!! (We're both new drivers, remember.)
Petrol: £600 (That's £50 per month - optimistic much?)
MOT and maintenance: £170 (Another generous estimate, I think.)
TOTAL: £1900, or £950 each, per year. And that doesn't factor in parking. And there are probably other things I've forgotten...

For that amount of money, I could buy a return bus ticket to town (£2.70) four times a week (£562), go anywhere in or around London at peak time (£24) once a month (£288), and keep £100 aside for a train to a holiday destination...

But I don't actually use public transport anything like this much. In the last six months I've taken the bus to town 30-40 times, and been to London three - that's about £180 for half the year. I also get a lot of lifts with family and friends - not every place I frequent is as well-served by public transport - and for that I'm hugely grateful. (Of course, car-sharing is something we should all try to do more for the sake of the environment and the traffic, but I do confess that I'm doing all the taking most of the time...) However, if those lifts weren't available, I could quite honestly do without. We'd all be healthier and happier if we walked a bit more, and let's face it, there are always taxis.

There's nothing at all wrong with the bus service round here (nor, I suspect, most bus services). In fact, just recently they had a bit of an upgrade and they're better than ever. They're regular, frequent, and take only five minutes longer (even on a bad day) to get into town. Very, very rarely is a bus late. They're clean. There's always enough room for everyone. They run early til late. They're going anyway, so me getting on one has zero impact. And best of all, I don't have to worry about roads or traffic or parking or petrol or knocking cyclists over or anything at all when I get one.

So keep your car if that's convenient for you; if you can afford it and you don't mind the hassle and you love driving. But this hippy weirdo loser doesn't plan on getting one until she absolutely has to, and is gonna do her damnedest to support the public transport network in the meantime.

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