Public Transport for me – WINCHESTER WRITERS CONFERENCE WINNER

This article won me £250 at Winchester in 2012.  I hope you enjoy it.

Public Transport for me

I must be a Climate Change activist’s dream.  After years behind the wheel, I’ve become a devoted fan of public transport.  From my upper deck seat, I peer down on stationary lines of cars belching toxic fumes and wonder how, with today’s prices, those inside afford the petrol.  I certainly can’t.

The environmental dangers of fossil fuels cannot be disputed.  Ninety-three per cent of transport emissions stem from road use, yet for all the trumpet-blowing, congestion charge and bus passes, 85% of travel is still by car.  This, despite the average price of unleaded petrol hitting £1.42 in March.  Filling up a Ford Mondeo now costs £100, but clearly drivers still love their cars enough to join queues panic-buying at forecourts.

Recent price hikes remind me of my father’s comment in the 1970s oil crisis.  ‘Surely,’ he said, ‘we won’t go back to horse and cart?’  This, when we’d been told ‘the party’s over’.  Prices quadrupled but not much changed although, in our house, someone tried.

‘Drive slower,’ said he, ‘it uses less.’

I frequently travel on South West Trains, preferring this to tortuous, expensive car journeys and, worse, at peak times, burning petrol to go nowhere fast.  The estimate for driving from Dorset to Brighton on http://www.fuel-economy.co.uk is £44.  Online rail tickets were only £17.80 return, my Senior Railcard saving one-third. 

The further afield we travel, the more cost-effective is the train.  Three years ago, the Saturday direct Eurostar service from St Pancras to Avignon between July and September cost £99 return.  Petrol prices for driving through France would have been prohibitive, let alone ferry charges and extra insurance.  Once there, we did two days’ sightseeing on foot and hired a car for the remaining five.  We are beginning to ‘think differently’ about our holidays, researching buses and trains and using car hire only for less accessible, more scenic places. 

Last year’s visit to the Edinburgh Festival would have cost around £169 in petrol but driving would entail at least one overnight accommodation stop – hazard a guess at current B and B prices – whereas we travelled for less than £180 arriving the same day.  Once there, we walked and used buses, our habit of saying ‘might as well use the car’ now archived.

‘But I couldn’t do it by car for that price,’ I insist to doom-mongers whose response is always to cite the time taken on public transport.  But, journey times are only saved when there are no roadworks, accidents and bottlenecks.  If we are to persuade people to get out of their cars, these attitudes to ‘time urgency’ will need to change.  Failing that perhaps a new mode of working is needed. 

Two of my neighbours do a car-share to work and receive perks for their initiative.  I know two colleges where the car parking spaces have been reduced to discourage single drivers.  In one, car-sharers have a permit for a convenient or under cover space whereas single drivers are forced to park in a muddy perimeter field.  So attitudes are changing.

Five billion bus journeys were taken last year in England alone.  Once accustomed to public transport, I discovered that, with my bus pass, I could also get to work free.  Of course, this is only viable for those working flexible hours but several commuters were travelling by bus from Bournemouth to Swanage at 4.45pm.  With only an hourly service, flexible working is essential.  

Greener Journeys is a coalition of the UK’s leading bus companies committed to persuading people to get out of their cars and on to buses.  The aim is to take one billion car journeys off the road by 2014 – that’s just one in 25 journeys – thereby reducing congestion on the roads and making a significant impact on the level of CO2 emissions by two million tons.  Claire Haigh, Chief Executive, says buses have a key role to play in facilitating access to jobs and in delivering customers to the High Street, both essential to stimulate the economy out of the doldrums.

Bournemouth enjoys a comprehensive bus service to all outlying areas and a service to nearby Poole every three minutes.  If I stand in the Square, I see buses full of passengers everywhere.  Residents of both towns need not use their cars and are reducing their carbon footprint every time they board.

Of course, I can only use my bus pass after 9.25am so, if I travel earlier, I must pay £6.50.  But I am still in pocket as using my car on the same route costs £3.50 each way on the Sandbanks Toll Ferry, before any petrol is used or parking charges paid.  There is no financial competition as far as I am concerned between cars and public transport.

For environmental reasons, we should all be reconsidering our addiction to the motor car but I claim public transport is better for the country’s physical and mental health.  Of course, public transport isn’t door-to-door and some walking is necessary – between bus stops, to the station or even between platforms.  No bad thing with obesity rising.  But there are other hidden benefits.

Recently, I took my grand-daughter back home to South Bucks after a short stay.  Fuel-Economy estimated £40 for petrol but our train tickets were £30, a saving of 25%.  Also, we could read books and talk making a more pleasant, memorable and healthy journey.

As our train leaves, I note the hushed calm in the carriage.  Passengers are reading text messages and emails on their phones and researching on websites.  There are quiet carriages where annoying mobile phones are banned.  People tap laptops and draft written reports in notebooks.  The retired read newspapers, paperbacks and puzzle over Sudokus and crosswords. 

Come and join us, boost your health and save the planet.

961 words

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