Thursday, October 27, 2011

Adventures in Public Transport

My car died on me on the way to work this morning. Actually, this was really quite scary - I was pulling out into traffic at the time, when I suddenly found I had no acceleration available. Fortunately, there was nobody behind me, and I was able to reverse back out of the way of the oncoming vehicles. The consequence of this was that I was left without a car, and still needing to get into work.

And so, I was finally forced to do something I've long felt I should do, but never actually wanted to do - I used public transport to get to work.

The argument for public transport is undeniable. Man-made climate change is almost certainly a reality (I'm not 100% convinced, but definitely in the upper 90s), and even if it is not fuel prices are forever escalating. Plus, a decent public transport link stands a chance of turning the dead time spent driving into time I can spend reading, or otherwise use, at least to an extent.

And I live a mile from both a bus station and a rail station, and I work a couple of miles from an airport. One is in a medium-sized town, the other on the outskirts of Scotland's second-largest city. Surely there must be a decent public transport option?

Well, actually, no. I've investigated this before, and there is a link that is adequate for emergencies, but nothing else. It turns out to be a bit better than I thought (at least things seem to run mostly on time), but still...

The best way from home to work is by bus. There are lots of different arrangements, most requiring the use of at least two buses. The direct option is a pretty long and roundabout route, taking a bit more than an hour from getting on the bus to getting off. In theory, the indirect options are much faster... but unfortunately they require the interaction of multiple buses, which inevitably drags things out (as you get off one bus and wait for another).

The net effect is that the best route is actually to walk the mile to the bus station, get the X38, wait an hour, and then walk half a mile to the office. Unfortunately, the bus itself is extremely rattly and takes a very roundabout route (as noted previously) - the net effect was that reading was quite difficult, and I managed to get travel sick. All in all, not the best.

To their credit, the service is reasonably frequent. Between 5:30 and 6:30 (pm), there are almost 7 buses heading home. In the morning, there's a similar flurry of activity at the peak hours (which I missed this morning). So that's not too bad - I can basically travel pretty much when I would want to.

And the price is... well, the price is okay, I guess. A return ticket costs £8.10. Travelling by car probably costs about £6 each day, maybe a little more. I daresay there are cheaper tickets or passes available for folks who travel every day.

So, on two of the three counts that matter to me, the service is actually okay. I could live with the price (although it would be annoying to have to pay more), and the service is frequent enough.

But the duration of the trip is not good enough. Including the walk at each end, the journey probably takes an hour and a half. That's okay occasionally, but it's not going work on a regular basis - it would effectively mean giving up the band and the game, which is not something I'm willing to consider. It would mean extending my working day from 7:00 - 17:30 (wake up to returning home) to 6:00 - 18:30, which isn't acceptable - I refuse to live for the weekends.

So there it is. I'm actually quite glad that I was forced into taking the bus today, since it has forced me to seriously investigate the pros and cons. But it has merely confirmed what I was pretty sure of previously - that the public transport options aren't good enough to use regularly. To correct it, they will really need to put on a bus that runs from Falkirk Bus Station, along the M9 and then the A8, probably to Edinburgh Airport, and certainly to the centre of town. Basically, make the X38 an actual express service, rather than the same service as the 38 but with 'X' in front of the name!

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