Apparently the world is going to implode sooner or later and it’s all the fault of people who drive cars. Environmentalists point to anyone who doesn’t drive a hybrid and blame them for everything which could conceivably be associated with global warming. The Government jumped on the bandwagon and seized the opportunity to levy additional taxes on anyone who drives anything more powerful than a lawnmower. They were particularly happy because they could tell Greenpeace they’re saving the planet while simultaneously ordering a swimming pool for their second homes with the extra cash. Officially, at least, the Government would rather we all left our cars at home and took public transport.
I won’t mince my words here; I hate public transport. It’s never ready when you are and it’s slow, expensive, dirty and full of other people. The only thing public transport has going for it is the fact that it takes no effort on your part once aboard. But even then it never seems to take you where you want to go. How often have you caught a bus or a train and it’s dropped you exactly at your destination? "Never" is the answer (unless your final destination was the train station, and if it was you need help... and probably a girlfriend too). So, you then need to find another way to complete your journey.
I used to take the train into London daily for work. I had to drive to the train station, which is about 15 miles, and pay a fortune for the privilege of leaving my car there before I even got on the bloody train. Once I arrived at Paddington Station I needed to get off the train and get on an underground one. When late for a meeting in London once, I've ended up taking multiple trains and then a taxi. What a massive pain in the backside.
I like to get in the car (at a time of my choosing) and head off where ever I’m going under my own pace without any external constraints. I don’t want to plan my day around specific, timed departures and I don’t wish to spend an hour surfing the net trying to work out timings for several different methods of transport which, combined, will cost more than it would have done to drive.
A return trip from Oxford to Manchester is around 300 miles by car. In my car, which with a three litre twin-turbo engine, isn't the most frugal, would cost about £60 in fuel. (You could do it for lots less in a more sensible car.) Cost on the train? About £10 to park the car and £180 for the train fare if you need to go in the peak period. I realise my fuel costs don’t include car running costs but still, the train is almost three times as much! A couple of years ago I was looking for the best way to get to Scotland and it was cheaper to fly than it was to get the train. That's honestly true. Ludicrous.
Of course it doesn’t end there. Once you’re on the train you have to try and find somewhere to actually sit down. Ah yes, let me mention First Class train tickets. I’m guaranteed a seat then aren’t I? Probably, and the aforementioned ticket to Manchester rises in cost to £405 (six times as expensive as fuel for the car!).
I had to stand up for about half of the last trip I took on a train. If you’re going anywhere near an underground train in London at rush hour then forget it. If it’s a hot, summer’s day then you’re really screwed (London's Central Line, isn't known as the Central Heating Line for nothing). You can look forward to having a couple of sweaty armpits aimed in your general direction as you continually get bumped into by the bloke who (evidently) consumed the world’s strongest curry the night before and can somehow ooze sweat through a suit.
Buses are often worse and, depending on the time of day, are more likely to be utilised by drunks or screaming kids.
I’m all for the use of headphones to play music, for example, to drown out the noise but not when you sit within earshot of me. My hypocrisy knows no bounds, sure, but I don’t want to listen to the metallic tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk baseline coming from your headphones.
I’ve covered the fact that none of these public services will take you anywhere close to your actual destination but I’ve yet to mention an additional point: the weather. Nothing says ‘professional’ better than turning up to your important meeting looking like a drowned poodle. No, I refuse to carry an umbrella with me everywhere on the slight off chance that it might rain. Similarly, I don’t carry a gun just in case we’re invaded or a Swiss Army knife for when I bump into a horse with a stone in its hoof. Call me unprepared if you like, but my car has a roof, and that stops me getting wet.
I’m also guaranteed a seat in my car (which won’t have discarded chewing gum on it) and I’ll be free of interruptions from random members of the public. No-one smelling of urine will come and sit next to me and no sweaty person will attempt to suffocate me with their armpit. I won’t be able to hear kids screaming at each other any more than I’ll be subjected to hanging around in the cold while the public transport of choice is late. Sure I’ll have to put up with traffic in the car, but buses don’t get around that problem either (that’s what motorbikes are for). Trains are obviously pretty good for avoiding congestion but, as mentioned, they’re extortionate and I have to somehow travel 15 miles before I can even catch one.
So, the Government would have us use public transport to save the planet and help improve it but won’t invest in it until we all do. Catch 22 eh? Not really. Don’t ask me to do something and then promise you’ll improve the service after I’ve done it. That’s a leap of faith I can’t make, especially when it’s a bunch of politicians making the promise. The US Government didn’t ask NASA to put some people in space and, after they’d done so, then provide the resources for the actual rocket. On that basis I’d like to start a nice new glossy magazine. If lots of big companies could plough money into advertising up front I’ll make some vague promises about filling it with ground-breaking articles and millions of people will buy it. It’s not much of a business plan or sales pitch is it?