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The commute

By The Drum | Administrator

August 25, 2005 | 16 min read

Draycott: Waiting for bus.

We regularly read politicians and environmentalists spouting in the media that people should leave their cars at home and use public transport to save the environment and cut down traffic congestion in towns and cities. The latest move by Glasgow City Council to force people working in the West End of the city onto public transport is to introduce some pretty unrealistic parking controls around the Park Circus area, where many publishing, media and design business are based. On learning of these new restrictions I vented my spleen to my colleagues in the office one day, saying that in my job, and also for many of the people that hold jobs that require a lot of external meetings, I need access to my own vehicle to allow me to do my job. A few agreed with my stance, but one colleague challenged me to leave my car at home and spend a week using public transport alone to see if my claim was substantiated.

Always one to accept a challenge, I agreed to leave my car at home for the following week. The rules (agreed by the editorial team at The Drum, all of whom wanted to make my week particularly difficult) were that I was limited to taking trains, buses, the underground and a maximum of one taxi per day. I was also allowed to travel by boat, ferry, plane, hot air balloon, motorbike, pedal bike or pedalo if needs must. I hope they didn’t.

Here is my diary for the week of Monday 15 August.

Monday 15 August

Leave home in Larbert, near Falkirk, at 7:30am and push my son in his pushchair to his day nursery – a ten-minute walk away from home. Drop Connor off and walk 15 minutes to Larbert Railway station.

Return ticket to Glasgow costs £7.60. Train is due to depart for Queen Street Station in Glasgow at 7.59am. Train doesn’t leave until 8.04am.

After rush to find seat I succeed. Journey is quite pleasant, though an annoying youth sitting close by has his iPod on too loud and I can hear the tinny crackling of Greenday (or it might be Doris Day, I can’t tell). Only other gripe is that a 40-year-old man read Harry Potter for the entire journey. This worries me. Hope he isn’t our company lawyer and doesn’t hold any position of authority or influence in our society.

Thirty minutes later I arrive at Queen Street, fight my way through crowded barrier area and head for underground. Return ticket costs £2 and ten-minute journey from Buchanan Street to St George’s Cross is ok.

Take ten-minute walk to The Drum’s Park Circus office. Arrive at 8.56am just in time for the Carnyx Group’s weekly Monday morning meeting.

Have been travelling to work for 90 minutes. Driving in normally takes me 40-50 minutes.

At 10.40am order a taxi to Queen Street station to catch the 11am train to Edinburgh. Taxi fare is £4.60. I purchase a cheap day return, costs £8.20. Train departs virtually bang on time. Proceed to bury my head in The Scotsman in an attempt to blot out two small noisy children having a banana and Capri Sun picnic next to me.

Arrive at Haymarket Station at 11:46am and have a number of meetings all within walking distance of each other in the west end of Edinburgh.

Plan to catch the 5.07pm train back to Larbert using the return ticket purchased earlier. Fortunately am just in time to avoid the peak time price hike, which basically sees ScotRail double its ticket prices despite its trains being twice as packed. Sure there’s some twisted logic in there somewhere, just not quite sure where.

Train departs five minutes late. Is very busy. Appears most people aim to catch the last train before the peak time price hike kicks in. Makes sense. Arrive in Larbert at 5.51pm and make 20-minute walk back home.

Money Spent: £22.40

Time spent in transit: 3hours 8 minutes

Tuesday 16 August

Same routine as yesterday – walk Connor to nursery, walk to Larbert Station and catch the 7.59am to Glasgow (actually leaves 8.04am). Another £7.60. Take underground to St Georges Cross; only buy single this time as plan to be in town at end of day so won’t need a return. Arrive at the office for 9am. Need 15 minutes to cool down after what has already been a mad dash.

Leave office at 1.30pm to attend a Scottish Marketing Association meeting at the offices of BD-NTWK in Glasgow. Order taxi, costs £4. The SMA meeting finishes at 3.50pm and my next meeting has been cancelled, so hotfoot it across Glasgow city centre to hop on the number 57 bus to Charring Cross. Bus stop very crowded so driver doesn’t see myself and a young lady trying to flag it down. He eventually slows down a few yards past the bus stop, but doesn’t actually stop and we both have to jump onto the bus while it is still moving. Public transport is dangerous stuff.

Ask the driver how much is it to Charring Cross. He looks at me with disdain and mutters 85p. Have no change so throw pound coin in his slot playing right into hands of the bus company that sets prices just below a pound knowing most people won’t have the right change and will throw a quid in. That’s 15p more than they actually charge. In 1,000 bus journeys bus company makes £150 extra. Not bad scam.

Realise that stepping onto a bus is rather like going back in time. When I entered the bus I left behind Glasgow 2005 and was whisked back to some weird 1970s parallel universe where everything smells of urine and everyone coughs, splutters and looks rather ill. After a few minutes I escape and begin my walk up to office.

Journey back to the office took 40 minutes compared with what would ordinarily have been a quick taxi ride of just ten minutes. However, it was cheaper.

5.37pm and I am walking down towards the underground at St George’s Cross. Single to Buchanan Street costs £1. Journey passes without event, though I have to admit the man sitting next to me who keeps ‘whooping’ at indeterminate intervals is making me feel uncomfortable. That’s one thing that puts me off public transport – the lack of control. Not that I am a control freak, but if anyone insists on making ‘whooping’ noises while in then I am within my rights to kick them out.

Arrive at Queen Street in time to catch the 6.12pm train to Larbert. Find a seat and bury my head in my book.

As I travel I notice that every person I can see from my seat (three women and one man) are all clutching mobile phones and furiously inputting texting. Decide to join in and text mum, sister and a friend. Get no response!

Train arrives at Larbert at 6.34pm. I make 20-minute walk home.

Feet and legs are certainly aching more than usual due to the increased amount of walking that I am doing now I am using public transport. Not that that will do me any harm. May actually do my health some good.

Money Spent: £15.20

Time spent in transit: 3hours 2 minutes

Wednesday 17 August

Things go pear-shaped today when my partner announces she needs to take her car in for a service at 7.30am and requires me to follow her to bring her back from Stirling. Although it goes against the agrees rules I do this before beginning my new routine of catching the train and underground into the office.

Am also free of day nursery duty today as Connor’s grandma looks after him on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I am now running late due to my unexpected trip to garage, but endeavour to park car in Larbert Railway station car park – and fail as do another five people all of whom do a lap of the minuscule car park then head off to find on-street parking, also at a premium.

Eventually locate a space, but have missed the 8.17am train and have to catch the 8.32am to Queen Street. Train is virtually empty, which makes for very pleasant journey indeed. Even treat myself to a coffee. Again return journey costs £7.60.

The underground is also deserted. Arrive at the office at 9.28am.

Have a meeting arranged for 11:30am so walk to Starbucks in Charring Cross. Then walk on to Queen Street to catch train to Edinburgh. Catch 12.45pm train to Edinburgh, my cheap day return costs £8.20. Train departs at 12.50pm.

Notice a man in the seat across the aisle from me has been trapped in seat by a young girl aged around eight. Her mother is sitting behind her holding a one-year-old baby boy. As train pulls out of the station mother hands baby to young daughter who then proceeds to juggle him around like a rag doll. Result - a journey punctuated by the squeals of baby.

Heart goes out to the poor chap sat right next to this saga. When young girl leaves her seat as the train passes Falkirk, man is up and out of his seat like a greyhound leaving a trap and goes to sit on one of the flip down seats near train door. Peace at last - for him. Baby continues to squeal nect to me until train arrives at Waverley at 1.35pm.

After meetings catch the 4.04pm train from Haymarket back to Glasgow. Train is very quiet and rather a pleasant 45 minute journey.

I walk to my next meeting which is with the managing partners of a large international law firm. After our meeting we go for a bite to eat and I take the 8.48pm train back to Larbert using my return ticket.

Waiting for train to arrive notice that First ScotRail has posted findings of its passenger charter for the four weeks to 23 July. Table shows that in the central belt of Scotland 98.7 per cent of ScotRail trains have departed and arrived on the scheduled time and 99.2per cent of trains were reliable and made the journeys they were scheduled to make. These statistics sound pretty good to me and my experience so far would bear out these claims.

Arrive at Larbert at 9.21pm and collect car, which I parked near the station earlier that morning. Get home at 9.27pm.

Money Spent: £16.80

Time spent in transit: 2 hours 30 minutes

Thursday 18 August

Same routine. Walk, pay £7.60 catch 7.59am train to Glasgow. Wonder why First ScotRail claim there is a 7.59am train from Larbert to Glasgow when all week it have never left Larbert until 8.04am. Why not just call it the 8.04am?

Jump on underground, £1. On arrival at St George’s Cross underground station it’s raining heavily, but having planned ahead I have an umbrella in my bag and use it to good effect.

Later today I have to make the journey to Pathhead, which is around 11 miles south east of Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. Get taxi to Queen Street and buy my cheap day return for £8.20. Arrive at Edinburgh Waverley at 1pm. Scurry along to Edinburgh Bus Station to investigate how to catch a bus to Pathhead. Station is packed with rucksack carrying festivalgoers and the queues to the information kiosks are long. Scan the various departure TV screens, but cannot see a bus to Pathhead, or even one that will get me to Dalkeith, halfway there. Meeting in Pathhead scheduled for 3pm. Figure if I wait in queues I’ll miss my appointment, so I grab a few timetables and try and decipher them.

Bus leaves for Dalkeith at 1.38pm from North Bridge so head off to the bus stop and wait in the pouring rain. Bus arrives a few minutes late, but the journey, which costs £1, is quick as the bus winds way easily through the city traffic - bus lanes are great. Arrive in Dalkeith at 2.20pm and set about asking people when is the next bus to Pathhead, a further six miles down the road. Nobody knows. Find a First Bus driver hanging around a bus stop and ask him. Directs me to the correct bus stop and tells me that an L2 bus is soon to leave for Pathhead.

L2 leaves Dalkeith at 4.43pm, and costs £1.10. Race is now on to get to Pathhead in time. Bus winds around country lanes, passes fields of cows and sheep. Pulls into Pathhead at 3.01pm. Ask woman were I can get a taxi as am now late for meeting. She looks at me as if I had asked her what time the next spitfire lands.

“There’s no taxis around here,” she tells me. Damn, I am now stranded in Pathhead, with no idea where Three Brand Design are located, Call them and tell of my plight. One of the directors comes to pick me up. After meeting another staff member offers to give me a lift back into Edinburgh city centre on her way home. Churlish to decline, so accept.

In the evening I attend a drinks reception hosted by Greenalls at The Hallion to promote their Gin Time website. After some (can’t recall how many) rather strong cocktails catch the train back to Larbert, using return ticket. The journey passes by without event.

Was pleased to reach Pathhead using the bus service, but disappointed that there was no way a bus could have got me to my final destination.

Money Spent: £23.60

Time spent in transit: 3 hours 5 minutes

Day five

Friday 19 August

Straightforward journey into work. Walked to Larbert station, caught 8.59am (left at 8.03am today) and underground from Buchanan Street to St George’s Cross and walked up the hill to the office. Spent day in the office reflecting on my week and writing up my findings. Knocked off at 5.30pm and made journey home via the underground and the train back to Larbert. The 6.12pm train again was pretty empty so the journey back to Larbert was pretty pleasant. After making the 20-minute walk home I arrive home at 6.55pm. Thank God, my week on public transport is over.

Money Spent: £8.60

Time spent in transit: 2 hours 40 minutes

Conclusion

Being completely honest, I will admit that I had a hidden agenda when I set out to use public transport for a week. I wanted every train I caught to be late or, even better, cancelled, I wanted the underground to break down, I wanted the buses I used to be dirty, late and unreliable and I wanted my week to be one of telephone calls explaining that I was running late for meetings because of the transport system.

However, spending a week on buses, trains, the underground and taxis wasn’t too troublesome, though I spent £86.60, which is slightly more than I would had I been using my car to commute to work and to meetings. That said, I estimate that it costs me around £600 to keep my car on the road each month, with regards to loan repayments, insurance, tax, maintenance and fuel, so if I did convert to public transport full time I’d obviously save that amount of money each month.

I also spent quite a lot more time in transit than I normally would have done, in total 14 hours and 25 minutes.

In the morning the commute to work on the train was quite enjoyable and didn’t actually take any longer to complete than my normal car journey. However, the problem with public transport comes during the evening when you want to get home as quickly as possible after work.

If I leave the office at 5.30pm and drive home I am usually at home for around 6.10pm, which gives me time to spend with my son, have dinner and relax for the evening. However, using public transport I do not arrive home until 7pm at the earliest, which during the course of a working week means that I lose three and three quarter hours. Doesn’t sound too drastic, but over a year that is 168 hours, which is seven days - a whole week sat on trains and the underground! No thanks.

The big question over public transport is not could I use it regularly and still manage to do my job and still have some semblance of a life, but would I want to?

Would I want to forgo access to my own means of transport in order to help cut pollution levels, save the environment and ease the level of traffic congestion?

I would have to say that the answer to that is no. There would have to be some pretty radical changes to the public transport system to make me a regular user who relies wholly upon the public transport infrastructure to live my life and do my job. So, what is the answer to encouraging people to leave their cars at home and move onto public transport? I actually don’t think there is one because of the society that we live in. On one side of the equation you have the government and environmentalists urging you to use public transport, while on the other side you have car manufacturers, car dealers, banks and other finance companies telling you how easy and convenient it is for you to own your own vehicle.

Only when taking the car really does become more trouble than it’s worth will people leave them behind and adopt public transport. Now, where did I leave my car keys?

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