Thursday, January 27, 2011

A transport of delight

I was talking about my preferred mode of travel during the lunch break of a course I was delivering last week. It's come up a number of times in recent months, maybe because of the inclement weather. I travel by public transport. 

Many years ago, when I was the environmental management representative for a company implementing ISO 14001 we had an environmental consultant visit us to do a legal compliance audit. I asked him for his car registration to let reception know because we always played car park Tetris - double parking was necessary. 'I came by train,' he said and I vividly remember thinking, how very odd! I am now doing that odd thing myself. I think it is a function of being aware of all the environmental issues. As a consultant I spend an appreciable amount of time keeping up with environmental news and researching environmental impacts. Transport is one of our big ones. Not only does it emit about a quarter of the UK's greenhouse gases, the congestion and pollution caused is choking our cities and making them unpleasant places to be. We cart around large quantities of steel, plastic, glass and polluting liquids to get us from one car park to another and during some parts of our commute we move so slowly and intermittently that we are almost parked then. On Tuesday morning I walked towards work in Sheffield. I stopped to chat briefly to an acquaintance at Hunter's Bar roundabout and was overtaken (very slowly) by a huge Co-op delivery lorry. After completing my conversation I headed up Brocco Bank. I'm not a power walker, in fact my preferred speed is the gentle stroll, but on reaching the top of the hill I had to hang around for a couple of minutes for the lorry to appear in my photo. It's not very effective to travel by powered transport in Sheffield at rush hour.

So, yes, but public transport. Isn't that a bit horrid? I haven't found it to be horrid at all. It's generally very relaxing as long as you reserve a seat when travelling on the more popular trains, and none of the buses I've caught have required me to stand. What it does mean, generally, is that I have to set off earlier and arrive home later than I would by car, although by no means always. The journeys usually take longer but that time can be used. I dislike driving to a venue to present training because it means I have to review the slides the day before rather than on the journey. Similarly, when I have performed an audit I will get most of the report written up on the train on the way home. The time is not wasted as it is when driving; listening to drivel on the radio. If I don't want to work I can read, knit, or just look out of the window. The train journey from Sheffield to Manchester through the Pennines is lovely in the summer and preferable to the impatient idiots overtaking on the Snake Pass at any time of year. The journey to Edinburgh or Glasgow along the East Coast line is also lovely with stunning views at Durham, Alnmouth and Berwick and along the coast up to Eyemouth. I love train travel everywhere but around London, where I tolerate it because the alternative is so much worse. I've had some fascinating conversations (except around London) and when I'm feeling anti-social I plug in my i-Pod.
In order to make sure I get a reserved seat I book my train travel on the internet. I use the East Coast website because it doesn't charge you for using a credit card or for picking the ticket up at the station. And because I'm used to it. Other train companies and the Trainline sell tickets for all journeys. I book as far in advance as I can and doing this means not only can I get a seat but if I can be sure of my travel times I can usually get cheap tickets. The Moneysaving Expert has useful tips on this here. I also keep a lookout for offers. East Coast sent me one around Christmas which had a single to anywhere on their network for £8. I promptly booked two weekends in Scotland. The travel for each weekend cost £16. You certainly couldn't drive for that.
Yes, but if you're not going to a city centre a train is no good you say. I must admit that the integrated transport system that the various governments have said we will have anytime now still doesn't seem to be in place but in the last four years there's only been a couple of places I haven't been able to get to by public transport, both in Yorkshire. Apparently it used to be possible to get to Heckmondwike but the service was discontinued. It's possible to get to the top of the M606 in Bradford but it takes hours. When I drove, though, it took going on for three hours. About the time it would have taken by train and bus. The M1/M62/M606 were pretending to be carparks on the day I went.
It is a good point though. I often need a connection from the station to my final destination. I use two methods here. One is the TrainTaxi website. This lists all the train stations in the UK and the local taxi companies serving that station. Obviously if you are arriving at a large(ish) station like Sheffield you can expect black cabs and the site notes this. For smaller stations it is prudent to call the day before. My only problem with taxis has been because I haven't kept an eye on the calendar and neglected to get in with an early booking on the two days of travel during Eid. Not a mistake I will make again! The wonderful A.B.Cars still got me from Garforth station to the Holiday Inn in time for my presentation and amazingly cheaply and then brought me back the purse I'd dropped in the cab. I never used to use taxis. I thought them an extravagance, but the cost of a taxi on top of the train fare has only once been comparable to the mileage and is often much less, and I pass these savings on to the client.

If money is tight, as it has been these last couple of years, you might still decide to avoid the cost of a taxi. I did this recently on a trip to Tanfield Lea in County Durham. I looked up its location on Googlemaps and realised it was about equidistant from Durham and Newcastle, around 14miles. That looked like an expensive couple of trips in a taxi so I looked on Transport Direct. It turned out that there was a bus that took me to within a couple of hundred yards of my destination and though it took 3/4 of an hour longer the entire journey was pleasant. Not so much going back. Someone threw themselves in front of the train just outside Sheffield. We were waiting an hour whilst the emergency services dealt with it and probably the train driver dealt with the emotional problems he/she must have felt. At least, though, we were warm, in a lighted carriage and could go to the loo. After quarter of an hour there was also complementary hot drinks and those going past Sheffield got sandwiches too. Very much more comfortable than the hours I've spent on various occasions sitting on motorways waiting for debris to be cleared.

The only advantage I see to driving to places for work is that you can take lots of stuff. Indeed, when I had a car I had to occasionally empty out the accumulated stuff and take it back into the office. The ecologists couldn't head off with their newt traps on public transport but with a laptop & a bag of paper I can and I feel that should, not just because of my environmental principles but because it makes my life better.

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