Thursday, May 11, 2006

Y#25: When it sucks to not have a car


Ah, public transport.

As I have remarked before, public transport is all well and good – in the right situation. Like London, where a proper integrated transportation system exists. However, as I have also remarked, not having a car when you’re used to one is a bit like losing a limb.

But when you’re in an environment where the public transport infrastructure isn’t at its optimum as a means of getting about ­and you don’t have a car – well, then day to day life starts to get a little tricky. And when life develops complications over and above the day to day, then you really have got problems.

Central Coventry isn’t ordinarily too bad a place to be in a car free situation. I live in university accommodation just slightly outside the loop of the ring road (a five minute circumference by car in reasonable traffic). Very nearly everything essential is five or 10 minutes walk away from my hall of residence. Except the train station…

The train station is on the opposite side of town. Not normally a problem. A 25 minute trek at a reasonable pace – which is perhaps 10 minutes less time than it would take the average driver to make it from my door to Leicester, using the M69.

You’re wondering, what’s the squabble? Well, what happens if I’m car-less in Coventry when my girlfriend calls me from a doctor’s surgery in a village near Leicester – and she’s telling me that the doctor, rather than giving her a few pills for her headache, is sending her for a brain scan instead?

Exactly.

She’s not supposed to drive, so I gallantly volunteer to come out and meet her. How will I get there? No problem, I say, I’ll take the train.

Now this village – hey, maybe it’s a small town, but it’d be a close call – does actually have a train station, making it about a million times more possible to do this than you were otherwise expecting. So, I take the trek across Coventry.

Gladly, I’ve been to the station before. Because the signposting is optimistic in the way that only townplanners know how.

It’s not until I get to the station that I discover there’s no direct link between Coventry and Leicester. The woman behind the counter explains that the fastest way to get where I want to go involves changing trains…in Birmingham.

My geography isn’t exactly hot, but I’m fairly sure that’s not the right direction. Oh, well – onwards. It can’t be too bad of a detour, and Coventry to Birmingham takes only a few minutes on the tracks...

Correction, Coventry to Birmingham NEC takes only a few minutes. Birmingham New Street is twice as far – or at least, it takes twice as long.

A 40 minute journey by car has so far taken me 50 minutes (including the time spent waiting for the train to arrive in the station) without one. And not only am I nowhere near getting where I want to go, I’ve been forced to travel in the wrong direction.

Birmingham to Leicester on a train? That’s five stops. One whole hour. Add in the time waiting around at New Street, too – and I was one of the lucky ones: my train wasn’t cancelled – and my trip tops out at over two hours. With me taking so long, my girlfriend has to make her own way to the hospital, and a further few minutes is spent on a taxi ride.

The journey has taken three times as long as it would have by car. And it’s also cost at least twice as much – over £12 on one-way train fare plus six quid on the taxi is not a cheap means of getting about.

I guess I’m lucky I had the money. And that this wasn’t an emergency.


Links:

#20: Public Transport [internal]

Spot the obvious "mistake" [internal]


Image is from here, where you can also access the knitting pattern...!

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