Tuesday, 22 March 2011

I heart the bus

I just spent a very relaxing 20 minutes travelling across town, on the metro from Helsinki's central train station. The metro was a two minute walk from my train. I used the same ticket at no extra charge. Metros arrive every four minutes; they're clean, safe, quiet and on time. When I got out, I was at a large shopping centre and bus interchange (I'm in the library next door now, and when I leave here I'll go straight to my class, because the high school is just on the other side of the public car park).

I love public transport. Did I love it in Sydney? Yes and no... and I can understand why a lot of people there just find it too inconvenient to bother. Unfortunately changing services in Sydney isn't quite so seamless. But there are also a LOT of people in Sydney for whom public transport is practical, timely, and easy. So why are there still so few people using it?

Be honest, car users: you enjoy walking less than 20 metres in your day. Car in your driveway, and car at your workplace. Mmmm, car. Shiny car, shiny. Hey, it's fair enough. I loved driving when I owned a car in Australia. I loved the freedom it afforded - I could get in it, and I could go ANYWHERE. There are roads going everywhere. There's not a train station or a bus at every place that I wanted to go. Cars made it all easier.

But there's a cost. It's probably far more expensive than people realise. Have you heard this one before: "Well our family 'needs' two cars, and the train to work costs more than the petrol." Um yes... but you've left out a huge chunk of your car costs, honey. We could also add up the price of registration and insurance (now it's looking more like $70 a week, not $45). So every trip to work she drives is $15. Plus tolls. But wait, there's more. Oil, tyres, servicing, road service membership. Parking. Fines. And a car worth $25,000 is losing about $75 every week in value of the car itself.

Seriously? Did you ever think about it like that? Owning and driving your new car to work might be costing you $165 a week - or more. Now, does it still look more expensive than catching the train? If you had to physically pull thirty bucks out of your wallet every time you sat down in the driver's seat, would the train fare of $5.00 each way still seem like too much money?

But then there's the TIME. It takes too LONG. Waaaaah. Well yes. It might take a little longer to train it. But use your thinking caps: surely you've got something you could do. Use that hour to call your friends for your weekly phone catchup (instead of after dinner). Or use your smart phone to Facebook (instead of on the weekend). Or watch a movie on your iPad. Or read your work emails on your laptop (instead of staying late after work). Or write for our blog.

It takes organisation. Leaving on time; allowing enough time for connections; bringing your "homework" for the trip. Organisation clashes with our lazy instant lifestyles, doesn't it? But it's funny how fast you can adapt when you need to. You don't sit there and cry about the fact that you've run out of milk - you just do what needs to be done - you go get more. Now that I don't own car, I don't sit there and think, "I wish I had a car!" every time I need to go out somewhere. I just do what needs to be done. So these days when I go out, all I think about is what time the train or bus will arrive and what I need to take with me.

It's really not that hard. "Hard" isn't the reason people don't use public transport. "Lazy" is.

I challenge you to try it for a week. Listen to your iPod, watch the scenery, or close your eyes and relax, and think about the extra coins in your wallet.

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  1. Admittly I've used public transport a lot in my life - when we got marrried we didn't have a car - But I think it's unfair really to say it's Lazy not to use it. I remember when I first moved to Sydney we were living in Lane Cove and I was attending school in Oak Hill College to to get to school the only possible wasy was a 5.45am kick off with a bus to Chatswood, Ttain to Hornsby, Train to Pennant Hills, then bus to school and reverse the way home, Now if you had had a car or was old enough to drive, i'd have used it. Public transport gets better and better the closer you get to Sydney however Sydney has gotten too big for it's boots. Logistically some people just can't public transport it. Personally i've needed my car for work for a long time now so public transport isn't an option. You are right for some people however I still think there's a point i got to when if driving was an option i'd take it - how much public transport is too much in one lifetime?

  2. I get that - I don't think everyone is taking the lazy option, but quite a few are. I wouldn't be training it for three hours a day either if it were me. That's thanks to (unfortunately) not enough people demanding better trains, loud enough, and often enough. Politicians listen if enough people are yelling non-stop! Sadly most of us just cave in and buy a car... it's easier!

    But good links aren't impossible in a big city. It just takes balls to do it instead of building more roads.

  3. PS I used to drive 40 minutes every day from Berowra to Carlingford, drop my son at daycare, drive to school at East Ryde, drop my daughter, drive to North Ryde and park my car, then bus it to the city, then walk to Surry Hills. And reversed in the afternoon. In the school holidays it was worse, because I needed two trains from crappy Carlingford station. Sure wasn't my idea of "fun" - and it would have been completely impossible if I left the car at home.

    I'm travelling similar distances here (today I took the kids by train to a course in the city, then got the metro out to my own class at the far end of the line, and caught 2 buses to get home). But it's just so much easier here because people demand and get good transport. And the reason we want it is that so many more people use it. Two-car families are unusual here.

  4. I wish I could have a public transport experience anything like Elisa's, on a regular basis.

    In London if travelling on a bus or train between 7.30am-10am or 5pm-7pm you'd consider yourself lucky to get a seat, let alone enough personal space to get some work done. If you were catching a train and it wasn't the station that it starts from, you might find it impossible to actually get on the train because it will sometimes arrive already full to bursting with sweaty angry people.

    Maybe London's public transport is so overcrowded because it's even harder to use a car if you work in central London. Virtually no office will have parking space, and parking in the very few on-street spaces will cost you around £50/day. No one who works in central London drives to work, unless they're some sort of executive with access to the 2 or 3 parking spaces allocated to their entire office block.

    I used to work in central London and even though the flexible working hours allowed me to leave at 9/10am and come home at 7/9pm, the journey was often still a miserable hour each way. It was a major factor in me deciding to work for myself from home.

    As a consequence of no one using cars to get to work, it becomes harder to justify using a car for personal use. If like me you don't have children and are inside the Greater London area, you might not feel like you need a car most of the time. And they're really expensive to keep taxed and insured even if you don't use them.

    For around 5 years now we've been getting our groceries delivered and that works pretty well, so that's another major use of the private motor vehicle done away with.

    One thing I could use a car for is when I have to do some work on-site either out of hours or when needing to transport heavy computer equipment. That happens around 3-4 times a year, so it doesn't feel worth owning a car for. I'm thinking of trying out Streetcar for this (pay as you go car hire, there's one parked at the end of our street).

    I think that our government really needs to keep ploughing money into public transport, because there just isn't the space for the roads. Fuel is only going to get more expensive but that can be solved by using different kinds of fuel. You can't make more space though. The only solution is getting people out of their individual tin cans.

    In my opinion they should go further and give tax breaks for employers who offer home working. Centralising everything is not scalable; if employees can be distributed then their local infrastructure of shops, leisure, educational and daycare facilities can be taken advantage of and improved. At what point will they admit that trying to build it all on the most expensive real estate
    in the world (central London) and then have everyone pay to get to/from it just does not make sense?

    Unpleasant as London public transport can be, I do appreciate that I can get from one side of London home to the other (~45 miles) at 3am even if it does take 2.5hrs spent with the drunken and mentally ill. 24 hour public transport is great.

    Outside of London, UK public transport is very variable and frequently non-existent even at sociable hours. If I lived anywhere else I'd most likely have to own a car and use it near-daily.

  5. I'd catch a train to a sporting event if the ground is walking distance to the station, SCG, not but other than that i wouldn't bother. Different in Melbourne for example public transport is really good there, the trams are so handy and train service is pretty good makes it easier that it's mostly flat but Sydney does need to do better - poorly planned city from the beginning and nobody has tried cleaning up teh mess. Perth for example build the roads and transport first then the suburbs later.. much better planned...

  6. Really enjoyed reading your blog Shan. I know only too well what public transport in Sydney is like. Getting the bus from mum n dad's house at Gladesville could take up to an hour or more (depending on traffic, accidents etc), yet the train from Seven Hills (which is alot further from the city) takes me 40 minutes! I dreaded moving out west 'cause it meant i had to start to get trains instead of buses (those train people are just weird i used to think, but now i think i'm one of them!).

    As much as i still hate trains, for me at least, they mostly seem to run on time and are alot better than buses as far travel time reliability is concerned.

    In saying that though, other than my daily work trip, I drive wherever I can. You'll very rarely see me get public transport on the weekend or during holidays.

    Only get the train to work because i'm not going to spend 1 1/2 hours driving there and back and pay $50 a day to park my car! A 7km drive to the station and then sitting on the train for 40 minutes Facebooking on my IPhone and watching Jersey Shore! is a much preferred option to sitting in traffic all the way to the city (in my manual car with heavy duty clutch!).

  7. I agree Shelly - you'd have to be insane to *want* to sit in a car along Victoria Rd in the morning! If I absolutely *had* to drop kids somewhere, I'd be parking my car in a back street half way and catching the bus from there. It's really interesting to see what you've written since I know how passionately you love cars!!

    And yeah, I can excuse car use on weekends :) It isn't so easy to pt-it on weekends anyway - since most of us do different stuff from week to week, it isn't like we know all the times and connections off the top of our heads.

    I'd also rather sit in a bus than the train, but at least the train only has other trains getting in its way...

    Loved your comments Andy, it's fairly obvious that the spending is inadequate. I suppose it isn't good timing for the UK to need to spend more on anything though is it? At least the culture of car ownership isn't the norm in central London. And I'm the same. 3 or 4 times a year I wish I had a car (to bring something heavy home, or to take a quick weekend away). But for lugging stuff, a few taxis a year would be cheaper than owning a car, and I'm going to attempt a weekend away by coach this year - wish me luck getting onto the right buses! ;)

  8. Oh and btw Shelly - I actually had "watch Jersey Shore" in my last sentence but I deleted it, lol.