Posted by: sweetpea | August 22, 2006

The crappiness that is the UK transport system

I watched ‘Dispatches’ last night as it was on the transport problem in Britain.  As a non-car owner I rely heavily on the public transport system and I guess I’ve learnt to live with it.  But the program was very right in saying that the public transport system in this country is appalling.  Every time I go abroad I’m impressed with their trains, buses etc.  In Italy the trains were always on time and there was always room to sit, and they were pretty cheap too compared to the UK. 

The transport system in the UK, especially the rail system is seen as very inflexible and expensive for what you get.  Often you don’t get a seat, trains are delayed, and if you miss a train/connection you have to wait ages for the next one.  I could see exactly why the business man they were trying to persuade to use the train to get to work won’t change. 

Bob Kiley presenting the program made a lot of good points, most of which were just plain common sense.  He was right in saying that there needs to be 1 person in charge of the rail system, things never work when there isn’t anyone in charge as every ‘group’ ends up operating independently, only considering their own, rather than working with others to provide a better service.  There also needs to be less emphasis on profit for the privatised bus companies. They looked at the Metro system in Newcastle, and how it was a fantastic thing when it first opened because it was run by the council so the metro and bus system worked together to provide an excellent service for its customers.  But when Thatcher came into power and privatised the buses etc, the buses and metro ceased working together but instead started competing with each other rather than competing with cars.  The result is that less and less people are using the metro and buses.

The only way people are going to be persuaded to leave their cars at home and use public transport is if the government invests more money in public transport to make it more appealing, and make travelling by car more expensive by bringing in more congestion charges, road charges etc.  I know so many people that use their cars simply for convenience and because of the flexibility.  If you make public transport more reliable, more flexible, more comfortable, and more attractive (i.e. no dingy stations) then people will be more likely to use it. 

I’ve never owned a car simply because I don’t feel I need one.  Yes there are some things I miss out on because I can’t get to them, but then I could hire a car if I needed to.  I do rely on lifts from friends, but that to me is car sharing, although sometimes I do hope that people don’t think I’m taking advantage.  I’ve got used to the crappiness of public transport, and I guess I’m pretty laid back about getting to things late.  If it’s important I get to something on time I make sure I allow plenty of time.  But car owners I think are used to getting to places when they want to, and so are not as accustomed to planning for delays etc.  Car owners are also I think more impatient, at least that is the feeling I get from the people I know.  So they are more likely to get frustrated with the public transport system we have.

Another interesting bit of the program was that they used York as a case study of somewhere were there has been investment in public transport, and it is working.  Now I know a lot of people living in York would probably laugh at this statement, but having watched the program, and being a resident of York, I think
York isn’t too bad, so long as it isn’t a race day!  People complain about buses running late, but even if you were in your car, there is no guarantee you’d get to where you’re going any quicker, you’d probably get held up too.  I think people are just too impatient because they get so uset to getting things ‘now’.  And the Ftr buses will eventually run smoothly, I still think the ticketing system could do with improving, but generally speaking they are more pleasant to travel on than the old buses, and they always stop to pick up people because they never get full.

I do wish Britain would look at other countries success more and take note, not just with transport, but with other things too, something I’m sure I’ll blog about later.   Britain is good at some things, but it could also learn a hell of a lot more from places like Scandinavia and Switzerland.


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