CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Friday, 20 June 2008

Busman's Holiday ...

The now defunct 121 route, replaced by the X12 Prices of bus fares in this country have left me gasping for breath. Actually, I don't suppose the Wilts & Dorset Bus Company are any better or worse than any other, but there are local rumblings that fares are set especially high (it's argued that they think that folk who can afford to live here, can afford the high fares, although that is not always true) and, that those who decide what to charge, where the routes go, etc., probably go to work (or the town hall) in their Rolls Royces and, hence, have probably never caught a bus in their lives.

They should be forced to do so.

They too would be shocked by having to pay £1.70, single, just for the 1.1 mile journey into the town center, £2.70 return to the local Tesco and back (1.4 mi) and a massive £5.40 return to the nearby town of Lymington (about 6 miles).

(And, of course those prices have risen again since.)

The first of those, I could walk, weather permitting. Yeah, like how often is that? But I don't even want to know how much it costs to get to Bournemouth, or further afield, because I simply have no money for any of these fares.

What should be an incredibly simple trip to Tesco is stupidly impractical, because, on top of the cost, there's the need to hit the ground running and tear through the store at 90 mph, in order to get done in time to catch the ONLY return bus, less than an hour later. This encourages people to just grab and buy any old packet crap. Such a restriction is not practical for someone who hasn't seen the inside of a British supermarket for 16 years and doesn't know what they sell, let alone where it is. It's too far to walk back carrying any shopping. One could get a taxi, of course, but for the amount one could carry still doing that, it makes far more economic sense to bulk buy once a month and have it delivered.

Except that's a totally alien concept to some old biddies, who think the devil is lurking on the internet (where the order would, necessarily, have to be placed) and, who have empty rooms and cupboards, store other people's stuff, but suddenly claim to have no space for a month's worth of toilet rolls.

They also claim to have no money to pay for deliveries or taxis, baulk at the price of healthy foods, such as dried fruit and nuts, but I notice they seem to have plenty of money for packets of cakes, biscuits and sweets.

Her answer: she will shop, daily if necessary, using her free bus pass, while I remain imprisoned in Camp Conservative 24/7/365, with no means of escape.

I'd hoped and intended to get out and be a tourist in this strange place, but at these prices, it simply isn't going to be possible very often and, being stuck up the end of a cul-de-sac, where ALL (yes, every single one) of the residents are of the silver haired variety - bar the bloke next door, who sports the Kojak look (and don't tell me that's a dated cultural reference, because, for here, it might actually be a bit too modern), I'm getting decidedly stir-crazy already.

The rest all have cars or have free OAP bus passes, of course.

What happened to all the friends and car driving helpers who covered shopping trips, etc: the very reason given for clinging onto this familiar, but outdated lifestyle in this ripoff country? This is what I would like to know, because unless they're invisible, I reckon they must be the figment of someone's imagination.

Cycling, or walking outside the town, just isn't possible either, because of roads with no pavements and the weight and speed of traffic. I've already watched as one cyclist had to jump off his bike, grab it and dive into the roadside to avoid death as the bus I was on made no allowance for him.

Yesterday, one of the neighbours joked that I only had 10 years to wait for my bus pass. Actually, it's only 9, but this is still incredibly small comfort: being stuck here for 9 (or so) days, let alone 9 years, has seemed far too long.

Back on the buses: The route to Lymington, so I'm told, was changed recently and the bus we caught went along a country route, which (illogically) has fewer stops, urban areas or opportunities to pick up paying customers than on other local roads. You know, it strikes me that if they went along a route where there actually were customers for it, they might be able to create enough demand to reduce prices, but who the hell am I to suggest logic as an option? :)

And people in Tenerife complain about the buses. They have no right to do so.

OK, I will concede that there probably aren't enough buses if you're in a hurry (I don't think anyone in Tenerife ever is), have appointments (not that anyone there is ever on time for them), or need to get to work, but a dozen buses a day passing through one of the island's most remote villages, sure beats the one or two only that come to this part of this over 20,000 inhabitant town.

In Tenerife, with a BONO ticket giving a 40% discount, the 3 km trip to the local town cost just 85 cents (around 65p with the now crap exchange rate) and 50 miles, right across the north of the island, cost only a couple of quid.

(If you ever go to Tenerife on holiday, you really should try their buses.)

The most striking difference in the "service" (not the most apt word) here, apart from the exorbitant, ripoff fares, is the lack of thought and organization.

In Tenerife, every conceivable change in buses (well, most anyway) has been synchronized so that passengers can change and carry on their journeys with the minimum of discomfort and waiting. The buses wait for each other to make it possible and, if there's a better way to do something (like catching a direct bus), the friendly staff will point this out to you (you don't even need to ask.)

Here, by complete contrast, you have no such considerations and inconvenient waits exist between one bus and the next. Even worse, particularly in an area full of wrinklies, in a country where the weather is consistently crap, is that shelters, or even seats at bus stops are conspicuous by their total absence.

Adding serious insult to age and infirmity, locals tell me that the bus company have also just changed the route the bus takes to Bournemouth hospital: a monotonously regular port of call for folk around here. Previously, the bus pulled in to the hospital grounds. Now, apparently, it stops some distance away and leaves people (imagine the over 80's with hip replacements and a multitude of other reasons why they can't move too well) to cross a 5 lane highway!

Obviously, for most, this now precludes the use of the bus for hospital trips.

These things are sinful and inhumane, especially considering the demographics of the local clientele (I will concede them one point for having buses with low footplates to provide easy access), but the fact that taxis are not much more expensive than bus fares and that the inconveniences are forcing people to use cars or get lifts, also makes this a serious crime against the environment.

If Britain wants to meet climate targets, here's an area that really needs looking at and is ripe for improvement, which would be to everyone's benefit.

The other thing, which as an expat, I knew and half explains the massive exodus (but you can't get through to the most resistant & hard headed), is that one is undoubtedly better off abroad, even in the "third world", because, even if services are almost nonexistent, they can't be much less frequent and, at least you aren't expected to pay a bloody fortune for so little value.

Pamela is a former accountant, recovering journalist and international cat herder, disabled and chronically sick with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia and Cervical spondylosis, fluent in three languages; English, Spanish and Rubbish. Mostly writes in the latter. She likes Genealogy, Model Railways and Cats.

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