Thursday, 15 September 2011

7.7 miles in around 3 hours

In 1784, a mail stage did the 120-mile journey from London to Bristol in 17 hours.

Using simple arithmetic we can work out that it ought to have been possible, back then, to cover around 21 miles in 3 hours by stagecoach and you’d hope things had improved in 227 years, but you’d be VERY wrong.

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How fucked up is public transport in Britain today, when one would need almost 3 hours to make a 7.7 mile journey (that would take around 16 minutes by car) by bus, train and coach, involving no less than 3 changes?

Having fancied going foraging for wild mushrooms on Saturday, September 24th, I hoped I would be able to get a lift, but as one fell through (not at all unusual: it proves almost impossible to rely on people), I thought I’d check out other methods of getting there.

Taxi is out of the question: it costs around a fiver just to get back from the village or the station, which is only about a mile away, so I used Transport Direct to look up ways of doing the journey by public transport.

However, in order to get to Burley in the New Forest – a mere 7.7 miles away, according to Google - for 9.30 on a Saturday morning, I would need to leave home before 6.30 am and either walk the mile to the station or walk around 3/4 of a mile to catch a bus there. Let’s ignore the fact that this alone is too far for me to walk without severe pain, discomfort and fatigue.

In truth there is very little to be gained by walking in what amounts to the entirely wrong direction in order to get a bus back to the station (in all other aspects of the journey Transport Direct can be trusted) and rather a lot to be lost as waiting at a bus stop where there is no seat would render it impossible for me to cope with the rest of the journey. If I were to walk to the station that would be tiring enough, but at least there I would have seat.

However, I would then need to catch a train all the way to Bournemouth, then change to a coach up to Ringwood and, finally, catch a bus back down from Ringwood to Burley, turning this simple journey into a convoluted 3 hour, 28 mile circuit, still no faster than stagecoach!

If I’d been going on a weekday, there would have been a bus from Christchurch (which would have meant only one change and would have *only* taken 1 hour 45 minutes), but the only bus doing that on a Saturday arrives in Burley at 12:00 mid-day. On Sunday it doesn’t run at all.

We’ll also ignore the fact that I avoid buses anyway, because the rattling and jolting is just too painful, because this all becomes totally hypothetical.

Even if someone in perfect physical heath were to contemplate this journey, then I am sure they would soon come to the conclusion that it’s ridiculous and just not viable. A six hour round trip to go just 7.7 miles for, at most, an hour or so’s pleasure simply isn’t justifiable, even for the young and fit.
After a 3 hour journey I’d be in no fit state to ramble and forage.

As for getting home again, I couldn’t contemplate it in the same day. And having discovered thus far that it’s pointless, I admit that I haven’t bothered to check if it is even possible to make the return journey: if there are services running back in the opposite direction later. Being a Saturday, there’s no guarantee that there will be and every chance there’s not.

imageTo add to the utter dumbshitness of the problem, Burley is a quaintly touristy, (formerly) picturesque village in the New Forest. Exactly the kind of place where people should be able to visit at weekends.

Obviously, unless they have cars, they can’t.

Even more obviously, except to those who organise public services, the more cars that pile into this tiny outpost, the less picturesque it will be and the less likely people will visit. And even less likely that it will draw the very sort of people who would be mostly likely to preserve the forest’s beauty; walkers, users of public transport, etc.

imageSo the car parks will expand to fit, the gift shops will sell more utterly useless crap and the tea rooms and cafes will probably eventually be replaced by Costa Coffee, but the real quaint New Forest village disappeared and died decades ago.

How will Britain ever get people to leave the car at home, take public transport and reduce their carbon footprints? Answer: it won’t, until it provides an adequate transport system for people to use.

This journey is but one example and is by no means untypical of the kind of obstacles that one is up against trying to get anywhere in this country.

For the majority of the elderly population in this area, as well as for myself, effectively, we are imprisoned in our homes at weekends. We are unable to attend any of the events that take place at the weekend (that’s most).

It’s not much better during the week, when the one and only local bus ends service at 2.25 pm (to be cut in October, with, we are told, the last bus arriving at 11.45 am). It means we are unable to have any meaningful social lives. Getting to health appointments is hard enough. The only means of doing shopping is to have it delivered, which is helpful, but even a simple shopping trip provides some opportunity to socialise with other humans.

And being sick and disabled only makes the already very hard, even harder.

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