Why is Public Transport so Frowned Upon?

Courtesy of Kenny Louie

For this post I’m really interested to hear your experiences and views on Public Transport – whether you use it or not

There seems to be two types of people in this world:

Those that use public transport because they want or need have to

…and those that wouldn’t step a foot inside anything less than a car.

Why is that?  I just don’t get it?

Well aside from the most obvious reasons… Actually lets’ get those out the way first:

  1. Too expensive

Train travel while usually extremely convenient and fast it does come with a usually hefty price tag attached and for that cost you’re not even always guaranteed a seat!  So I can see how that’s enough to put anyone off.  Bus travel, while much cheaper has it’s own increasing price ticket due to the cost of fuel.

  1. There isn’t any

Yes, if you live in many parts of the countryside public transport is either highly irregular or completely non-existent.

Both those reasons are enough for me to think public transport, in all forms is rather a drag, but are there any solutions to them?

Why do we have public transport?

As long as there have been forms of transport, such as horses or boats, it’s always made economic and business sense to charge groups of people, or individuals a fare for getting them from one place to another so they don’t have to do it themselves.  While only the very rich could afford to travel across the country for holidays and business, public transport began to ensure everyone could go out for the day or travel to new places by making it more affordable.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Especially at the motor car hadn’t been heard of.

When the car did come along it was taken up by such gusto you’d think that no-one in their right mind would ever want to step foot on a tram or horse drawn carriage ever again and for both those forms of transport it was indeed the end.

However the story doesn’t tend to end there.

While most towns and cities developed in the 19th and 20th Century it became apparent that cars weren’t all that effective in busy, congested places.  Cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham soon realised that for people to move about quickly and effectively the only way of doing that – around smaller distances –  was to invest in public transport.

I’d stick my neck out here and say no-one in their right mind would actually want to drive a car around London, let alone want to pay the parking costs!

Now in the 21st Century we find ourselves caught between two opposing issues.  While the big cities continue to invest and actively engage in varying forms of public transport (Sheffield even brought back it’s trams), with the thousands of people using them every day, all non cities/big towns endeavour to keep services going but at a huge (and in most cases probably at a loss) cost.

Do we need to define where public transport should be?  

For instance if you’re living in the countryside you’ll be the first people to actively use a car because “there is no public transport”.  (Although I’m still not sure why a lot drive around in huge Audi 4x4s when they don’t even live on a farm)

But what if you’re elderly or disabled and live in the country, city or anything in between?  There there must surely be rights to have access to transport to enable you to use services such as GP surgeries, hospitals and access to shopping areas?

Let’s take North East Lincolnshire  as a good example.

Population approx. 169,000 people.  Index of deprivation, pretty low.  It’s at the end of both a road and railway line. On one side it’s surrounded by sea and on the other three sides countryside.   It has two major populations found in Grimsby and Cleethorpes, a smaller town of Immingham and once you leave Grimsby in any direction you’re not going to hit another major town for at least 20miles (I am sure this is nothing to other countries but it’s still a fair old distance to walk).

In this area you’ll find relatively good bus services and rail services.  I haven’t got anything to complain about.  I can get to nearly every part of the county by either bus or train, and in some cases feet.  I can access my local town within 20 minutes on a bus route that runs every ten minutes.  Nothing bad about that at all.  Most of the buses have wheel chair access and having travelled by both train and buses past 9pm at night, on my own, I haven’t encountered any dangerous situations and wouldn’t hesitate to use either in the future.

Sunday travel isn’t it’s best but on those days other services are also shut which is probably the justification for a shorter time table.

So if that’s the kind of transport you get in my average town why don’t more people use it?

I think Public Transport might be a lower class rated option for many in suburban areas.

Yes the buses do usually contain more than your share of the most unusual people, and in some cases very smelly people.  Most of the bus routes in town tend to take you round council estates and I have to say no bus ride is without interesting conversations.  It’s one of the many reasons I love public transport

Most Some of the bus drivers are rude (you know the ones) and the buses themselves, although fairly modern, don’t tend to be very clean.  But both those are not good reasons for getting in a car and I’ll tell you why:

If you want to use public transport then we, as paying customers, have a right to demand a better experience when we travel on public transport and not just fester between the grotty seats and the late services.   Where it’s not viable to have a bus pick up one person once a week from the middle of the countryside there are alternatives but you have to know what these are and get better acquainted with them.

People don’t like sharing their space with others, but why not?  You’re going on a 25 minute journey (at most), you’re not committed to the person sat next to you for the rest of your life.

How do we get a better service?

Every council (in England) has to write up a local Transport plan for their area. It will cover vague amounts of yrs that keep being extended every time the report is updated but that plan needs to be held to account.  It details everything from road plans to bus routes to investments in roads.

NELC’s report extends to 71 pages detailing what the council’s strategy plan is between now and 2026 (yes really another 13yrs).

While the North East Lincs region has quite enough to contend with just getting people to stay in the area, and big words like regeneration and investments are used a lot (identifying issues seems to be easier and cheaper than dealing with them), you have to cut through the ‘this is what it could look like’ scenarios and get to the reality of public transport part – including a new main bus depot in Grimsby, better footpath and cycle signs, improved and increased cycle lanes and safer roads.   Money is being spent on all those areas but all the council can do with public transport is encourage it’s residents to use it, working along side the operators to get the services in place.

Car is still king

So if there is enough public transport in city and urban areas, and community transport links into the Countryside – then we have to hold the public transport operators to account.

Remarkably its the new estates of houses being bunged up everywhere that are completely forgotten on the public transport routes.  One such estate has boomed up here – there must be a good 5,000 new residents on this estate and yet there isn’t one new bus route.  Public transport can make or break a new housing estate and yet the local operators are either not invited to the planning stages or the architects don’t invite them?

I remember a few years ago when I was using a bus daily to work I got fed up of it turning up either late or just not at all so I began emailing Stage Coach and I kept emailing them every time the bus was late.  Knowing why the bus hadn’t turned up didn’t make me arrive at work on time but it did at least explain the reasons behind the issue.  It also highlighted to the operator that this route was used, and used frequently.  Especially as they tried to ditch it once or twice.

So I am suggesting that if we want public transport we have to use it, we also have to request a decent, safe and economical journey along with it.

In other words what’s wrong with enjoying a bit of public transport ever so often?


14 responses to “Why is Public Transport so Frowned Upon?

  1. I think I’m your midground. I have a car, and don’t need to take it to a job in the city. It’s not available to take to my work place, which is 5 minutes driving from my house. But I will always take public transport to New York City because it’s more convenient to come into the city at Penn station and use the metro to get around, city driving is crazy and parking is very expensive. It’s about the same cost to take the train to NYC as it is to drive and park in NYC. If there was a light rail system around me, I would use it, but I live in suburban NJ so there’s no such thing.

    • That’s interesting, and sounds about the same as over here. London is best travelled around by public transport and is often cheaper than paying for car parking charges. Outside of London, and the further away you get from any big town, the public transport becomes quite problematic. I guess it just must be where the investments are.
      I can’t imagine how busy NYC must be although I’m rather excited because I’ll see it myself next Jan! 🙂

      • If you’re used to the London underground, which is a loop of glorious simplicity or even the underground in Paris which is an awesome grid, get ready to be confused by NYC’s subway system. It’s not as nice, and since NYC is oddly shaped there’s no easy system that covers the whole city so you get weird lines. It looks like this: http://www.urbanrail.net/am/nyrk/nyc-map-center.png. I use it because NY Penn (which is the main train station in NYC) is right next to a subway stop so it’s pretty easy to go straight from the train to anywhere in the city, but there is a learning curve. If you take the Path (you’ll see it on the map) out of NYC you can go to Hoboken, NJ which is like a less hectic NYC, and a place that I like going to if I want to eat yummy Italian food and be more relaxed.

  2. We used to have a pretty good bus service which ran between two market towns, stopping at the villages in between, almost every hour but about 2 years ago the service was down graded.

    Now the earliest bus doesn’t get you into either town in time for the start of the working day and the last bus back doesn’t fit in with the normal working day either. We don’t have a Sunday Service and the Saturday service is laughable.

    The first week day bus is also used by secondary school pupils as a school bus and is a nightmare experience which I’ve have tried only once, with Middle Mudlet when she was a toddler and I will NEVER take that bus again! The language and behaviour of the children was disgusting, not to mention intimidating.

    As for the bus drivers, they are surly and unhelpful, preferring to watch a young mum struggling on with a buggy, baby and shopping and not batting an eyelid as some old dear tries to get her/his shopping onto the bus, rather than help them AND they will usually drive off before passengers are seated.

    When I had Middle Mudlet, we sold my car because the bus service was so regular and cost effective, it wasn’t worth running the second car. I used the buses for 7 years, up to getting Annie (my old Series Land Rover) but then they altered the frequency and put the fares up. It is now cheaper and a much more pleasant experience to drive to town rather than take the bus and, unless they change their attitude to passengers, I can’t see my opinion changing any time soon.

    • That’s a really good point – public transport and buggy’s (can you tell I’ve not got children?!). Yes on my travels I have seen parents struggle on buses. It’s not good, although in rare cases the driver (and usually another passenger) will help but otherwise you can feel the sheer panic the parent is having trying to fold down the buggy, store it away, keep tabs on their toddler who has wondered off down the bus, all while the bus pulls away at 50 miles an hour!
      Definitely the more rural you live the more of an issue public transport becomes. Over here we also have a community travel service called ‘Phone a Ride’ which basically anyone can use to call and book a ride between 7am and 7pm. I’ve not used it myself but when I see it about it always looks busy. There are also other community transport initiatives available but of course the council or local committee has to bid for them. Like everything else – it’s complicated! However I don’t think rural communities should be forgotten in planning.
      All I would say though is if you’re not happy with the drivers, let the transport provider know. I think those drivers get away with too much attitude and could well do with a course in customer service.
      Of course having a old Series Land Rover – now that is a ride! I bet that car will last until the next millennium!

  3. I can drive and I hold a clean if old licence but I don’t currently own a car because of the running costs. The price of a car isn’t actually an issue but the fuel cost is. As the old joke goes, the car is paid for its the petrol that’s on finance.
    Instead I cycle. I walk and use trains but mainly I ride my bike. I use bad weather gear if it rains and if the roads are snowbound I walk. The reasons I don’t use buses vary from the passengers (free bus pass users tend to be ..umm.. odd?),to the simple fact that buses have fixed and often meandering routes. I like my open company and I like to choose where I’m going and by which route,changing that route as and when necessary. Trains don’t go door to door either but I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of a main rail station. Everywhere I need to go either has a rail connection or is very close to one.
    The biggest thing though is that my lifestyle has developed around these points. I have grown up with these restrictions, so they have become benefits rather than hindrances

    • It’s great to hear that, you sound like a man on the move 🙂
      You can’t go wrong with cycling. It;s such a great form of transport too. I’d like to do more although I never feel that confident on the roads (especially negotiating roundabouts).
      Interesting that you’ve mentioned about benefits not hindrances because you’ve got used to public transport. People often ask me why I don’t drive a car, why don’t I learn, wouldn’t I prefer more freedom…etc etc.
      But I always say the same, no because I’m so used to using public transport I don’t even have to think twice about it and where it isn’t convenient for me I either car share with someone else or use my own two feet. Yes it would be much easier if I lived in a big city but I don’t want to so I take the transport available to me. I still travel about, see things – no different to any person with a car, it just takes me slightly longer to get anywhere but then again it’s all about the journey and very often I arrive having see new things, and be relaxed enough to enjoy my destination.

  4. I love trains and buses and am so frustrated that transport in this country has got so expensive and at the same time so under-funded so that it isn’t realistic to keep telling people who are busy, struggling etc that they should be using it more. It’s a natural monopoly, essential for getting people to work so the economy works, people have some choice about where they live and work etc etc – so it should obviously be publicly owned – like water and energy it makes no sense for it to be run for profit – has been a disaster except for the greedy people who make money out of it.

    We have just moved to the country but picked the village where we are because it has a train service. It’s a choice to use it now rather than drive, but I anticipate having to give up driving at some point when I’m older because of diabetes-related eye problems – so then it will be a necessity. I agree that I wish people would use public transport more so that more people had a stake in it. Travelling on the train is sociable, driving is the opposite.

    Writing this in a rush so probably not very cogent – oh well – but interesting blog post.

    • Thank you for that. I agree totally with you – public transport (especially the trains) should really have stayed within the public purse so to speak. It’s ridiculous all these different train companies and I (don’t quote me) don’t think any of them are actually making a profit from it because of all the costs associated with the upkeep of the lines let alone the engineering and the trains.
      Train travel is expensive. It cannot compete with cars on a long journey compared to petrol.
      I guess all we have to do is keep pressing for better services and cheaper fares. Unfortunately, London will always be the main city in this country that pulls in the commuters on such a grand scale every morning and evening. If I was a company I’d look to alternative working arrangements for my staff to help with costs. I’m always amazed that more people who work in office don’t work from home? I am sure it’s a growing trend though. Economy does have it’s part in all this that’s for sure.
      The environmental factor is huge. I wanted to play that card in my post all along but figured it’s been played many times and like you said, it’s so obvious it’s hardly even worth mentioning now. Until I did some research around buses I had no idea the investment being made by bus companies to ensure they have the greenest, most economical fleets available. Of course, whether that puts the price of tickets up who knows!

  5. And I didn’t even touch on environmental impact – which is what, most of all, makes public rather than private transport a no-brainer.

  6. I like public transport (especially Trains), but…

    My biggest problem with public transport is that unless you have the simplest of journeys it can become a time-consuming nightmare. If I want to visit family in Scotland (a four hour trip by car), I would have to take two trains to reach Edinburgh. A further problem is that my folks don’t live in Edinburgh, so an additional 2.5 hour bus journey is needed. (total price for train and bus tickets – £124. If (as I like to do) I take my wife, that would of course be doubled. Once we get there, we are of course car-less and once more dependent on public transport, at further expense.

    So this all points the fact that, at least some of the time, having a car is the sensible solution.

    If however, you have a car but choose to use public transport – then you are wasting vast amounts of your money (tax, insurance, depreciation) and paying yet more for your transport.

    So as a consequence, we use our car a lot (unless it’s for recreational/fitness purposes – when the cycle is king!)

    • Got to agree with you which is why I wonder about ‘where’ public transport should be. Maybe it should just be heavily invested within cities and large towns – which looks like in reality that is what is happening with all main lines being invested but anything outside of that and you’re pretty much on your own. It’s a bit like a puzzle with rather a few gaps in it!
      When I travel down south to see family I have to book my train ticket as far in advance to get the best possible deal else I think I’d be bankrupt from the price!

      With regard to using public transport if you’ve got a car (in a city/suburban area) – now that’s an fascinating point.
      I think it would depend when and why you’d be using public transport. If you worked in town and had to pay car parking charges every day (that was more expensive than the £2.70, you pay for the bus ticket) then it maybe it would be better to take the bus.
      A car looses value whether it’s being used or not, and you still have to pay all the taxes and insurance that go along with it regardless of whether you use the car once a yr or once a day. Obviously it makes sense to use it as much as possible.
      Also in that sense no public transport will ever be able to compete with your car for journeys because you’ve already paid out with the car.
      So it appears to come down to convenience first, followed by cost.

      Interesting…! 🙂

  7. I live in a suburb, so must drive for most errands, no choice. But I’m working on downsizing so I can move, and when I do, one of my criteria is to move closer to the city so I’ll be able to use public transport more often. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  8. I would much rather use public transportation. I live in a city area where grocery stores, banks, restaurants, schools, and public transit are almost at your doorstep. The one thing that isn’t readily available is parking. The cost of driving ($800 monthly) compared to the cost of my monthly bus ($70) makes public transit a winner.

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