Remember those ads with Jimmy Saville in full child-molestation mode?
So they are still on about building a railway from London to Birmingham. Or specifically from Euston to New Street stations. This matters. I used to live in “London” (specifically in Mile End – which even if it is Zone 2 is probs two tube trips from Euston) and I have relatives in West Bromwich. If I still lived in London (I now live in Cheshire) and wanted to visit my cousins I might use the service but then whatever time-saving it has (and for 34 billion quid I want an away day by the methane seas of Titan rather than a can of lager with Les – much though I like Les – but 34 billion!) is nixxed by navigating the tube and then getting whatever contrivance of public transport exists between New Street and West Brom. I might as well walk. I really might as well take the car. Because dear reader unlike rail-running white elephants cars take you doorstep to doorstep. That indeed is why so many of us have them.
Seriously. If you consider the fixed costs of car ownership (major capital expenditure on the motor itself and then there is road tax and insurance and all the rest) any car owner might as well get the most out of the vehicle they can! There is frankly no point in spending several grand a year for it to look pretty on the drive and then take the bus. And it is the fixed nature of the costs which is the issue. If, as governments bleat about periodically, and they do, reduce those and people will be more likely to get on the bus.
But there is another thing in the mix that I hinted at. It’s hub and spoke vs. point to point. I can easily get into central Manchester by any number of means. Cross-town is harder unless you have a car. Same as seeing my cousin Les in West Brom. I might be whisked from London (assuming I still lived there – which I don’t) at hair-wrenching velocity but then I am on the bus or buses for the remainder (or Les picks me up in his car from the station). And nobody really thinks of transport in terms of how fast one portion is. For example. I once took an excursion from Newcastle to Atlanta (not Hartsfield airport but an apartment in Buckhead on the other side of a town the size of Greater Manchester). The flight was from Gatwick so this meant 9 hours on a DC-10 and 10 hours on the National Express to get to Gatwick. And then MARTA and a bus. I didn’t feel 100% normal by the end. The flat had a life-size cardboard cut-out of Han Solo in the lobby and I saluted it. First time I’d seen my (then) girlfriend for six months and well, considering all I’ve said, I was a bit excited about the trip so couldn’t sleep the night before (if “the night before” has any meaning in the context). I was even beginning to imagine Americans drove on the same side of the road as normal folks. I had been up for nearly 60 hours and felt somewhat “unusual”.
It puzzles me – it really does – that via car-tax (originally “road-fund” and hypothecated for road-building – yeah, right!) and such measures government wants to get us on buses… If they really wanted a renaissance of public transport they would cut the fixed cost of ownership of a car and run the old train services axed in the ’60s by Dr Beeching. Because it isn’t warp-speed for part of the way that matters.
It once took me as long to get from Levenshulme to Sale as it did from Manchester Airport to Malta. That is not so much an argument in favour of the car or A319 as one for Shank’s pony.
There used to be cross-town rail lines in Manchester. The circular (not radial) station at Levenshulme is now a shop called “Repo TV” and the track is grubbed-up and a cycle-path.
The council call this progress because it means appalling kids can chuck rocks at me and my wife from scooters. And they did. And they broke her nose and did a number on my ribs. the thing with ribs is they can’t really immobilise them to prevent pain because the alternative to engaging in gaseous exchange is death. It’s called breathing. It is somewhat vital.
I once raced my wife on roller-blades down it all the way to the Sainsburys in Student-land. I won of course but took some tumbles along the way. What I call it is almost exactly what I said during those tumbles and cannot exactly be reproduced in ASCII. Geordie cuss-words not exactly being easily coded in seven bits. Well, not in the sense as such.