The clocks are about to go back to where they came from, the nights are drawing well in, and several other similar cliches will be employed over the next few days to convey that summer has well and truly disappeared, and winter is out there, just waiting to pounce, like the coyotes I saw from a kitchen window in Ontario earlier this month.
It is at times like this that public transport, unlike coyotes, should be brought under the microscope. What do we in the UK need from it, and does it work for everyone?
Take buses. This is what we are urged to do, and in the summer months it is often quite pleasant to hang around bus stops in the sun, with nothing much to do, waiting for a bus to turn up. Not so much fun when the temperature drops, and we shiver in the scant protection afford by a pole and (if you’re lucky) a bit of a roof. That’s if your local council hasn’t mislaid the roof.
We usually walk into the city, but sometimes a bus becomes necessary. The other day my wife had a routine appointment at the hospital and, in view of the difficulty of parking a horse and buggy there, decided to take a bus from the station, just round the corner from where we live.
She waited for a long time – well beyond what was advertised – and in the end, concerned about missing the appointment, went over and took a black cab. This was, as you might imagine, hugely more expensive.
Someone once said that a bus is something that takes you from where you aren’t to where you don’t want to be. In other words you have to walk at each end, and the attraction of that decreases when there is ice on the pavement and rain is sleeting down.
So in those circumstance, as in most others, it’s good if the bus is on time – and if you have an appointment (and who doesn’t?) it’s important that it makes good time too. Last weekend I and two others caught a bus at the university to travel to the centre of Norwich. I wish I’d timed how long it took.
It waited for an eternity at the university while most of the student enrolment climbed on board – many of them not in sight when the bus pulled up. The bus was then extremely late, which meant that at every stop a large congregation of assorted people wanted to get on. It was clearly a kind of Tardis, because everyone did get on, but it took an inordinate time for them to do so. I don’t know, some of them may have been unfamiliar with the payment system…
Many moons later we reached the centre of Norwich. Fortunately, it was a lovely day; so we got off. Immediately behind us, another bus on the same route pulled in.
It reminded me a bit of the last time I got a bus from the university, on a slightly different route. It seemed to find every speed bump and pothole in existence – most of them kindly provided by a deluded council – and I ended up feeling so battered and bruised that I got off at Orford Place instead of going on to the rail station as I had intended. If it had been winter…
I am in my mid-to-late 70s but in reasonably good condition through no fault of my own. I would imagine most people of my age or older (and many much younger) would have been in considerable pain from such an experience. Not much encouragement to travel by bus. And then there’s the coyotes.
To be fair, I have been on bus journeys that were fast, comfortable and more or less on time. Computer models predict that this can happen. But do you want to take the chance?