Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map

On Courtesy, Chaos and How a Coach Can Train a Bus

Friday, 4th May, 2001

OK, I can't resist. May the fourth be with you!

Last night, my legs had it in for me. Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it infamy!

No, it isn't bad pun day, though there is such a thing, believe it or not. I just can't resist the things. Now, back to my legs.

I may get a lift to work nowadays, but I catch the bus home, and it's the homeward journey that I still haven't managed to work out. I can wander into Halifax's award winning bus station (architecturally speaking, if you make something out of glass, you'll generally win awards), read the timetables and find out exactly which buses go my way and when.

On the way back it's not such an easy task. Odsal Top, the major roundabout I catch the bus at, isn't on the timetables... nor is anything remotely nearby, making the task of pinning down a real schedule nigh on impossible.

The nearest I've managed to work out so far from experience is that there are four buses every hour. In other words, every half an hour two arrive at once. The logic of this escapes me, but it has a solid knack of catching me out just when I need it not to.

Last night, I missed the 691 by ten seconds.

I'd been dropped at the stop and my chauffeur was still right there, so I leapt back into the car and we hightailed it down the road a piece so as to catch the bus further down. I knew that the 691 goes off at a tangent so as to wander around Northowram Hospital, and I knew where it rejoined the main road.

I missed it by ten seconds. Again.

Halifax bus drivers are usually courteous enough to stop anyway. If you're that close to a stop, they'll pull in, wait the ten seconds for you to get there and everyone's happy - they have a fare, you have a ride. Equally, they'll often drop you wherever you need to be, regardless of whether it's at a stop or not. Bradford bus drivers are not usually courteous at all, and only my natural politeness keeps me from cursing.

So, what to do?

Feeling stubborn enough now to refuse to part with my hard earned cash for such impoliteness, as well as realising that it was likely to be at least half an hour before another bus showed its face, I promptly decided to walk home. The exercise would do me good anyway.

And I enjoyed it. The weather was hot but not blazing enough to cook me alive in my heavy coat made out of Yugoslavian sheep; I only had four miles or so to go, albeit up and down the wonderful contours that make this area so beautiful; and from here, I might just beat the next bus back to Halifax anyway. That'd show 'em.

Needless to say, the 508 hurtled past me ten minutes later, obviously running about twenty minutes late. Sigh. Shrug.

It's a strange flaw, and one that's mostly confined to the Bradford system rather than the Halifax one, which I've been very happy with for many a year.

With our fuel rate back to the equivalent of six American bucks per gallon, and a number of compulsory annual taxes on top of the highest car prices in Europe, I can't justify the incredible expense of running a car in this country. So I use public transport - buses, trains, coaches - and while everyone bickers and complains about it all the time, it's generally a very well run service that is used, though still not enough.

Buses take me wherever I need to go on a local level, unless there's a train to do it quicker. Over longer distance the train serves me very well, the one exception being London, which is far too expensive a trip to be justified, leaving the coach as a cheap and reliable alternative.

While I was in Canada in the summer of 1999, my schedule meant catching a train. I left Ottawa and, twenty four hours later, arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That's the sort of journey impossible to take in this country, where twenty four hours of solid travel would take you off the end of the country and quite a long way out into the North Sea. The whole trip cost me around a hundred Canadian bucks, roughly two thirds of the price I would need to pay to do the three hours from Halifax, Yorkshire to London.

The price difference didn't surprise me too much, as almost everything that the Canadians complain about costing too much usually costs a fraction of what we pay here anyway. What surprised me was the frequency of trains. I can't quite remember if there were four trains scheduled to leave Ottawa that hour or that afternoon, but it was certainly four trains. I'm used to Leeds station, where we have four per platform and there are about twenty platforms. Bear in mind that Leeds is not the capital of the country either.

It just seems that across the pond, trains are designed to carry freight and/or hobos. Here, they're designed for passengers. And the passengers have mostly stuck with the rail system here regardless of the current chaos.

And chaos it is. There's no other word for it. The background is that Railtrack, who manage the infrastructure, got as unlucky as I did last night. The cost of their bad luck wasn't just exercised legs over a long walk, however; it left fifteen dead.

The Hatfield train crash was due entirely to a rail being loose. The train hit the rail, the rail moved, the train moved with it. Trains hurtling along track at high speed attract a certain type of person who appreciates their beauty. Trains hurtling along when they're not on track only attract rubberneckers. It was a sad day.

It was a sad day not just for the passengers who didn't walk away from the accident, but for the train system too. You see, the whole shebang had been privatised only a few years before, meaning that the companies now responsible for running it were now responsible for anything that went wrong. This is quite standard business practice and totally acceptable. The catch is that the companies involved have been pumping incredible amounts of money into undoing forty years worth of damage. You can't do that in five minutes.

The accident, the inquiry that followed it, and the media-driven public frenzy built up around it has all meant that there is now untold chaos on the trains. When I was working in Manchester across the change of millennium from 2000 to 2001, my trains were always late, sometimes up to an hour. Many were cancelled. Many ran slow, obeying new speed limits over certain sections of track. In this area, the improvements to Leeds station can only increase the chaos, meaning alternative coach trips for sections of the journey where track is being replaced. I'm glad I'm now working much closer to home.

Of course the picture I'm painting should be a little more fair. There was chaos and bad management anyway, but it was relatively minor. There was a story about a bunch of government ministers missing a major meeting with Railtrack because their train was late. It's irony on a very dry level but it's deserved.

The other major downer is that, while all this chaos is going on, for it is still in effect, ticket prices went up anyway. Quite how someone can have such guts to up ticket prices while the service is at its worst ever is astounding. That level of guts approaches suicidal level.

But back to today and my lift is elsewhere, meaning I'm back on the bus. Let's see if I manage to catch this one.

Oh, and I made the four miles last night in just under three quarters of an hour, meaning that I beat the later buses. What's more, my legs are still happy about it.

Home - Writing - The Million Word March Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map