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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Commuter swap: Changing car for bus and train
3 BBC News Online users try alternative ways into work
Mon: Steve Clarke by bike
Tues: Dave Hay by train
Weds: Janet Powell's car share

Everyone wants to cut congestion on Britain's roads, but how best to go about it? We challenged three commuters to try alternative ways into work. Could they stick it? Would they like it?

Unusually, Dave Hay is eating breakfast alone while his family sleeps on upstairs.

The 36-year-old laboratory manager at York University had accepted the BBC News Online challenge to ditch his car for a week, and get to work instead using a combination of train, bus and foot.

But leaving his car keys at home in Knaresborough, near Harrogate, calls for an earlier start.

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So there is no family breakfast to set him on his way - which means missing the morning chat with his wife Anna and three sons.

Normally the 25-mile drive through the Vale of York takes Dave 40 minutes, getting him to the lab by 0900.

But without his Renault Laguna, he must leave the house at 0735.

It is, at least, a scenic stroll to the station, taking in vistas of the Yorkshire Vale through the morning mist.

Why Dave's bus journey is one of five billion made a year in the UK

Aboard the Arriva train, Dave gets a seat. But his 6ft 2in frame would be more comfortable behind the wheel of his car.

The journey is smooth and a telling moment comes as the train picks up speed under the York ring road, where the nose-to-tail traffic is moving sluggishly.

The wonderful sight of York Minster signals the end of Dave's rail trip, but he still has a bus journey to go. Thankfully, it drops him just a few feet from the front door of his university department.

Swapping public transport is a lot of extra effort for Dave, whose commuting time has doubled. And, at the end of the day, he must make the return journey. So has he been won over by this new route to work?

"No, it means about two extra hours away from home every day and doesn't fit in well with when I have to leave work," he says.

During university term-time the journey could be half-an-hour longer and driving is a quarter of the cost of public transport.

On the plus side, though, the walk-train-bus option was more "invigorating" than driving, says Dave.


HIGHLIGHTS AND LOW POINTS - STEVE'S DIARY:

Monday
First day. Get up at 0630, an hour earlier than usual, to catch the 0759 train. I normally have time for breakfast with my wife and three children and to help prepare them for school. But today I leave the house just as they are getting up, which puts extra pressure on Anna. I also miss not seeing them first thing.

The first day isn't too bad. However, my time away from home has been extended by two hours. There is no time to relax or play with the children. Anna looks worn out too. I make it to bed at about 0100 after all the chores have been done. So much for an early night!

BUS & RAIL v CAR: DAVE'S EXPERIENCE
Dave Hat at the station
Commute by car: 25 miles each way; 40 minutes average; cost 12/week
Commute by bus and train: 20 miles each way; 90 minutes average; cost 50/week in tickets, coffee and papers

Tuesday
Manage to get a seat on the train, just. Struggle to get my knees into the limited space and end up standing on the feet of the young woman on the opposite side of the table. I apologise profusely. The seats are not really designed for someone of my height - 6ft 2ins. It's an uncomfortable journey to York.

The connecting bus is packed, so it is standing room only for half of the journey. But a swift trip sees me arrive at work at 0850, 10 minutes ahead of schedule! But for the return trip, I sneak out five minutes early to make sure I don't miss the train.

Wednesday
A chilly but sunny morning, I make my way past the castle overlooking the gorge carved out by the River Nidd, which bisects Knaresborough. The views are stunning.

Plenty of seats on the train. Arrive in York five minutes ahead of schedule. I get back home at 1900. However, tonight is the weekly shopping night. I am beginning to feel more tired than I normally would.

Thursday
Another sunny day and another pleasant walk to the train station. A group of ill-mannered teenage lads barge past the queue and on to the train, much to the disdain of the rest of us. But nobody says anything.

Arrive in York on time but my bus is late. While waiting I notice the bus stop to York College is a seething mass of hormones and attitude taking on the appearance of a hornets' nest. College terms are starting and soon there will be an additional 10,000 residents in York, which will slow the bus down.

Car keys
Dave's car keys won't be staying on the mantelpiece
Friday
Arrive 15 minutes late in York, the guard explaining a delayed King's Cross-Harrogate train was to blame. The bus is also late and packed solid. A couple berate a woman with a suitcase. How dare she be on the bus with a suitcase at such a busy time? Unpleasant people. Perhaps they should offer to help rather than to humiliate?

Arrive at work 10 minutes late. My boss is back from his trip to Edinburgh and waiting in the foyer. A very poor start to the day. I'm glad this is the last day of the week.

The week is over, but I don't feel this is something I can sustain. The main drawbacks are the additional time I am away from home and the fact that the journey will become much more difficult and probably an hour or so longer once the students return to the city and once the weather becomes colder, wetter, and darker.


  • Could you give up your car for a week?
  • How would you get around without it?
  • What do you think of Dave's experience?

    Your comments:

    It sounds to me like the bus is the thing which is putting Dave off. Taking a leaf out of Steve Clarke's book, he could get himself a folding bike (Brompton are made in the UK, Dahon and the Giant Halfway are also popular and surprisingly cheap). These bikes typically fold up to an easily hand-portable package in as little as 15 seconds. Just the job!
    Guy Chapman, Reading, UK

    I think Dave's experience is a fairly typical one. Term time always means public transport is very congested and busy, making things very stressful. Also public transport delays and cancellations add more stress. The problem is you are not in control of your journey and are more likely to be late into work.
    Thurstan Johnston, Richmond, England

    Living in London, the Tube is the only option for me to get from my flat in Lancaster Gate to my workplace in Liverpool Street. On the plus side, they're fairly regular and the tube stops are close to my destinations. On the other hand, they're slow, unreliable, dirty, expensive, uncomfortable and overcrowded!
    Chris Pople, London

    His experiences are just to be expected. With parents nowadays both forced to work to maintain a decent living, there is no time left other than evenings for shopping, etc. badly run and maintained transport taking up valuable time, just isn't an option. It's little wonder children are growing up differently to 20 years ago, nobody has time to sit and talk in the mornings or evenings together as a family. Cars and personal transport are too much of a necessity and the government know this which is why they are continually targeted for money. Can't do without them and soon, can't afford to have them.
    Jonathan, UK

    I applaud Dave for giving it ago but from a woman's point of view. I wouldn't feel safe,particulary as the days are getting shorter and darker. I am all for reducing congestion but not at the cost of my safety.
    Nicola, Sandhurst

    Well done to Dave for sticking at it for a week, but I think this particular experiment was doomed to failure. If it is possible to do 25 miles in 40 minutes by car then there is no way that any form of public transport can be quicker, cheaper or more convenient. In a place like Bristol the situation is very different. At peak time, you'd be lucky to do 2.5 miles in 40 mins. It is in this sort of place that a well thought out and coherent public tracport policy should be a real winner. Except for the annoying fact that we don't have one! Which is why I personnally chose to cycle instead.
    Helen, Bristol

    Its all well and good advising people to use public transport more, but what about if that person, like me, is disabled. I have no choice but to use the car, but with tolls being introduced into some cities, how am I meant to get to and from work without it costing me a fortune? Public transport has to be improved dramatically for able bodied people, never mind the disabled.
    Tommy Atherton, Dalgety Bay, Scotland

    When my car was off the road I tried the public transport and had a similar experience to Dave. The journey takes twice as long and costs five times as much. At the end of the week I was shattered and broke.
    Bob Beer, Andover, Hampshire to Greenford, Middlesex

    I commute 25 miles each day by car, which takes about the same time, but it costs me a lot more than 12 per week as Dave says! More like 60-70 per week.
    Tim Bee, Herts

    "Quality of life" is often the call of the anti-car fascists who completely forget that drivers like Dave and me would have to spend an extra 2 hours a day commuting. That's 10 hours a working week, 500 hours a year. 500 Hours, that's over 20 days a year wasted sitting on cramped dirty inefficient public transport! It's not always possible to live next to your place of work, most drivers need their cars!
    Will Howell, Norwich UK

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