How good is Scotland's public transport? This week, we're testing the Scottish Executive's campaign to coax commuters out of their cars and onto buses and trains. We asked for volunteers to use the executive's "Choose Another Way" website and plan an alternative way of getting to and from work for a week.
I live in Edinburgh and I work for Falkirk Council so I generally have a 60-mile round trip every day. I try to take the train to work whenever I can but as we don't have any pool vehicles at work, if I have any meetings lined up I take the car in. This week I've got a lot of travelling to do in the days and evenings so I'll have to put a good bit of effort in.
Life's a dream on a train
Day One Not the average commute to work. Had to go to an all-day conference in Dunfermline. Bought a gorgeous, tiny new car yesterday - very difficult to walk past on the way out the door, but good weather helped.
0800 Left home - 30 minute walk to train station
0830 Train to Dunfermline, arrives 0915
0920 Coach to conference
0935 Arrive at venue
1630 Coach to train station
1640 Arrive at station
1715 Train arrives at Dunfermline
1755 Train arrives Edinburgh
1830 Arrive home after 30 minute walk
Advantages I didn't have to contend with the long queues for the Forth Road Bridge or work out where Dunfermline or the conference venue actually was. Probably worked out good value for money with a return train journey costing £6. Got to sleep all the way there and chatted with colleagues on the way home.
Disadvantages Great timing and connections on the way there but had half an hour to wait for a train on the way home - feeling cold and tired. Conference was off the beaten track and afternoon sessions weren't of great relevance to my job. If I'd had the car, I would have nipped over to my work but had to stay put. Had to give up on going to evening class as work journeys took longer than if I'd gone by car. Bus connections from home to class are very patchy and 20-minute journey takes 45 minutes on the bus. At the end of the day I was also more refreshed as I could switch off but I can't pack as much into a day as I usually do. Also felt fitter from walking instead of driving.
Walking: 60 mins
Bus: 30 mins
Train: 80 mins
Car: 0 mins
Day Two A disaster. Plan was to walk to train station (25 mins), get train (40 mins) and walk (25 mins) to work. Had to use car in the end. Part of my job involves encouraging people to compost and I had to dig a massive hole in my garden. The only way was to borrow a pickaxe and pinch bar from colleagues in Falkirk. Tried all kinds of possibilities like sending the tools home with colleagues but it all boiled down to me sitting on an LRT bus with a pickaxe and pinch bar that I can barely lift. I'm 5ft 4in so I would have looked a right eejit trying to cart them around.
Car journey took 45 minutes in both directions, about 30-mile journey each way. The AA has a journey cost calculator on their website that put the journey at just over £2. What a load of rubbish! Petrol works out far dearer than that and God knows what wear and tear on the car is.
Bus: 0 mins
Train: 0 mins
Car: 90 mins
Gave all sets of keys to neighbour (including the emergency one). Temptation is too much - not allowed them back until Saturday morning. Tried leaving hardly any petrol in it as deterrent.
Day Three Plan for the day was to get train from Edinburgh to work in Falkirk, then train it over to Glasgow to go rock-climbing in the evening. Usually do this by car as it's the only way I can get back to Edinburgh by bedtime. Knew I wouldn't get back to Edinburgh until really late if I used public transport so arranged to stay with friends in Glasgow.
0615 Get up
0700 30 mins walk to train station (bus 80p but £1.60 per day adds up so prefer to walk for exercise)
0735 Train to Falkirk - on time, sleep all the way
0810 Arrive in Falkirk, 25 minute walk to work, halo shining!
1652 Bus from work to Falkirk High Station on time - hurray! I'm a good walker but it's about two-and-a-half miles to that station with a big hill at the end. Costs £1.30
1720 Train to Glasgow arrives on time, sleep all the way
1800 Underground to Ibrox to go to climbing centre, costs 90p
1810 Arrive Ibrox, 10 minute walk to climbing centre
2130 Cheat and accept lift to friends' house because I'm not wandering around Ibrox in the dark to save the planet.
General Had to get single ticket to Glasgow, costing £8.60. Can't get an open return. When you look at the bus service from Edinburgh to Glasgow where you can get a day return for £5, this train service doesn't strike me as value for money. Whilst the train fares really mount up, I once tried getting the bus home one evening and it took more than two hours to go 30 miles. The bus seemed to stop at every hole in the hedge.
Checked out http://www.chooseanotherway.com. This can flag up the main transport companies in your area of choice but doesn't tell you which ones are relevant to you. Traveline was much more useful, telling you which company and bus number to get, times etc, but it doesn't give you the prices so it's difficult to make a direct comparison.
Tried the First Direct bus website to get information on timetables and fares and it was pretty poor. If you know the answers to your questions before you go on the website you should be able to use it. If you're not already quite familiar, you can't carry out any searches and it's very, very frustrating. Gave up on that one.
Walking: 65 mins
Bus: 25 mins
Train: 60 mins
Tube: 10 mins
Car: 0 mins
Journey from work in Falkirk to Ibrox was definitely quicker than I could have done by car and I got to sleep for a good bit of it. No doubt that it worked out cheaper than the car too, considering petrol and wear and tear. Public transport involves more waiting about and much, much more planning - bringing a change of clothes into work after a long walk in or a drenching.
Day Four Have to get into work for 0800 to prepare for meetings. Had to be pretty organised and bring today's clothes to work with me yesterday on top of my sports gear. You wind up carrying a lot of stuff about with you on public transport that you'd generally put in the boot of the car. Most weeks I travel to Glasgow one evening for shinty practice but not this week, thank goodness. I'd felt ridiculous carting my gear to work and through meetings.
0625 Leave friends' house in Glasgow
0630 Bus into city centre, 97p
0706 Train to Falkirk Grahamston, sleep all the way
0740 Arrive Falkirk, 25 minute walk to work
0805 Arrive at work sweaty and bedraggled
1600 Leave work on foot, 25 minute walk to station. Wet
1625 Train arrives, 35 minute journey to Edinburgh. Slept and dried out
1700 Train arrives in Edinburgh, 25 minute walk home. Wet
1830 Home - hurray! Gorgeous wee car outside front door. Hardly used and I've had it a week!
1830 Five minute walk to get bus to evening class. Bus quite prompt, 30 minute journey.
2115 Half hour bus journey back from evening class, home 2145. Car looks absolutely beautiful and cosy and tiny and must be terribly energy efficient.
General Have to admit that today's journeys would have all been longer by car, more expensive and I couldn't have slept. The bus journey to the night class meant that I could leave for it later as I didn't have to trawl about looking for a parking place. Now that I've found out the bus connections, I'll keep using the bus for that and for the other evening class on a Tuesday. Again, no parking or traffic hassles.
Walking: 65 mins
Bus: 25 mins
Train: 60 mins
Tube: 10 mins
Car: 0 mins
Day Five Last day. Today's an awkward one as I've got a long-standing medical appointment at 0910 here in Edinburgh and I'm meant to start work by 1000 at the latest in Falkirk. If I was using the car, I could get there by 1015. That's not going to happen today but I've warned by boss and he was fine. On the positive side, I can go out for a beer with my colleague after work and get the train home.
0850 Leave house for medical appointment, 15 minute walk
Walking: 45 mins
Bus: 40 mins
Train: 65 mins
0920 Five minute wait for bus to train station, 10 minute journey
0945 Caught Glasgow train to go to Falkirk High. Managed to get the one that stops at every hole in the hedge but had a 30 minute sleep on the way
1015 Arrived Falkirk, five minute walk to bus stop and had just missed my connection. 20 minute wait
1040 Bus to work, three mile walk is too far
1110 Arrived at work. Took 1hr 50mins where car would have taken 45
1700 25 minute walk from work to train station, so tempting to scrounge a lift but I'd come this far so no
1725 Train arrives promptly then does that "sitting about doing nothing" stunt that they do - twice - just to keep you from getting home on a Friday afternoon
1810 Back in Edinburgh. 25 minute walk home. Gorgeous, neglected car still there looking at me. Get keys back in the morning. Hitting the pub later on foot so that's me done. Hurray!
Verdict Doing this for a week in October isn't that bad. In the summer you can get quite manky on the way to and from work and external meetings. I've had to chuck clothes out.
It'll be interesting to carry out the same survey in the colder months like February (not volunteering). It's much harder not to slip into your wee temperature controlled car when it's lashing outside and will do all day.
Another big factor in the winter is the ice on paths. In Edinburgh, they don't salt the footpaths so you can't walk up my street or Leith Walk without sweating blood trying to stay vertical. You wind up having to walk on the roads and I've taken the car because it's safer than the Edinburgh paths.
All in all it's been very interesting. I'd like to take some of the lessons that I learned this week on, so I hope to aim to take public transport to work at least three days per week and possibly more if my employers can come up with some alternative to using my own car for site visits and meetings.
Out of work I'll definitely be taking the bus more. I had to make the effort to find out about more of the buses in my area so I can actually get to evening classes quicker that way. I also learned that it's not impossible to get to places in Glasgow without taking the car.
I believe there's a vacancy for the patron saint of public transport although St Christopher has got the main job covered - my application is in the post!