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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Bus travel fails to impress
Part two of our test of 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.

By Julia Wanless

I work as a research assistant at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, but live about 27 miles away in the Borders down of Lauder. I normally commute by car but am trying the bus this week. However, it just wasn't possible a couple of times.

Julia Wanless
Waiting for the bus home - will I get a window seat?

Day One Not a good start to the week. Taking the bus means getting up an hour earlier and getting to work half an hour earlier than normal. But at 0720, as I'm rushing around trying to get ready, the bus drives past.

0735 Find my alarm stashed under the pillow where I'd put it when it went off. Now what? According to my timetable, the next bus leaves at 0910. No bus at 0800 so no chance of getting to work before 1000. Have leisurely breakfast
0815 End up catching a lift with my partner. Luckily he's not working today and we head up the A68. Listen to radio on the way, traffic report doesn't mention any jams en route
0900 Arrive at work at the usual time
1655 On a normal day I would walk 15 minutes to my car hoping a) it hasn't been stolen and b) if it is still there, that it hasn't been vandalised. Have already had wing mirror ripped off and temperature sensor with it so now the display just flashes "error" at me all the time. Usually pass at least one car with a window smashed in. But not today! Run to bus stop
1710 Bus is late... not that I would know anyway as the bus stop doesn't have the times printed anywhere
1725 Here it comes. It's a minibus. There are no window seats left. Try to walk to the end of the bus but the driver seems insistent of making me fall over. End up stumbling into a small seat next to someone who is desperately trying to have a conversation with the person in front.
1735 It's going to be a long journey. Sheriffhall roundabout is at a standstill. I suggest that one or other of the conversationalists change seats and sit next to each other. They do and I get my window seat. Bliss.
1745 Still another 45 minutes to go and the air-conditioning is switched on. Nice. My vent is broken and there is no way of diverting the blast of air coming down on my head. Wrap my jacket round me and pray we'll be home soon.
1838 Feeling grumpy and queasy I make my way to the front of the bus, again trying not to fall over. Get off at the stop at my front door. Thank heaven for small blessings.

Day Two Alarm goes off at 0625 and I hit snooze. Twice. A third time. Normally it doesn't go off until 0715. At 0705, I only have 10 minutes left to get ready and run outside. No chance of breakfast

0720 Run out of house, wondering whether I've given myself enough time to catch the bus. It might have come early. Worrying that the driver won't have change of a 20 note.
0725 Still the only person at the stop
0726 Freezing. Other people have arrived, so has bus. On time, so it should arrive at my destination by 0825
0727 No window seats left, have to sit at the back. No slouching space so I can't sleep. No radio, so no music. One hour of winding country roads to look forward to and the bus is cold
Summerhall, Royal (Dick) Vet School
Where I work - and I've never been so glad to see it!

0830 Run off the bus and straight into a coffee shop for a warm-up
1745 My partner has appeared to take me shopping for some DIY stuff and a cooker for our new house. Sorry, no chance of public transport for this. End up going to B&Q at Fort Kinnaird and filling the car with tongue and groove. How would I get that home on the bus?
1845 Drive to Straiton for a cooker as it is the only place in Edinburgh that has the one we want. Don't even want to imagine how I would do this on public transport - neither does the online journey planner
1930 Shopping complete, we head home. No way of getting from Straiton to Lauder at this time of night. The journey planner reliably informs me I could leave Straiton at 1700 and arrive home after 2100 - with two changes. No thanks

Day Three I manage to be up at 0610!. Obviously going to bed at 2100 the night before is the only way to achieve this. I have to raid the piggy-bank for some money though and leave the house at 0715 with a pocket full of change.


0725 Where's my bus?
0730 Can't grumble about five minutes. Not too cold this morning and there are even some window seats
0750 No traffic so we're flying... as fast as the bus can go
0828 Stumble to front of bus and bound off, walk three minutes to work
1645 Good thing I looked at the clock. Have just remembered I've got to take the bus. If I don't catch the 1710 I'll have to wait another hour. Rush to finish work
1700 Leave work and walk three minutes to bus stop
1710 Bus is late
1720 Here it comes, quite full (mostly pensioners) and quite hot
1735 Traffic jam at Sheriffhall roundabout. I usually avoid this route when I have the car
1815 Bus very underpowered. Manage to climb Soutra Hill in first gear, just
1832 Arrive home. Glad to be off the bus

Day Four This morning's different because I have to be in for the gasman coming and will miss the 0910 bus. Half an hour later, still no gasman and I'll miss the 0950 bus.


1110 Walk to bus stop
1115 Bus is late
1120 Bus arrives with only a few pensioners on board. I get a window seat
1219 Arrive at work. Journey seems to take the same amount of time as during the rush-hour
1715 Have to run for bus. Hoping I haven't missed the 1710. If so, I'll have to wait another hour. If I miss that, I can't get another one until after 2100
1745 Bus arrives more than 30 minutes late. Today, that's a good thing, except I have to sit next to someone reeking of alcohol and constantly smacking his lips. Bus is stifling and packed
1840 Alight at the stop before mine so I can walk in the cool air to prevent being sick

Day Five The last day and I'm up at 0530! I'm starting to become accustomed to these early starts. I potter around the house, taking things easy.


0717 Where does the time go? Gather up my things and head out of the house
0725 Bus arrives bang on time but the driver doesn't have enough change
0830 Fairly uneventful trip, but it didn't seem so bad. Driver hands over the rest of my change as I get off
0833 Arrive at work

Verdict Five day return trips from Lauder to Edinburgh on the bus cost me 32, the same amount I spend on diesel every week.

On the bus, it takes just over an hour to get to work and to get home. In my car, it takes about 45 minutes. When I drive, I am not restricted to a timetable and don't have to wait outside in the cold for the bus to turn up. I can even get my weekly shopping done on the way home (there is no large supermarket or retail park in Lauder).

When I take my car, I can control the temperature in it , always get a window seat and don't have to sit next to anyone if I don't want to. On the bus, I often felt queasy, uncomfortable and squashed into the person next to me or into the seat back in front.

London congestion charge sign
Tolls? Beter public transport first please
Taking the bus meant getting up an hour earlier and getting to work half an hour earlier than normal. Neither of these things is bad. I didn't have to worry about finding a free parking space or about leaving my car in an unsupervised area. I'm on the waiting list for a car permit at work but have been for the past year.

If buses in my area were cheaper, more frequent, faster and more comfortable, I would definitely use them as an alternative to my car. However, this is not the case. It costs the same as driving my car in every day, is not enjoyable and I am restricted to a timetable that is not ideal.

The day Edinburgh implements its new city toll scheme I can only hope they have put the necessary resources into ensuring that the public transport system is much more updated and more user friendly, especially for those of us who commute from outlying areas and need our cars for any quality of life.




SEE ALSO:
Rain, sawdust and buses don't mix
23 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Taking the train - and the strain
22 Oct 03  |  Scotland


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