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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Rain, sawdust and buses don't mix
The final part 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 Jacqueline Stewart

I'm a single mum to Joshua, 10, and I'm lucky enough to work and live in the same town, Arbroath. I work four days a week as a web designer for the local community college, Angus College, which is about 1.5 miles away from my home.

At the bus stop
Joshua and I keep a close eye out for an approaching bus
Arbroath isn't blighted with the congestion problems of large towns and cities so my journey to work normally takes about 10 minutes in the car. Joshua goes to school outwith our local catchment area so I usually drop him off about five minutes' walk from school then I continue on to my work, which is further up the same road. However, this is the schools' autumn break so he's being looked after by my parents.

I've often thought about dumping the car and taking public transport and/or walking to see if it was both more cost-effective and beneficial for our health. In preparation for this week, I used the Traveline Scotland website to get the bus times, as my local bus company, Strathtay Scottish, doesn't have any timetable information on its website.

Day One I'm up at 0730, about half an hour earlier than normal when I'm taking the car. First thing I do is turn on the TV to check the weather forecast which I never do - who needs it when they're cosy inside their car? Rain and gales predicted, which don't fill me with hope for an easy week.

0825 Leave the house and hot-foot it to the bus stop at the end of the road, where I discover I've left my umbrella in the house. Thankfully it's quite bright this morning. The bus stops at a previous stop at 0826. No-one is in sight either at this stop or the one further up the road, which is a little worrying. I panic, thinking we've missed the bus.
0830 I spot people at the stop ahead of us waiting and breathe a sigh of relief. Still no sign of the bus though.
0832 Bus finally turns up. As I've no idea how much it costs, I ask how much a ticket to Keptie Pond will be. It's 70p for me and 50p for Joshua. I think the last time I was on a bus an adult fare was 55p. I try to pay using a 2 coin but the driver has no change. Thankfully after rooting around in my purse, I have the correct change.
0840 I'm slightly worried as we're still up at Horologe Hill and nowhere near my work. I start at 0845 however, this time is slightly flexible.
0845 The bus arrives at the bus station - a conductor gets on.
0850 We arrive at our stop at Keptie Pond. I say goodbye to Joshua and he continues his journey on foot to my parents' house about 10 minutes walk up the road. I start the short walk to work.
0855 Get into my office, 10 minutes late. Not a good start to the week.

1700 Look out the window, sky is very grey and it looks like rain. Not relishing the 10 minute walk up to my parents to collect Joshua.
1705 Make my way out, as it starts to spit. Turn down the kind offer of a lift from a colleague (if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it right) and start walking with another colleague up Keptie Road.
1712 The heavens open.
1720 Arrive soaking wet at my parents' house.
1755 Joshua and I leave my parents' house (after I spend half an hour drying my jeans in the tumble dryer).
1803 Arrive at bus stop in Cairnie Road. Bus due at 1811.
1811 Two buses pass. Neither is ours.
1815 Number 45 finally makes an appearance.
1833 Arrive at Cliffburn Road bus stop and we start walking home.
1835 Finally in house. It's taken an hour-and-a-half to get home tonight and we're hungry. Not impressed with the first day of using public transport and seriously considering giving up and taking the car tomorrow.

Day Two Leave the house at 0822 and walk to the bus stop before the one we waited at yesterday - the distance is the same. I'm well prepared today - I have my umbrella.

View from bus
We enjoyed the views from the bus
0824 Arrive at the stop opposite the Cliffburn Hotel
0825 Two other women arrive to get on the bus too - one strikes up a brief conversation with me. I don't usually get that in the car (unless you count Joshua).
0826 Bus arrives on time.
0840 Arrive at main bus station. Making better time today. It could be because there's a conductor on board who is taking fares, freeing up the driver's time.
0846 Leave bus station and head towards Keptie Road.
0850 Get off at Keptie Pond again. I walk down to work whilst Joshua heads up to my parents' house
0855 Arrive at the office. 10 minutes late again.
1700 Leave work - Joshua is waiting for me outside.
1705 Arrive at bus stop. However, since the bus is not due until 1717, we decide to keep warm by walking down to the bus station.
1713 Arrive at bus station. Check timetable to see which bus we need - it's number 73.
1715 Number 73 arrives at station. I'm surprised it's early. We hop on and go upstairs.
1719 Shock starts to set in as I realise we're on the wrong bus. It's turned in the opposite direction of where we should be going.
1720 After explaining to the conductor that we're on the wrong bus (the 73A to Dundee), we get off at the train station and walk quickly back to the bus station.
1721 Our bus, the "proper" 73, passes us as we head down the road. We decide to catch it at Lordburn, the next stop after the bus station.
1723 Our bus arrives - hooray!
1727 No further troubles. We get off at the Cliffburn Hotel and start walking towards our house.
1730 Arrive home.

Day Three This is my day off and as the remit was only for the commute to work, I rejoice in taking the car two miles to the nearest DIY store (on the outer edge of the other side of town). We have to stock up on sawdust for our guinea pigs and I usually get the ultra-massive size to save me buying it so often. Joshua and I can barely lift it between us so imagining how we'd get it home on the bus doesn't bear thinking about.

Day Four I wake at 0750. Late! Leave the house and walk quickly to the bus stop at the end of our street.

View of parking area
Parking spaces at my work are very hard to come by

0827 Reach the end of the road in time to see our bus drive past.
0828 Stop cursing inwardly and decide to try to head the bus off at Horologe Hill as it still has to circle round some of Cliffburn and Hayshead areas of Arbroath. We part run/jog/walk up St Ninians Road and along Seaton Road then up the short distance to the bus stop in Horologe Hill.
0833 Arrive at the stop as the bus arrives. Phew!
0840 Get to the bus station where the bus sits for six minutes which gives me time to compose myself.
0848 Alight at Keptie Pond and I say goodbye to Joshua as he continues to my parents' house. Arrange to meet him at 1650 outside my work today in the hope that we can catch the 1656 bus and get home slightly earlier.
0853 Arrive in the office - only eight minutes late today.
1650 Meet Joshua outside work
1656 Reach the bus stop. No buses have passed us on the way down and there's no sign of the number 45. There's no timetable information attached to the stop so I can't even see if there was supposed to be a 1656 bus at all!
1703 Still no sign. Joshua walks up the street to look round the corner and while there, another bus is coming down the other street in our direction. Shout for him to get back but I needn't have bother. The bus isn't ours and is heading in a different direction.
1707 Joshua's fed up so I suggest walking down to the next stop at the train station to use up some time.
1709 Arrive at the bus stop as it's the one with a shelter and seats (or rather a flat rail). The timetable confirms a number 73 is due at 1717.
1717 The bus arrives, on time too. This is a double-decker so we head upstairs and wait for the conductor to collect our money.
1726 Arrive at the Cliffburn Road stop on time. The conductor still hasn't taken our money so I ask him before we get off it he wants it. He's deep in conversation with the bus driver about changing the numbers/destinations on the front of the bus so mumbles that it's all right and waves me off. I've travelled for free tonight which sort of makes up for the lack of the earlier bus.
1729 Arrive home.

Day Five To make up for yesterday's fiasco with missing the bus, I make sure we leave the house early this morning, just in case.


0823 Arrive at the bus stop. No-one else here. Joshua spots a robin fighting with another bird in the garden next to the bus stop. We wouldn't see things like that in the car.
0826 Bus arrives on time.
0840 An uneventful journey so far - everything's going smoothly as we arrive at the bus station.
0848 Bus arrives at Keptie Pond. Joshua and I say our goodbyes. I arrange to meet him at 1630 as my work closes earlier on a Friday during the holidays.
0853 Arrive in the office.
1630 Walk with Joshua the short distance to the Keptie Street bus stop.
1632 Arrive at the stop and Joshua starts badgering me to walk to the next stop. However, after Tuesday's fiasco with the bus passing by us as we walked down, I insist that we stay put.
1638 Bus arrives on time. Joshua's disappointed because it's only a single decker, not a double-decker.
1646 Arrive at Cliffburn Road and start walking.
1649 In the house. No problems today and it's all run like clockwork. A nice, straightforward end to the week's experiment.

Verdict The journeys to work and back have taken on average 15 minutes longer each way (when things went to plan). This week, taking into account my saved fare on Thursday, I've spent 8.40. It should have been 9.60. Had I purchased a weekly ticket, the cost should have been less.

My petrol costs for running my Peugeot 106 1.4 on a typical week are less than 5. However, if you add in my costs of keeping the car on the road; 105 for road tax, 200 for insurance and 150 approx in maintenance a year, this works out at an extra 8.75 per week, which means I would be cheaper getting the bus.

On the whole, the convenience, the reliability and quickness of the car outweighs the benefit of money I could save by either walking or getting the bus.
This has not been a typical work week as Joshua has been off school for the holidays. On a normal week, I collect him from my parents' house on a Monday or Tuesday. On Thursdays and Friday's, he goes to an after-school club, which is based in his school, so I would have to collect him from there (about 10 minutes walk from my work).

It would be hit or miss on the days he goes to the after-school club whether or not we could catch the 1720 from the bus station, about six minutes walk along the road . If not, we would have option of either waiting for the next bus at 1740 or walking up the road (about 20 minutes).

It's certainly been an eye-opening experiment. I've learnt that I have to be organised in order to make public transport work. Apart from Monday (when I got soaked), I've enjoyed the walk to and from the bus stops. On the whole, it's been pretty good week for weather, but if I had to walk then wait in the freezing cold and/or rain every day of the week, then I think I would very quickly lose the will to take public transport.

Upstairs 'novelty'

Apart from one occasion when the bus didn't turn up, the buses are fairly reliable, clean and cost-effective and Joshua has enjoyed the novelty of being upstairs on a double-decker and seeing things he wouldn't normally see in the car.

It's also been a bonus not having to fight for a parking space at work. Because of construction work on Angus College's new Community Access and Learning Centre, and other building works, spaces in the car park and on Keptie Road, where I normally park, are at a premium.

Additionally, I've found that I've taken more exercise at lunchtimes too. Normally, on my 45 minute lunch break, I nip home in the car to do a little bit of housework.

However, as it would take too long to walk there and back, I've spent my lunch breaks walking down to the local shops to buy a roll which definitely made me more refreshed for the afternoon. I'll definitely do more walking in future, during my lunch breaks.

Lack of information

My main bugbear from this week, is the lack of timetable information. Not all the stops have timetables, so for public transport novices like myself, unless we looked up the Traveline Scotland website in advance, we would have no idea of when the bus was due, or even if it was the right bus for us.

On the whole, the convenience, the reliability and quickness of the car outweighs the benefit of money I could save by either walking or getting the bus. Although I could probably live with commuting purely by public transport or by walking, other lifestyle factors, such as getting the shopping and visiting friends and family would be made more time-consuming and difficult.

Having my car gives me more choices - it influences where I choose live, where I can work, where I send my son to school, where I can shop and much more etc. Therefore, I can't see me giving up my car any time soon.




SEE ALSO:
Bus travel fails to impress
21 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Taking the train - and the strain
22 Oct 03  |  Scotland


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