Friday, October 27, 2006

The many T's of transport

T stands for :
terrific service
time delay
terrible service
time tables

It does not however spell FRUSTRATION!!!!!!!
How did it go.. I hear you ask. On the whole not bad, not bad at all, just a few glitches which overshadowed the voyage. Here’s the lowdown.

The first leg was the trip to the station. Ok we cheated here and got ourselves to be driven to the station ( but we shared transport). The train to London was on time but overfull so standing room only at 10.30 am and an apology over the tannoid that the printer in Penzance had broken down and so no reserved tickets had been printed. ( Ok, maybe but lame nevertheless!). Luggage stacked the walkways, children sat on laps and many of us just stood in the corridor. A miserable way to start.
In London, we managed to get a taxi straight away and that was a very enjoyable, however expensive way to travel. Time was good, service was good.
The Eurostar connection was brilliant however, no room to wait for the train ( there are about 100 seats and probably 500 on the get the picture). The waiting area was dirty and poorly serviced with bits of people’s lunch scattered in the tables. Not a pleasure to wait. The train was on time and departed on time, was clean, comfortable and arrived in Brussels on time.
The Belgian railway system was great, clear instructions as to which platform your train is departing from and an architectural outline that means that each platform has its own escalator and set of stairs with a central corridor running through. The train arrived when it said, there was plenty of room, room to hang your coat on and store your luggage. You did not feel like sardines in a box let alone standing room. An extra bonus is that to get out of the train you just press a button to open the door ( makes sense) compared with the British train which requires you to roll down the window put your hand on the outside, find the handle and then open the door that way.
The transport system in Gent was pretty unproblematic. You buy a travel card which you punch each time you enter and the cost of each journey is very small. To make the tram or bus stop you press a stop button and they stop at the next available stopping point. Every stop has a timetable telling exactly when the tram or bus will arrive and all in all it does arrive on time. Its clean, reliable, safe. cheap and comes with clear instructions.
The return journey was startling as we started out in a clean lounge for the Eurostar where if I had wanted to, I could have eaten off the floor ( the marble floors shone). There were many waiting areas with comfy clean seats, a TV set to look at what the UK had to offer and some cafes you could buy a drink. The coaches of the Eurostar are numbered so you know exactly where you need to go and each carriage has a guide to help you in. I liked it.
In London taxi trip reversed worked very well. At the train station, I looked at the timetable and found we had 10 mins to the next train. Then we were told our ticket did not allow us to go on that train and we needed to go and stand in line and go and ask. It required us to exchange our ticket, pay a supplement to take an earlier train. We eventually took our place in the family coach, and the luggage slotted neatly in place. So far so good. Then on the way, every time the train had to stop, it smelt of burnt plastic in the cab, ( maybe it was the brakes), and when you wanted to use the toilet, you needed to walk 3 carriages further as all of them in between were out of order.

Comparing it with flying, this way of travelling costed me more, it lasted longer and provided some greater stressy periods and I have to say that if I were not that committed to reducing my ecoprint and carbon emissions into the atmosphere I would not have bothered. To be honest, unless the Uk get their public transport in better shape, safer, cleaner and more reliable, travelling by public transport is going to be an interesting nightmare. I might be saving the earth but not my sanity.
On the other hand, I could just stay at home, come to think of it, that might be the best option after all.

Seriously, if you want to save money, public transport in the Uk is going to be a no no and if I as a committed downshifter am feeling it as a bind,then most people who do not even take the eco argument to heart are simply going to continue to do as they always do, drive, fly and...I cannot say I blame them. Dealing with the transport question in the UK is going to be the hardest nut to crack for us and for politicians.

It was very TRYING with a capital T

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