Why I’m ditching the wheels

Hi folks. It seems like months since we last spoke – mainly because it has been months! I completed the bike ride, went to the fringe, spent time unemployed, got a job, moved in to a new house with Lizzie, ran a talent show and fell in love with the West Wing.

But today, I’d like to talk about something a bit more serious and experimental.

Let’s start off with some background facts on me to provide some perspective on this blog post. I like cars. A lot. I’ve been involved in cars – modern and vintage – since before I could walk. I own a 1928 Austin 7, have driven about 100,000 miles in my life, have competed and marshalled in classic car trials and I still guiltily watch Top Gear despite all of its blatant faults. I can change wheels, clean carburettors, replace steering arm cotter pins, grease nipples, and cleanly shift gears without a synchromesh. I even wrote my undergraduate dissertation on motorways!

I like cars. Got it?


I’m getting rid of my car.

I live in beautiful Ilkley, which benefits from excellent rail links to Leeds and Bradford. In fact, when me and Lizzie were looking at places to live one of the factors that influenced where we looked at houses was the railway line. Commuting by car into a major city is stressful, necessitates finding a parking space, and forces one to join the rat run of one person one tonne tin cans turning a limited supply of dead dinosaurs into air borne poisons. Really, when you step back, commuting by car is a fairly pointless activity. I mean, if you were going to devise a system of transporting people from a to b would you really create thousands of power sources that necessitate the need for everyone to concentrate constantly, exposing thousands of lives to the ever present threat of human error?

Safety wise, the statistics are clear. For example, in 2012 1754 people died in car crashes. 0 train passengers died. There is literally no analysis I can add to these numbers that will increase their impact.

The economics are fairly clear for me too. I can get a weekly ticket to leeds for £27. That’s the amount it would cost me in diesel alone, before we even think about looking at insurance (£400), servicing (£130, plus parts and labour which can be £100s more), tyres (£300 a year if I do high mileage), other costs (car cleaning liquids, de-icer, lightbulbs, oil, parking costs etc). I’m also very lucky to have inherited my two cars – but if you look at the bizarre economics of depreciation it can take the total cost up to a pound a mile. That means that in real terms the cost of my weekly commute by train is the same as my daily commute would be by car.

And did I mention the environment? Every few years lots of energy and power is used to transport bits of car all over the world before it gets to ones’ front door, whence it then emits pollution for many years before being broken down and hopefully recycled. During its working life it will normally transport 1 or 2 people alongside lots of other little boxes, all using lots of energy to propel over a tonne of metal over resistant roads and through resistant air. Trains last for 20 years or more and carry hundreds of people at a time. They are also used all day long, fully utilising the energy and materials taken to construct them rather than spending 22 hours a day keeping a small patch of Tarmac.

Now, there are problems. I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about this and there seem to be three main ones.
1) long distance travelling between areas that are poorly connected by train or to areas that don’t have a station
2) medium range travel along the same lines (e.g. To my mum in Wetherby, which takes 45 minutes by car or an hour and a half by public transport).
3) carrying things – be it 6 pallets to make a bed or a few bags of shopping.

These are all issues, and they will make life a bit harder, no doubt. We’ll have to plan in advance to get the best fairs and to plan alternative travel (coaches, busses, taxis, or even renting). We’ll probably buy or make a shopping trolly for walking into town and going to the supermarkets. Ultimately, our freedom will be slightly limited. We won’t be able to just up and go. Travelling will take longer, for sure.

But for now, that doesn’t seem to matter. Because time on public transport is time well spent. There is a simple pleasure to be gained from revelling in the passage of time. Because I’m not driving I can read, write blogs, check my emails, or just stare aimlessly out of the window. I can think. I can breathe. I may spend more time travelling, but that time will be mine, free from the myopic assertion that four wheels are the only way to go. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.

Crash statistics- railway https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/259675/rai0502.xls road http://www.rospa.com/faqs/detail.aspx?faq=296

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