Home Page Change is at hand, but is it the right amount? 24/12/09

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

After nearly a week of slithering around on the white stuff, one might be forgiven for thinking we have suddenly been transported to eastern Europe or Alaska. The curious thing is how quickly we forget what was once familiar.

These sorts of winters were not uncommon when I was young - or so it seems. But then summers were long, sunny and full of runs made by English cricketers in that long ago, and probably mythical, era.

Nevertheless, I do remember 1963 when the frost and snow lasted from Boxing Day until March, and one or two other less extraordinary, but still dramatic, snowy periods. I donít remember many before Christmas, and still fewer when there was snow on the ground on the day itself. Itís getting close now and, unless the current party-pooping thaw is of historic proportions, there should still be some left, at least, tomorrow.

As far as betting goes, there has to be at least a flake or two fall from the sky onto the Met Office to count but, for me, snow on the ground makes it that famous subject of dreams, a White Christmas.

There is no doubt that it looks very appropriate and seasonal, despite the disruption to travellers - which brings me onto the subject of this weekís rant. I encountered a minor disruption the other day, which resulted in my needing to use a local bus for the first time in a while.

There is something faintly heroic about buses in bad weather, struggling through and leaving their passengers with a massively enhanced tale of personal valour to tell in the pub or round the dinner table.

This one was 20 minutes late, which was quite understandable. Less so was my experience once I stepped on board.

We determined motorists are cocooned from the real world of public transport, and it is only when necessity forces this brush with reality that we get a glimpse of why it is that we stick so obsessively to our cars in the face of all green persuasion.

I took out my fiver to pay the fare and was informed I had to have the right money as they no longer give change. There was a momentary silence as I attempted to get my head around this seismic shift in bus behaviour.

As it happened, when I had recovered myself enough to rifle my pockets for my odd bits of loose change, I was able to make up the sum in coins down to 5ps, and slip it into the slot provided, as one would at a motorway toll station. But what if I had not?

No one told me this was going to be happening on buses. No one wrote to inform me the exact fare required on every bus journey in the region Ė perhaps in Britain - so that I could be prepared for an emergency bus journey at all times.

I have got used to carrying change for car parks, but the more expensive ones now have machines that give you change, so you donít have to carry £4.65 in exact money just in case.

But buses? I suppose when we go for a long walk on holiday now, we shall have to weigh ourselves down with every combination of coinage to ensure we can catch a bus back if we get tired halfway round.

Anyway, ticket purchased, I headed for one of the multitude of empty seats. Here was another surprise. Instead of the comfy, sprung material seats of yore, we now have hard preformed perches, barely relieved by some cold, thin, plastic cushioning. So now I must always bring something to sit on, in case I need to catch a bus.

I can see where the bus companies are coming from. Accessible money on buses invites criminals. Comfy fabric seating gets slashed or vomited on. These things are costly, involving staff in unpleasant cleaning and the possibility of personal danger.

But whatever happened to sustainability? The word features large in all planning decisions now, in all building regulations, in almost every area of service provision.

We are supposed to be getting people out of their cars and onto public transport, for goodness sake, not subjecting them to the inconvenient and austere experience which I suffered. Am I likely to choose to use a bus again? No. I will remain a user only in the direst emergency, and even then I shall first have to go and buy something I donít want, just to make sure I have a wide variety of cash about me.

Investment in public transport has to be such that a journey becomes a pleasant experience, and one to be repeated. Bus companies need to take a leaf out the cinemasí book, when it comes to seating and ease of purchase, before anyone who isnít forced to will take them seriously.

Have a happy and peaceful Christmas.


David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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