Monday, November 4, 2013

When public transport just works.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how pedestrianising the center of the Hague has made a tremendous difference to the place. This week I want to talk about abandoning cars in favour of public transport. If we go to the UK, we always rent a car. For most other countries we visit, my wife and I tend to rely on public transport and Holland is no different. We made sure we had one of their OV Chipkaarts each (like the Oyster card in the UK) and kept them topped up, and just used them on all forms of public transport. Tap on, tap off. Buses, trams, trains. Simple. The Dutch public transport network is so vast that it's actually difficult to find anywhere in the country that you can't get to whilst using it. So much so that I just expect it to work now. When we pick a tourist attraction to visit, or some friends to see, I expect to be able to get there using public transport. In Holland, there's a couple of smartphone apps (9292 and NS) that help plan routes and they're always accurate. The NS (national railways) app is brilliant because it keeps you up-to-date on timetable changes and delays. The trains typically run every 12 minutes. Trams every 6 to 7 and buses every 10 to 15 minutes.
In the UK by comparison, the roads are choked with cars, so buses are a waste of time. The trains run so infrequently that they're crowded, miserable hell-holes to be in, and there are no trams. London of course has the tube, which is fantastic if not a little expensive. But in the long run, I'd still opt for a car in England.
Hong Kong has a vast subway system, as does Singapore, making both those regions eminently accessible to anyone without a car too. France has a great subway system around Paris and the nationwide TGV high speed trains. Japan has the admittedly overcrowded subways and bullet trains. Spain has TGVs.
Back home in America? Car crazy, baby. Our nearest bus stop is only 2 minutes away - which is great - but the buses run every 30 minutes. ie. they're pointless. Then nearest tram is only two miles away by bus, but then you've got the 30 minute bus schedule to contend with and the trams only run every 15 minutes. There is a train, somewhere. I think. I hear it every now and then.
Would I give up my car for public transport? Over here in the US, no way. In France, maybe. In Holland probably. In the UK, not ever. Ideally I suspect the middle ground is less consumption and materialism. A family could likely get along with a single car and reliance on public transport in most European countries. In the US an the UK, two cars or more per family are almost a requirement. In the far east, bicycles, mopeds, buses and trains would seem to be more prevalent.
So next time you travel, think twice before booking that rental car - there might be a better option.