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27 May 2019 - 8 minute read
I've had 13 hours of driving lessons so far. I had 5 in a manual (Renault Clio) last year with one instructor that I didn't get on so well with, and the most recent 8 with a new instructor more recently in a fully electric car (Nissan Leaf). This post isn't going to be entirely about my driving lessons, as I want to write about transport in general and why I find it so utterly terrible.
To start, we'll enumerate all the forms of travel I might use to get around. Walking and cycling are the obvious start, then driving once I have a licence, then there's public transport in taxis, buses, and trains. I have some fairly serious problems with every one of these options, but I'm learning to drive for a reason which I'll get to by process of elimination.
So, the first few to knock off the list are walking and cycling. Both brilliant if you're within a mile or two of your destination; terrible otherwise. They're very short-range for my unfit self, and I'm not motivated to get good with either to use as a form of transport because the issues go even further. Warm weather and sunshine? Sure, walking is great. The other 364 days of the year in England though, it's either cold, windy, raining, or a combination of the three. This ends up making walking/cycling the two most unreliable options - and I've been caught in the rain faaaarr too many times to want to continue with it.
The next thought is to go with public transport. Go to a train station, get a train to near where I want to be, then walk/bus the last bit. This solves the range issue as now you can go almost anywhere, but introduces more problems. Both where I live and where I work, the bus timetable doesn't line up with the train timetable at all. The sheer amount of waiting for each would make my trip times ridiculous. Even worse, there isn't even a bus route that goes from anywhere near my house to the train station, because my nearest train station doesn't actually go to where I need to go, so I need to go to a further one, and for the last 9-odd months I've been getting a lift there and back every day. It means the mere act of starting a journey is a pain. And this all doesn't even cover how horrible it is once I actually get on the train. Always too crowded, and I honestly don't know how humans can be so incompetent when it comes to train doors. Here's an anecdote:
So, I'm on my way home and the train's just arrived for me to board. The train - obviously - is packed and there are a couple of people standing in the vestibule (I love that word). I step on, quickly check down both ends of the train to see if there's a seat, there isn't, and I move to the far side by the opposite doors by the other two people as there's plenty of room for one me-sized person. There are 4 other people trying to get on. There's an old couple, the man of which has the most obnoxiously huge suitcase I have ever seen - like you could fit 3 small children in there. The woman wanders down the carriage and finds a seat, but this guy decides there's no room and stands in the doorway into the seating area. Next, another woman that was, dare I say, "sizeable". Not huge, but took up some space. She moves over and blocks the gap at the other side, so then the last guy getting on has no choice but to stand right by the doors.
So we're all stood a bit cramped in this small space and we finally get to the first stop. The two people that got on before us wanted to get off here and so pick up their bags ready to move. The idiot with the suitcase has a conflicting idea. He's blocking the way out for the people in the seating area, so rather than get off the train and wait outside so everyone can get off, he reverses into the 3 of us at the back so we literally cannot move at all. Girl that needed to get off here starts looking genuinely panicked that this fool would just block her in and she wouldn't be able to get off. I try and set an example and try to get off but oh wouldn't you know it? the large woman has done roughly the same thing and I can't get out, so you have 3 people squashed at the back that want to get off, 2 absolute idiots blocking us in, and then crowds of people gradually leaving the train by desperately squeezing past these two idiots. I'm not really tall, but was just tall enough to loom a little and the large woman noticed and blocked the way to the seating area as I stepped off (followed by the poor sods next to me) as all the people behind her started saying "excuse me!". I step off the train, immediately step to the side by the door, and just glare in this combination of anger and disbelief at the sheer level of incompetence I was witnessing. I try glaring at the two a little to see if they catch on to the fact that maybe getting out of the fffff-lipping way would be a good idea, but people finish getting off and I hop back on. It's like you put humans in a public place and their IQs half.
Anyway, so I guess now you sort of understand my issue with trains and buses. Last one is the car.
Being a pedestrian walking between the train station and work, I see dangerous, stupid, impatient, and just plain blind driving every single day. I cross past a roundabout and on the left lane going in, there's this wonderful huge box with the letters "KEEP CLEAR" in it. Cannot miss it at all. It's there because it's a crossing, so you keep the crossing clear so people can cross safely. Daily, there are idiots stopped on it. And on the first exit from that lane I see some of the most suicidal lunacy. Idiots revving up, breaking the speed limit within seconds, and flying out into the inside lane maybe within a metre of hitting the car in front. No indicators to be seen obviously. It's like when you put a human in a car, they drive as if they desperately want to die. So the big issue with cars is that the majority drive with the mindset of toddlers. Transport in general is a pretty extensive example of how utterly incompetent we as a species are.
Why on earth am I learning to drive then? Because it's the least terrible option. With public transport, my commute is about 90 minutes each way. In a car, that would be halved. But beyond that, I wouldn't need to rely on other people for me to go anywhere anymore, and I would be able to go anywhere rather than only the very small set of places I know how to get to. Cars absolutely shouldn't be the best way to travel, but our world is screwed enough that they are. I'm using driving as a means to an end.
It's not all bad though. After driving an electric car for a while, when I get onto a clear road like the nice country ones with very little traffic, it's actually quite nice. Interesting how a lot of things get a lot better when you get rid of the humans. Also electric cars really are great. Instant torque means they feel much more responsive and nimble which is nice, and strong regenerative braking means a lot of the time you only need one pedal. My favourite thing about them though is just how quiet they are. There's no rumbling from the engine as you drive along, and there's no horrible loud revving noise when you accelerate. The quiet brings a degree of elegance and sophistication and it's very peaceful. When I do eventually get my own car, I will definitely be getting a fully electric one. I don't want anything to do with fossil fuels.
This post ended up being... long, but transport is a big topic that I have a lot of thoughts about. Of course, in an ideal world, I wouldn't need to do any travelling at all and would never need to put up with humans being so terribly human, but for now at least, there's not really much choice.
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Copyright Oliver Ayre 2019. Site licensed under the GNU Affero General Public Licence version 3 (AGPLv3).