30 March, 2011

I heart the bus


I just spent a very relaxing 20 minutes travelling across town, on the metro from Helsinki's central train station. The metro was a two minute walk from my train. I used the same ticket at no extra charge. Metros arrive every four minutes; they're clean, safe, quiet and on time. When I got out, I was at a large shopping centre and bus interchange (I'm in the library next door now, and when I leave here I'll go straight to my class, because the high school is just on the other side of the public car park).

I love public transport. Did I love it in Sydney? Yes and no... and I can understand why a lot of people there just find it too inconvenient to bother. Unfortunately changing services in Sydney isn't quite so seamless. But there are also a LOT of people in Sydney for whom public transport is practical, timely, and easy. So why are there still so few people using it?

Be honest, car users: you enjoy walking less than 20 metres in your day. Car in your driveway, and car at your workplace. Mmmm, car. Shiny car, shiny. Hey, it's fair enough. I loved driving when I owned a car in Australia. I loved the freedom it afforded - I could get in it, and I could go ANYWHERE. There are roads going everywhere. There's not a train station or a bus at every place that I wanted to go. Cars made it all easier.

But there's a cost. It's probably far more expensive than people realise. Have you heard this one before: "Well our family 'needs' two cars, and the train to work costs more than the petrol." Um yes... but you've left out a huge chunk of your car costs, honey. We could also add up the price of registration and insurance (now it's looking more like $70 a week, not $45). So every trip to work she drives is $15. Plus tolls. But wait, there's more. Oil, tyres, servicing, road service membership. Parking. Fines. And a car worth $25,000 is losing about $75 every week in value of the car itself.

Seriously? Did you ever think about it like that? Owning and driving your new car to work might be costing you $165 a week - or more. Now, does it still look more expensive than catching the train? If you had to physically pull thirty bucks out of your wallet every time you sat down in the driver's seat, would the train fare of $5.00 each way still seem like too much money?

But then there's the TIME. It takes too LONG. Waaaaah. Well yes. It might take a little longer to train it. But use your thinking caps: surely you've got something you could do. Use that hour to call your friends for your weekly phone catchup (instead of after dinner). Or use your smart phone to Facebook (instead of on the weekend). Or watch a movie on your iPad. Or read your work emails on your laptop (instead of staying late after work). Or write for our blog.

It takes organisation. Leaving on time; allowing enough time for connections; bringing your "homework" for the trip. Organisation clashes with our lazy instant lifestyles, doesn't it? But it's funny how fast you can adapt when you need to. You don't sit there and cry about the fact that you've run out of milk - you just do what needs to be done - you go get more. Now that I don't own car, I don't sit there and think, "I wish I had a car!" every time I need to go out somewhere. I just do what needs to be done. So these days when I go out, all I think about is what time the train or bus will arrive and what I need to take with me.

It's really not that hard. "Hard" isn't the reason more people don't use public transport. "Lazy" is.

I challenge you to try it for a week. Listen to your iPod, watch the scenery, or close your eyes and relax, and think about the extra coins in your wallet.