I use public transport on a daily basis. I have to because I don’t have a driving licence (yet). and doing the daily journey between Whitby and Scarborough in all weathers gives one an interesting insight into the realities of public transport that most people making policy really don’t have. It would be nice if someone had to do that journey every day to see what it’s like.
For a start, Arriva run the Whitby Scarborough service. It’s the only one. There’s no train because the line was given the Beeching treatment at the end of the 1960’s. I’ve been using the service for nine years now and steadily things have been getting worse. In the last year, however, things have become positively precipitous.
In September the ‘All-In-one’ Travel Centre in the bus station closed down because Arriva said it was ‘no longer sustainable’. Never mind that the station now has a very large, empty unit and passengers are inconvenienced. Never mind that it removed a useful service hub. No Arriva weren’t making quite enough money, so they threw in the towel. Thanks.
Then, just last Saturday, Loftus depot closed. This may not seem hugely problematic but it does have knock-on effects. Drivers based at Loftus either left the company or were relocated to Middesbrough or Redcar. And we also have had two breakdowns in just over a week: one coming home from Whitby, when the 1740 didn’t show and on Thursday morning when the 0745 didn’t either. In the first case, Loftus was not yet closed but, as the driver who turned up at 1840 remarked,’they were hardly going to push the boat out so close to closing…’. In the second case, Loftus was closed. No replacement bus ran (which would have taken about 30 minutes to arrive). no, they just pulled the bus and waited for the next one to show, 105 minutes later as per the timetable. A lot of angry people were late for work or college that morning.
This sort of thing will happen more often now that Loftus is closed. Why? Because the bus stock Arriva use for Whitby is aging and not fit for purpose. Most times, the buses provided for the Whitby-Scarborough run are comically underpowered town service buses, with less power and less ability to negotiate the hilly terrain on the A171. Going up Sledgates, near Fylingthorpe, so slowly that you could, quite literally, get off the bus and walk up the hill quicker is actually an embarrassment. And God are they old. The typical age of a bus on this run is at least 12 years. They rattle, the heating doesn’t work in winter and blasts in summer. And of course there are the windows that just won’t stay closed. Useful for having freezing cold air inexorably blasting at you in the depths of winter.
During the summer it was hilarious to see exactly when morning busese would leave Whitby. both the 0745 and the 0830 buses were guaranteed to leave at any time other than the one specified. It wasn’t unusual for either of these to run 10-15 minutes behind time.
And then there was last Friday night. I took the X56 to my parents’ house in Easington, near Loftus. The journey normally takes around 35-40 minutes, with the bus leaving Whitby at 2010 and getting to Easington at sometime between 2045 and 2050. On Friday, I stood forlornly at the stop from aorund 2005, waiting. At 2025 it stillhadn’t arrived and I as beginning to wonder if they’d suffered yet another breakdown. At 2032, a bus hurtled up Bagdale doing close on 50. The destination wasn’t visible until the bus was right under my nose (it was barely lit up at all). I managed to stop it and he came skidding to a halt a little further up the road. The driver, a regular, give his usual cheerful grunt as I showed him my ticket, like it was some horrible inconvenience to actually have to let unwashed scum on. Then he set off, twenty two minutes late…
…arriving in Easington a further twenty two minutes later and having driven dark, wet conditions like what can only be described as a fucking lunatic. In a car, going the direct route, the journey takes around twnty minutes. But he had to go through Ellerby and through Runswick Bay, not the direct route at all. He’d managed to shave (actually, hack) a third off the usual journey time.
I want to be green. I want to avoid driving. But running public transport like this isn’t much of an encouragement. Outside the very biggest cities the exhortations of our politicians to use public transport in preference to cars just isn’t going to wash. And it’s not going to change because there’s no incentive to do it. Even pricing people out of cars isn’t going to work because the alternative is not worth the expense saved. It’s embarrassing to go to continental Europe, to places like France, Germany and Denmark, where public transport largely works. But it costs. Of course it does, having an infrastructure there is good for the wide economy but no one wants to pay for it here. And so the system disintegrates still further.