Transport

A long time ago a famous celebrity car dealer remarked that buying a car was very much like making love to a beautiful woman. You’ve got to tread carefully at first before making your move until you can act decisively and do the business, knowing full well you will be paying for it for years afterwards.

Thinking about this I began wondering why we got into the treadmill of car ownership in the first place. Once – and I remember this – travelling by train was the way to go. Trains were cheap and plentiful and went pretty much everywhere. Sure, they were often dirty and late but eventually you got where you needed to go.

Although chasing cars has been man’s obsession ever since the beginning of automotive time, to the majority of the population they were seen as a luxury. If you could afford one, great, if not, well, you could dream. Seeing your neighbour waft by in a Mercedes you knew that he or she had ‘made it’ as you watched, wretchedly wet, from the bus queue. The car seen as status symbol.

So how have we got to where we are today? After all, there are alternatives. You could, for example, travel by long-distance coach. It’s pretty cheap, after all. The snag is, you have to travel with forty or so strangers who might not have the same delicate sensibilities or hygiene priorities as yourself. Getting caught short on a coach is a big deal. Sure, there’s a cramped lavatory on a modern coach but what will it be like after the first couple of hours and the first twenty visitors. Brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘awash’.

Or you could go by train. That’s how the nation dealt with medium to long distance travel back in the days of British Rail. Sure, travelling conditions were not always great. You had similar, ahem, toilet issues (will those amongst you who remember hopper toilets please refrain etc), railway staff were not always the chummiest of individuals and the management was totally inept, but you got to your destination.

Then, in the Eighties, we learned the meaning of the word privatisation. This is a system whereby successive governments absolve themselves of responsibility for the very job we pay them to do. This enables them to spend more time telling us to eat vegetables and generally poking their noses into our lives. Don’t get me started. Privatisation of the railways and the Utilities was meant to deliver a Utopian nation of cheap prices and great service. Too late, we discovered it meant greed, self interest and a sense that the customer is coming a distance second to profit.

Certainly, trains today are much nicer places to be but if you want to get to an actual place where you want to be it is a different story. The railway industry is only interested in profitable routes where commuters pay a fortune to get to work in trains that are still packed. With the constant closure of branch lines over the last fifty years, getting to many places by public transport is increasingly difficult and expensive.

You might, for example, have to catch a bus. Sadly this is another industry were the profit motive rules and folk living in out-lying villages only see a bus infrequently. Sometimes people catching their local bus can marvel at whole new buildings that have appeared since the last public service trip. No that won’t do either. What you are going to need is a car.

The automobile has ceased to be a luxury and become a necessity; this is why we are on the car-buying treadmill. For many people a car is essential. Those in government who now strive to get us out of cars and onto public transport just don’t seem to get it. Trains cost an astronomic amount of money to use and it is certain sure that it is cheaper to run a city car than it is to travel regularly on the railways. That’s why we buy cars – because it is cleaner, drier and much more convenient. As luck would have it, it’s also fun.
Geoff Maxted