C17: Day 145-146 – The platonic ideal of public transport

by Suw on May 26, 2017

Busy day yesterday, going to Southampton for a meeting, but it did give me the inspiration for today’s brief blog post.

One of the things I miss about the UK when I’m in the US is the public transport. There is no easy way to get from our house to Chicago O’Hare Airport, for example. I have to pay $55 for a shuttle to the airport at Milwaukee, and then get CoachUSA to O’Hare. It costs $85 all up, and turns a 2.5 hour journey often into a four or five hour journey. There is a coach from Sheboygan to Milwaukee, but it goes twice a day at 8am or 8pm, so that’s not hugely useful. And, indeed, that “through service” coach to Milwaukee Amtrak train station arrives two hours before the next train.

Our town does have a bus service, but it’s quit hub-and-spoke, so from where we are you have to go into town and back out again, so to get to the supermarket I favour, it’s 45 minutes, instead of seven in a cab. Frankly, my time is worth the extra few dollars that a cab costs.

I was reminded yesterday, though, as I stood on the packed platform at Southampton Central as the announcer apologised for a 1.5 hour delay to the train to Bournemouth, that when I miss British public transport, I’m really missing the platonic ideal of a train, tube or bus, rather than what we actually have. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we have any public transport in the UK at all is brilliant, but its mere existence isn’t good enough – it has to be reliable. And, when the guys sat next to me on the train pointed out that they hadn’t had any delays since “that cow was on the line a few weeks ago”, I remembered that commuting by train in the UK can be murderous.

Ultimately, whilst I’d like USA to get a bit more enthusiastic about public transport, what with climate change ‘n all, I suspect that we’ll see fleets of self-driving cars before we see widespread adoption of “mass transit”, as they call it. But whilst self-driving car clubs are likely to arrive faster than we currently suspect, there’s still a case to make for a proper passenger train network.

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