Public transport – is it even worth it?

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Credit: BBC

Public transport is becoming a staple in many people’s lives, and that is a good thing; public transport increases city investment by moving people more efficiently around the country, and, crucially, is better for the environment.

One bus-full of passengers is about 30 less cars on the streets, and that helps with noise, air and environmental pollution.

However, this writer has some questions to ask about public transport, specifically the cost. Is it even worth it, forking out your cash on public transport versus owning a car? Considering the recent decision to increase rail tickets (again), we have to review our options.

Now, don’t misunderstand my position, for that I shall be clear: I am not reliant on public transport, having the good fortune to own a car. However, I do rely on public transport at times, be that travelling around the country by train, or forsaking the car and taking a bus.

The question of the worth of public transport came to me on a day trip to Dundee.

I had been tossing with the idea of driving to Dundee instead of getting the train. After all, it wasn’t a long drive, but surely the train was much more worthwhile.

I regret to say, I was wrong.

One return ticket to Dundee from Stirling is over £21. With a railcard, you cut that down to about £14.

On cost of travel alone, the car wins hands down. I calculated that, driving a car with an economy of 50MPG to Dundee and back would cost you a grand total of around £11 with current fuel prices.

Furthermore, more often than not on an early morning train until just after 9am, space is not exactly abundant.

One train to Edinburgh from Stirling will be jam-packed by the time it leaves Stirling, and people will be turned away as early as Larbert.

Compare that with a car, and you are sitting in comfort with your favourite mix-tape flowing out of the windows.

However, we have to consider some other factors, foremost is car parking.

Car parking in a city can be both difficult and very expensive for the day. Parking in Dundee’s Marketgait NCP will cost just over £8 from 9am to 5pm.

That takes the total cost of your journey to about £19, which still beats the full price of a train ticket.

However, put this to a city like Edinburgh, and a seven-hour parking ticket at the OMNI Centre will cost £13.50 (the next time period of 12 hours is £18).

Think NCP is cheaper? Think again: 9am to 5pm will set you back a whopping £28.

So, in that sense, there is a lot to be said for trains at the very least. However, it is through no real merit of their own.

Travelling by car can often be comparable to travelling by road. One stark figure I found was the costs of £3516 for a year-long ticket to Dundee from Stirling.

That equates to 324 journeys by car. Three-hundred and twenty-four. For starters, I doubt anyone would travel by train to Dundee 324 times in a year, but this also highlights the issue that actually travelling by car is almost comparable in these terms.

And we haven’t even gotten to buses yet.

I live in Tillicoultry, out in Clackmannanshire. Last time I travelled by First bus, with a return to Stirling, it cost over £6.

That isn’t the worst of it. I once travelled from Stirling to Alva (a town three miles from where I live) for about £5. To then travel from Alva to Tillicoultry did not cost a logical £1, but over £3.

The problem I have, personally, with public transport, is that it is becoming more expensive to travel by rail and bus for a service which is criticised for being slow, busy, late and uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, we do not see the half of it in Scotland compared with English prices, with some season tickets costing into the tens of thousands.

Now, this comparison is all well and good, but one must remember the costs of running a car: fuel, tax, insurance, service, MOT and repairs.

Those costs add up to a significant amount, not to mention the cost of purchasing the car in the first place.

This sets the car a long way back when comparing with public transport. Even if you describe the car as an asset to you, it is still an expensive one.

The verdict? Well, during this article I set out my hypothesis: I am sometimes grudgingly purchasing a rail ticket when the price of £21 pops up.

However, I think if every time I got in my car I got an update on my dashboard informing me of how much each journey cost me, including all of the factors I have mentioned above, I would have a different opinion.

Public transport is frustrating and can be costly, but for some it is the only option, and the most financially efficient means of travel.

And it is certainly more environmentally friendly, and that is the crux of the debate for me at times.

Until cars become more affordable, easier to maintain, cheaper and more efficient to fuel, and environmentally friendly then I feel the bus and the train will stay ahead in the race.

But, as we have seen, not by a country mile.

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