As the bad weather rolled in a bit more than a week ago, I started to abandon my bicycle. I’ve cycled to work one day this week, and that felt rather hairy. Most of my journey, if I so chose, would be on bus routes; but the council has historically been very parsimonious with its gritting, so in my heart of hearts I just can’t quite trust my two wheels to the road surfaces when it gets really cold, or when it snows.
The freezing temperatures and two snowfalls have rather put me at the mercy of car drivers when it comes to getting to work. In this weather, even my most enlightened car-owning friends become essentially cagers. A certain acquaintance is a cager through and through: he drives as you would expect someone would, if they who suddenly happened to mention their Pass Plus qualification without any prompting; he habitually scatters the gravel like buckshot when leaping out of the driveway and claims it’s not possible to avoid doing so (I can confirm this is not true.)
One particularly freezing morning this week, he ignored an early emergency text from me, and thereby left me to run for a bus. He doesn’t owe me anything, of course; yet I ought to say that it’s not as if I haven’t tried to return the favour… Ah, but that’s another story entirely, and I must soften you up with a few others first. Besides, if there is to be a difference between car sharing and mere hitch-hiking, then surely the willingness to accommodate everyone in the car and not just the driver would be it.
It’s also worth explaining that this week’s repeatable transport failures has happened alongside a loan of our car to friends; but that’s really nothing to do with it. Even if I’d had my car, I would only have driven as often as good, polite equity would have demanded. The rest of the week – probably all of the days bar one – I would have been in hock to some cager or other.
All these experiences this week have reminded me that, long after asking for or committing to a transport favour, I often realise I would have been better off making my own way to a destination – by bus, train, cycle or foot – rather than accepting lifts. Late-night waits in the dark for my bus home notwithstanding – and I’ve figured out an earlier, easier pair of bus journeys that now both take place in the light – the whole procedure is much smoother. It’s certainly not as convenient, or as comfortable; and often the company alone is worth a journey offered by a real and close friend; but public transport makes me feel much more like my journey is in my hands.
This is the deep irony, that a public transport service provided by complete strangers leaves me feeling much more in control of my destiny than a lift from colleagues. Unless such a public service fails hard – which of course they all do, but much less often than irregular car sharing seems to have done – then it makes me feel like while I’m not behind the wheel of a vehicle, I’m nonetheless behind the wheel of my own life.