May 13, 2004

Whether frequency, speed, or something else is important depends upon the circumstances.

Michael Jennings | Inter-modal Competition

Recently, my laptop computer developed a fault. My laptop is my only computer, and it was thus very annoying to be without it for several weeks. Partly as a consequence, I am in the process of building myself a desktop computer out of various bits and pieces. The first step is just to get the thing to work in some form - I may upgrade some of the pieces to something nicer later. One thing that I needed was a screen. Lots of people have old screens lying around, and Brian Micklethwait wanted to get rid of his because it was taking up space in his flat.

So I just had to get it home. As I don't have a car, it had to be by public transport. The screen was an old model and heavy, and I did not want to have to carry it far. This led me to a different set of requirements when figuring how to get home to those that normally apply. In normal circumstances I would either walk to Victoria station, and catch a train to Selhurst just north of Croydon, which is where I live. Or I would walk to Vauxhall across the river, catch a train to Clapham Junction, and then catch the train from Victoria on its way through. (As Vauxhall is in Zone 2, going this way also works out cheaper).

However, both of these routes were clearly out in this instance. The screen was too heavy to carry to either of the railway stations. However, I could catch a bus in Vauxhall Bridge road to either Victoria or Vauxhall. However, there were disadvantages to both. To get to Victoria, I would have to cross a busy road, and walk a distance down the street to the nearest bus stop, get off a bus at a location not terribly close to Victoria Station, find the right platform, walk a substantial distance through a crowded station, go through ticket barriers, and get on the train. If I chose instead to get on a bus to Vauxhall, I would have to get off at a bus stop not especially close to the station, cross a complicated road intersection, and find the right train. I probably would have done this, except for the fact that I would have to change trains at Clapham Junction, which would mean carting the screen a fair distance including up and down stairs through another crowded station.

So what did I do? Well, I looked carefully at the bus map, and noticed that the bus to Vauxhall continued a substantial distance into south London. In particular it happened to stop right next to East Dulwich station. As it happens, not all trains to Selhurst start at Victoria: there is a less frequent service that starts at London Bridge and goes via East Dulwich and Tulse Hill. So as it happened, it was possible to get a bus to East Dulwich wich stopped right outside the station (although I still had to cross a road), where I could change to a train at a not very busy station with no ticket barriers and a relatively short walk. And this I did.

In this case, most of the usual considerations for choosing a route did not apply. I was not concerned with finding the route with the minimum time or the shortest route. (To say that the route I took was non-direct is an understatement). What I was concerned with was minimising the total walking distance, minimising the number of times I had to change from one vehicle or mode of transport to another, and avoiding having to walk in large crowds. Frequency was not very important to me, and journey time even less so. And this led me to make a completely different decision to the one I normally would.

Of course, Jeremy Clarkson would say that it would have been a great deal easier and faster if I had a car. And in this instance he would certainly have been right.

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Comments

Why didn't you just get a taxi home?

Posted by Jackie D on May 13, 2004

Other then the fact that it would have cost £30?

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 13, 2004

Seems a fair price to me, assuming that the screen was free (perhaps even if it wasn't) and considering that your time is also valuable. But I know from bitter experience ("So what if there's a torrential downpour and it's a four mile walk from A to B? A taxi will cost at least a tenner, and that's outrageous") that not everyone considers taxis a good use of cash.

Posted by Jackie D on May 13, 2004

Transport Blog clearly needs a "Hitch-a-Lift" column.

Posted by Andy Wood on May 13, 2004

In any case, it's highly unlikely that a black cab would agree to go as far even as Selhurst (they won't go to Sutton, a similar distance) so your ride would have had to have been a minicab.
But there's a fascination in finding routes through London that is denied you in smaller towns: your black cab might have swept you grandly along the river to City Thameslink where your train would have taken you to East Croydon and exit ramps instead of Selhurst's stairs. But at far greater expense than your final and ingenious solution.

Posted by James on May 14, 2004

However, East Croydon is far enough from where I live that I would have had to have got a cab at the other end too, which would have been a nuisance. And really it's all a matter of cost/benefit analysis. For £30 I could have a really nice dinner somewhere, or I could go to the theatre, or see four or five movies, or something like that. (Come to think of it, I flew to Spain and back in January for about the same cost). The positives to me of any of those are much greater than the relatively small negative or carrying the screen a little way. And what James said is extremely true. There is pleasure to be got out of finding new and ingenious routes home that satisfy new requirements (and which you can blog about later).

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 14, 2004

At the risk of sounding sexist, I think the whole fascination-with-finding-ingenious-routes is a guy thing -- and not an unadmirable way of operating.

Posted by Jackie D on May 14, 2004

I think the whole fascination-with-finding-ingenious-routes is a guy thing,

You're probably right - a kind of geekyness ;-)

Posted by Mark Ellott on May 14, 2004

I think this does illustrate one of the essential differences between cars and things like buses and trains. Cars, as well as being passenger vehicles, can also (at the same time) be freight vehicles.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on May 14, 2004

Public transport incovenient. Taxis too expensive (if available at all). Really what you wanted was a hire car you could hire for an hour or so and dump somewhere near Selhurst. I wonder why such services don't exist?

Posted by Patrick Crozier on May 14, 2004

I wonder why such services don't exist?

Fixed costs, perhaps?

The amount of paper work presumably doesn't depend on how long you hire the car for. Furthermore, a car that's hired for only an hour at a time is likely to spend a greater proportion of its time in storage than one that's hired for a day or more at a time.

My guess is that a taxi will still be cheaper.

Posted by Andy Wood on May 14, 2004

Cars that hire for an hour (or an afternoon, perhaps) are fairly common in some third world countries I have been too. Perhaps's it's the relatively lack of bureaucracy, or simply a matter of demand.

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 14, 2004

The boundary between a hire car and a taxi tends to blend in the third world, presumably chiefly because the cost of the car far exceeds the cost of a driver.

I had thought that EasyCar offered the relevant service, but while they give discounts if you (eg) hire a car at 5pm and take it back at 10am instead of keeping it for two days, they have a minimum hire period of a day in total.

Posted by john b on May 14, 2004

There are several services of that type in the US, e.g. ZipCar: http://www.zipcar.com/. Not very widespread yet.

Posted by Sam on May 15, 2004

cars per hour:

There is a transporter (van?) hire-per-hour in Berlin. This is due to the Berlin wall, which made cars rather unnessary in the enclosed city and led to a lower cars per people frequency than in the rest of Germany. Still, lots of people in Berlin don't even have a driving license - but you can always hire a student for some hours driving.

taxis

Usually, I prefer cabs. My taxi-budget has never been used completedly since I summed up costs for a small car and decided this is how much I can pay for transport without worrying.
But some years ago taxis would simply have been to expensive or not so very comfortable - I hurt my leg and was not able to walk longer distances. At that time, my usual way to work consisted of
- a seven minutes walk to the subway
- thirty minutes subway
- thirteen minutes walk to the office
A cab would have cost me 50 Marks each way (I tried this on an other occasion, transporting a PC).

But just across the street was a bus stop. One of the buses (nine per hour) went to a stop not more than five minutes from the office. It took nearly an hour, but I have to admit I used this sometimes even after walking was no longer a problem - sometimes it is nice to read without changing your mode of transport, or not to carry things to far.

Posted by Rike on May 16, 2004

This is one of the reasons why I dislike computer based journey planning systems. They tend to give you two options; quickest and cheapest. They also aren't good at permitting you to choose where to change. For instance, I travel from Maidenhead to Castle Cary. I usually get a train to Reading and change there invairiably requiring a change of platform. But, I can get through tains from Maidenhead to Newbury where the chances are that the Castle Cary train will depart from the same platform. What do the UK train planning systems tell me? Change at Reading without exception (they may suggest further changes at Bath and/or Westbury as well). The idea of a "least hassle" routing doesn't exist but how do you define "least hassle" I know mine would change in varying circumstances.

Posted by Graham on May 17, 2004

Graham: This is equally true for internet based airline reservation systems. If I want to buy a return ticket to Munich they are just fine, or even if I want to buy a return ticket to Sydney via Singapore. However, if I want to buy a return ticket to Sydney with a two day stopover in Bangkok on the way there and a three day stopover in Tokyo on the way back (which is the sort of thing I tend to want to do when going to Australia) then the internet systems are useless. I have to either ring up the airline or consult a travel agent.

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 17, 2004

Joining a car club might offer a solution to those who don't own a car. (www.smartmoves.co.uk).
Members can book a car for any length of time that they wish.
I think in practice, these work well in combination with more traditional rental companies (for higher mileage trips) and public transport.

Posted by neil on May 17, 2004

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