On Boxing Day 2011, I needed to make a journey from Macclesfield to Rochdale. There was a near absence of public transport options, the best options available to me being a series of infrequent bus services covering approximately two thirds of the distance. Instead I packed a few drinks, an entire selection box and two left-over Xmas dinner sandwiches and covered the entire 60km on the Brompton.
The ride was actually quite enjoyable, a significant portion was along routes free from motor traffic; the Middlewood Way and the Rochdale canal. Whilst these routes in parts have appalling surface quality making them unsuitable as serious transport routes for cycling, they are often still more appealing than the equivalent road routes due to decades of failure to properly accommodate cycling in the design of these roads. Because it was Boxing Day, the remaining on-road sections of the journey were much less unpleasant than they would have been on a normal day.
I have frequently bemoaned the lack of public transport on public holidays to older family members after arriving from one of these longer rides. To my surprise I was informed that it was not always this way, apparently the trains, trams and trolley-buses would still be in service (presumably as a reduced frequency service) on public holidays. These services ran because some people still needed to work on these days, in addition to the demand for leisure travel such as family visits which made running these services viable from a business standpoint.
It is a shame that such services would seem inconceivable to many nowadays. Much like cycling, public transport has been diminished through a positive feedback loop effect from increasing car ownership and use. With cars becoming effectively cheaper to own and run, in combination with government policies which have greatly prioritised private car use at the expense of other modes, led to greatly increased uptake of driving. This impacted negatively on the viability of public transport businesses, which were pared back. The diminished public transport services became less viable for some users, who switched to cars. The decreasing number of users makes the remaining public transport services less viable and to their further demise, encouraging even more to switch to the car. Those who wish to walk or cycle are discouraged by the deterioration in conditions on the road, caused by the growth in private car use and the re-configuration of the roads themselves to accommodate ever increasing volumes of motor traffic at ever higher speeds, at the expense of these kinds of road users. Before long we find ourselves in 2012 with multiple generations of drivers unaware of how the current status quo arose or that transport could have ever worked differently.
For this situation to be fixed, the same process needs to happen in reverse; coupling a relative decrease in the expense of public transport, walking and cycling with an increase in the coverage and frequency public transport services and a reconfiguration of the roads to prioritise and make safe cycling and walking. Then maybe I won’t have to ride 60 km on Boxing Day.