Tue 26 Jul 2005
It’s 17 km (10.5 miles) from where I live to where 4pi is located. It’s not the farthest stretch across Warsaw, but still it’s through the center and over the river. Since I’ve been doing some projects for them recently I have been there frequently. The most obvious way of getting there is, of course, by car. However, since I sold my car recently and don’t plan to buy a new one for a while I had to consider other methods. Naturally, I ended up using public transport a lot (after at least six years of never boarding a bus).
On paper it doesn’t look that bad. I have a bus stop just a few steps from my apartment with six bus lines, including three express ones. And I have a tram terminal a bit further but still within a 5 minutes walk. There is even a tram that goes from there almost to where 4pi is located (it’s just 10 minutes walk at the end of the trip). So, I should be quite well off with it, shouldn’t I? But I’m not.
First, it’s the speed. Buses are slow. Their routes go through the main roads and junctions which, naturally, are the most clogged in the morning. But even if the streets are clear – as it is the case now, in July, when the city is half-deserted – the buses rarely move faster than 40 km/h (25 mph).
At some point I took to standing behind the glass enclosure around the driver to look at his speedometer and check. It’s really rare to see them doing 50 km/h (30 mph) for more than a few seconds. But I discovered what I think is the reason behind this – amongst various electronic gizmos before the driver there is a display which tells him how he is doing in relation to the timetable. If he’s on time there is a 0, if he’s one minute late it’s -1 and if, god forbid, he is too fast it would show +1 meaning he would arrive one minute too early on the next stop. I think they are rewarded for punctuality as every time I saw a plus value on that little display the driver slowed down even more, to the point of braking before green lights in hope of getting caught by them. Can you imagine something more frustrating when you want to get somewhere fast?
Trams should be faster in theory, because in Warsaw tram tracks are generally not part of the streets as it is the case in many cities. Therefore, traffic jams don’t have any influence on them. However, trams are slow too although this time you really have to look at the speedometer – or your watch – to realize that. Even in the newest ones 60 km/h (37 mph, which is the fastest they get on some longer stretches of track) seems twice as much with all the noise and the whole thing wobbling and jumping, but on average they also move at around 40 km/h (25mph).
And that’s how fast buses and trams get when they move. But every few minutes they stop, which ruins their average speed. And then you have to add wait times. Net result is that I came up with the rule of thumb which is that the unit of time that applies to public transport travel is hours. It takes just a bit more than an hour to get from here to 4pi (average of 16 km/h, 10 mph). It takes an hour to get to about anywhere. And it takes an hour to get anywhere all day long, traffic jams or empty streets.
Interestingly, to most places that are an hour off by public transport I can get in 15 minutes by car in normal traffic, and in half an hour max in rush hours. So, the rule of thumb again is that places that are 15 minutes off by car are 1 hour off by bus. Conversely, places off by 1 hour in a car are practically unreachable by public transport.
To make another comparison – public transport in Warsaw has the speed of a bike. It takes me an hour to reach 4pi from my home by bicycle – and I’m not the fastest cyclist around.
The effect of all this is that someone forced to use public transport is effectively socially degraded; unable to get to many places at all and certainly unable to do as much in his day as the free man with an individual form of transport. I understand now why it is so hard for people from poor classes to get out of their pit. They have to use public transport and therefore many options are just not open for them. They waste their precious lives standing on the bus stops or standing in the buses where the only sensible thing to do is read or listen to something. They struggle to do things really simple with even a worst car, like, say, shopping for more than one meal.
Now, public transport is surely generally a great idea. People should be able to move around even if they, for whatever reason, don’t have their individual vehicle at the moment or at all, that’s true. However, to suggest that this could (and should) be a better way of moving around than an individual vehicle is like suggesting that a wheelchair is better than a pair of legs. It’s plain nonsense.
But that is what greens, safety freaks and car haters of all kinds tell us. This genuinely pisses me off. Communists hated cars and motorbikes too, but at least they were honest about their reasons. One of the communist rulers of Poland, Gomułka, said clearly in a speech that a bus is superior to a car ideologically because it’s a collective form of transport. True enough, any individual form of transport gives its user freedom of going where he wants when he wants according to his own schedule, not a timetable. And freedom is something all socialists, communists, greens and other such hate deeply from within their twisted minds.