Omnibus Edition

One of the things I’ve had to get used to about working at a University based on an out-of-town campus is that it’s no longer feasible to walk to work every morning. Fortunately there is an excellent bus service from central Brighton to Falmer, so this isn’t too much of a hardship. I’ve now invested in one of those new-fangled smart cards that makes it very economical not only for getting to work, but also for hopping on and off while pottering about town doing shopping and whatnot.

I have noticed that if I get the No. 25 bus from Old Steine before 8am it only takes about fifteen minutes to get to the University of Sussex. If I’m a bit late starting out, however, and don’t get to the bus stop until after eight in the morning, the trip can take about forty minutes. The problem is that roadworks on the A27 Lewes Road have reduced it to a single lane in each direction; there’s a critical point when the traffic builds up to rush hour levels and then solidifies. Still, I don’t mind getting in before 9am as that gives me useful time before the roll of meetings commences, so I found it quite easy to adapt to the early start.

Anyway sitting on the bus this morning I had a kind of flashback to my schooldays. The school I went to was on the opposite side of Newcastle to where I lived, so I had to take the bus every morning. I did much the same thing in those days as I am doing now, in fact – getting the bus at 7.30 to avoid the heaviest traffic, and often doing the previous night’s homework before lessons started in the morning.

The one thing that was very different in those days (and we’re talking about the Seventies now) was that the “School Run” didn’t really exist. Even the posh kids took the bus or train to School rather than being ferried back and forth by doting parents. I think it did me a lot of good travelling on the bus along with all kinds of other people rather than being transported in the hermetically sealed cocoon of a family car. The famous friendliness of Tyneside folk undoubtedly contributed to the omnibus experience and left me with a lifelong preference for public over private transport. I’ve never owned a car and have no intention of ever doing so.

Anyway, this all reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) quote from Margaret Thatcher:

A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.

Whilst I’d by no means be ashamed to be counted a failure according to a Thatcherite criterion, I did once get a bit riled by a version of it when I was conducting a UCAS Admissions Day at another institution (also a campus university). A (male) parent of one of the candidates asked me why there was so little car parking space for students on the campus. I replied that undergraduates were basically not allowed to park on the campus, otherwise it would be overrun with motor vehicles and wouldn’t be so nice and spacious and green. However, I said, that’s not a problem because there was an excellent bus service that could take students to the University from town and vice versa in just a few minutes. The indignant father bristled and announced in a very loud and angry voice “No son of mine is going to get on a bus”. That was the nearest I’ve ever come to losing my temper with a parent on a university admissions day. Fortunately nothing like it has happened since.

It never would have occurred to my parents to come with me when I visited universities for interview and I would have been horrified if they had insisted on doing so. Nowadays, however, prospective students are invariably accompanied by parents, who generally ask at least as many questions as their offspring do. Is this just an extension of the School Run, or is because parents now have to foot the bill (when in my day there were maintenance grants and no tuition fees). Either way, times have definitely changed.

Anyway, I’m about to get the bus home. Tomorrow we are interviewing prospective postgraduate (PhD) students. I don’t think any will bring their parents along. And quite a few may even come on the bus.

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9 Responses to “Omnibus Edition”

  1. Peter Wood Says:

    What would she have called a man who, beyond the age of 26, gets lost driving a car? I blame the parents.

  2. John Peacock Says:

    On yer bike…..

    If you can overcome the stigma of Tebbitarian approval, it’s the obvious solution. Gridlock is the perfect state for cyclists, since you don’t have to worry about being hit by a driver whose speed to attention ratio is too high.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      There’s a strong correlation between the popularity of bikes and the hilliness of the city.

    • telescoper Says:

      Part of the reason for the roadworks between Brighton and Falmer is improving the cycle lanes as well as the bus lanes.

      Cardiff is a notoriously bad city for cyclists. Although it’s flat, the traffic “planning” makes life very dangerous if you chose to go by bike. I always walked there.

      Brighton is much better, although it is hillier. Quite a few of the faculty do the 4-mile reach-way cycle ride every morning…

  3. Michael Kenyon Says:

    The parents are definitely there because they are footing the bill, it would not have happened in my day!

    I don’t drive and prefer walking to work rather than getting the bus or tram, it keeps you fit but you do meet a lot of ‘characters’ as you navigate the inner city. Though what would life be without the occasional bit of abuse and/or threat of violence hurled in one’s direction?

    Don’t turn around to look and put your foot down, only worry when they start following….

  4. I have never driven to work. Whilst working in the USA (at 4 different universities) I was always able to walk to work. Back in south Wales, I have always taken public transport to work. It allows me to read, relax, fall asleep, listen to music etc. before work. I cannot understand anyone who chooses to drive to work. 90% of my driving seems to be taking my son to and from his basketball training in the evenings, adding commuting to work would send my petrol bill soaring.

  5. When I was working at Jodrell Bank, I lived on the grounds. In Groningen, I came by cycle (of course). Otherwise, I’ve always taken public transportation to work if feasible. However, when living in small villages (one with about 80 inhabitants, one with about 30), this just wasn’t feasible. Also, when travelling with the whole family, it is sad but true that an economical car (like the ones I’ve always had) is less expensive, even if one considers all costs, including depreciation.

    “Is this just an extension of the School Run, or is because parents now have to foot the bill (when in my day there were maintenance grants and no tuition fees).”

    Either way, it’s a change for the worse.

    After a few years when various states introduced some fees (though much lower than the English fees), I am happy to report than, due to political changes, there are again no fees for university studies in Germany.

  6. My commute is, in principle, a 15 minute bus ride followed by a 10 minute train journey (with a little walking in between). But after discovering the joys of Oxford rush-hour, taking my bus journey up from 30-45 minutes, I came to the same conclusion as John.

    Faster than a bus on a morning (particularly as I live on top of Oxford’s only hill), good exercise, and I’m no longer surrounded by so many disease vectors all trying to get to their morning lecture.

    I do admit to getting off and pushing it up the hill on the way home…

    I’m not sure this is what Maggie (apocryphally) had in mind as the alternative to a bus. I will take solace in that on rainy days.

  7. George Jones Says:

    I have never had a driver’s license. We have a small car, which my wife uses, and which we use as a family.

    Every weekday morning, I walk 25 minutes to a cafe to have tea, even when the temperature is -30 C or colder. After tea, I either take a bus or walk to work. If I walk, it is another 35 minutes up a long hill (150 m change in elevation). At the end of the day, I take the bus door-to-door from work to home.

    In my small city (pop. 80,000), an unlimited monthly bus pass costs $54.

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