Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Public transportation

Normally I'm a big fan of European public transportation. It's (mostly) non-sketchy, fairly cost-effective over distances under four hours, it runs regularly, and it saves me from the expense and stress of actually having a car.

I wish the States had a similar system. Seriously, I'm headed to Colorado this summer for a friend's wedding and my choices for transport are a) rent a car or b) rent a car. Or c) ride the Greyhound at 2am by myself from the sketchy bus station in an unknown city. So really, just a) and b).

But I digress.

Last Thursday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, called Fronleichnam in Germany. Don't ask me what that means. As is often the case, largely-secular Germany has a tradition of religious holidays and no one is willing to give that up because of silly things like not actually following the religion in question, so we had a four-day weekend. I headed to England to visit some friends who are studying there. As a cost-conscious person, I flew Ryanair, Europe's budget airline. They manage to be cheap because they fly out of the most inconvenient, non-central airports possible. In Germany it's not an issues - there's a bus that goes straight from my city to Frankfurt Hahn (the budget airport): eleven euros, one hour, badabing, badaboom.

Not so easy in England. London's budget airport is called Stansted and it is the spawn of the devil. Buses travel the two hours from Stansted to London with some frequency, but I was going to Oxford and I was on a pretty tight schedule to get there before my hosts left for an evening engagement. I wasn't keen on wandering the streets for several hours Friday night. I bought a ticket for one of the few buses that goes from Stansted to Oxford - as Oxford is a student town, you'd think there would be more buses, but no - and was three minutes late thanks to a combination of plane delays and England's obsessive, excessive border control. I missed the bus and discovered that the next direct one left in three hours, too late for my agreed-upon meeting time.

Thankfully I was able to work out an alternate route through London, switched buses, and made it with four minutes to spare.

On Monday, I again pre-booked my ticket on a bus direct to Stansted, waited at the nearest bus stop, and watched my bus drive right by without stopping. Again I found an alternate route through London, inquired at the main office as to the reason my bus had not stopped, and was told that I'd booked it for the wrong stop. That particular bus, uniquely of all the buses in Oxford, only stops at the places where you have pre-booked. I had accidentally chosen the city center rather than the stop closest to where I was staying when buying my ticket, and so the bus passed me by.

Equally thankfully, I was able to buy a ticket on another bus that got me to Stansted just in time for my flight back to Germany.

So this morning I was already feeling a little sour towards European public transportation. Just to tease me, my bus was late this morning, so I missed my usual train, and the second train was also late, though only by five minutes. I power-walked to school, arrived somewhat sweaty but (barely) on time, and promptly began to think longingly about my environmentally-unsound personal car waiting for me in the States. I know buses and trains are the way of the future and I'd really prefer that Colorado had some useful ones, but right now I'm not feeling kindly towards public transportation. Give me a car with automatic transmission over National Express or DeutscheBahn any day.

At least until tomorrow when I'd actually have to drive it. The Germans drive like crazy people.

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