City vs. country showdown round 1: Transport

Grafitti
Street art, yesterday
"Countryside bus timetables are some of the most bewildering documents on Earth"
  • | by Rachel England

Since leaving dark-side-of-the-moon rural Herefordshire, I’ve lived in the town of Pontypridd, the small city of Cardiff, the much bigger city of Bristol, and now, the sprawling concrete metropolis of London.

My journey between the extremes has been tempered, so I’d be lying if I said I rolled in to the Big Smoke on the back of a tractor, wide-eyed and covered in straw. But you get the idea.

And anyway, despite all the urban legends about 14-year-old kids in the shires driving tractors to school, no-one actually ‘rides’ farm machinery, just so we’re clear (except for the farmer, moving tonnes of potatoes from one field to another at a glacial pace, infuriating the drivers stuck behind as spuds bounce merrily off their windscreens).

Cars, buses and trains also exist in the countryside, but how do they compare to their city counterparts?

Driving

Vauxhall Nova

(Photo: Rachel Medina)

If you don’t have access to a set of wheels in the countryside, you’re doomed – public transport round these ‘ere parts leaves a lot to be desired (see below). Cue thousands of 17-year-old lads bombing over the hills in decrepit Novas ‘souped up’ with sarcastically oversized spoilers and obnoxiously loud exhausts, paying astonishing amounts of money for car insurance premiums because, well... the number of bumpers hanging out of roadside hedges is pretty telling.

Land Rover defender

(Photo: Stu Hill)

More sensible drivers are likely to enjoy cruising freely along the open roads, until they encounter a tractor dawdling along at 12mph. Then the simple act of ‘popping out’ for some milk becomes a half-day event that’s cost a fortune in petrol money. Still, nice scenery.

London congestion

(Photo: Worawit Suphamungmee)

In the city, if you do have access to a set of wheels you’re doomed, thanks to many councils charging you for the privilege of parking outside your own house, plus the extortionate cost of insurance thanks to your residency in an urban area. "Increased risk of theft", some will say, but the reality is you’re more likely to open your curtains to a motor covered in fast food wrappers and fox pee.

‘Popping out’ also becomes a half-day event, because half a million other people have decided to do the same, and by the time you make it to the end of the road you need to turn back again in case someone nicks your space.

The winner is: the countryside, because if you’re going to be stuck in traffic, you might as well be looking at something nice.

Public transport

Countryside bus

(Photo: Idle Format)

Countryside bus timetables are some of the most bewildering documents on Earth. A vast array of caveats such as school holidays, daylight savings, request stops and whether there’s an R in the month means the act of catching the one bus out of the village at 8am on a Saturday is riddled with uncertainty.

If you do manage to get a bus, fingers crossed no-one makes a village request stop, which will see the bus meander through every rinky-dink hamlet for 20 miles, adding an extra half hour on to the journey and increasing the chances that one of the four other passengers will offer you a Werther’s Original and talk to you about immigration.

London buses

(Photo: WorawitSuphamungmee)

Timetables in the city can be equally bewildering, simply because there’s a staggering amount of choice. You can go anywhere! At any time! On water or underground! Truly, this is the future.

Tube-owen-blacker

(Photo: Owen Blacker)

However, this surplus of provision means people get outraged – outraged – if they’re made to wait more than three minutes for a service. A service that they’ll pack on to like dutiful sardines, hot and sweaty and praying there’s no fault on the line which will see them trapped in a confined space for an undetermined period of time, pressed up against hundreds of other people obnoxiously chewing gum, blaring terrible tinny music and playing it a bit fast and loose with their elbows. The future!

The winner is: the city, because as hot, cramped and irritating as its public transport is, it’ll at least get you where you need to go before you retire.

After hours

Night bus taxis

(Photo: Nico Hogg)

City folk have it made when it comes to the late-night pilgrimage home. Ha, just kidding. Getting home late in the city is actually fraught with horror. Abject horror. The likelihood of making the last Tube (at half past midnight – cheers, TfL) is slim, so you’re faced with two options. Either pay out of your nose to get a taxi home, or take the social anthropologists’ wet dream: the night bus.

Oh boy, you haven’t lived until you’ve sat on a London night bus at 3.30am on a Sunday morning. And by ‘lived’ I mean had half a kebab dropped on your head while a river of someone’s WKD-coloured vomit pools around your feet, accompanied by the screeching of a girl who's lost her shoe and a couple having a blistering domestic. If only you could ‘not care any more’, just like the bloke shouting into his girlfriend’s tear-stained face. Chip?

Man on tractor

(Photo: National Museum of Wales)

All of this brewhaha is avoided in the countryside though, because there just simply isn’t any way to get home. At all. Which means weekends of sobriety (and one of those swish Novas I mentioned earlier), or begging phone calls to your Dad at 4am, even though you’re definitely “too old to be pulling this kind of stunt”.

The winner is: the city, because at least the night bus will make you feel better about your own life.

Cycling

Remnants of bike

(Photo: Cian O'Donovan)

Cycling is pretty dangerous in the city, thanks to all the traffic. It’s also pretty dangerous in the countryside, thanks to the physical exertion required to pedal the stupidly long distances between destinations. And also the Novas.

The winner is: the countryside, because at least you’ll get fit cycling five miles to post a letter.

 

And the winner is... the city!

Despite the contenders winning two categories each, the city is the obvious winner in terms of getting around, purely because getting around is actually possible in the city.

Clean air and pretty surroundings aren’t gonna get you to work on time, sorry countryside.

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