Our Dutch friends live in Noord Brabant and when we visit them they are so kind and come and pick us up from Schiphol Airport. It’s not that far away, actually, about seventy miles and a good straight major road the A2, most of the way. However it seems there’s hardly a time when it’s not nose to tail traffic, so it really is very, very kind of them to make the journey from home and back twice, to pick us up and deliver us back to the airport. While we were staying with them there was a very interesting TV programme about the problems of traffic on the roads of the Netherlands, in particular roads going to Amsterdam. It’s good that we are so aware of climate change, but it is tremendously worrying, and of course, we too were contributing to the problem by our air travel and our commute to and from the airports,
I began to think about why people travel such vast distances… for our friends to travel to Amsterdam by train it would cost them almost four times as much as to drive – and of course if we were also paying train fares it would be double that! They were just travelling twice, once there and once back to pick us up – but supposing you were commuting every day? Going by road might be all you could afford. So why commute – why not live in Amsterdam and walk, bus or cycle to work? Why not? Because it’s impossibly expensive. Why not get a job near where you live? Most people would love to do that, but it’s not always possible.
Maybe you start your working life in a job near your home and you walk/bus/cycle to work. You get a new job because you have a growing family, the job is too far away to walk or cycle so you get the bus or the train. You have to walk to and from the bus stop/station so your working day is longer. You get another job – maybe your old company closed, maybe you wanted a different or better job and now you start to drive – it’s not convenient to get the bus – maybe your journey involves changing buses a couple of times, or the times of the buses mean you have to leave home early and return late, maybe there are no buses to where you work.
So why don’t you move to be nearer your job? Maybe it’s not a nice area to live in, maybe there are no schools or the schools aren’t very good for your children. Maybe it’s in a lovely area but too expensive. Maybe it’s in the middle of a busy city and the quality of life for your family – if you could afford to buy or rent somewhere there – is not very good. No parks, poor air quality, busy streets, higher cost of living…
You may want to use your car less, but sometimes it really isn’t practical, especially if your income and outgoings don’t match. There is also the time factor, an eight hour working day then four hours travelling time on top?
When I was a child we lived in Cambridge and my dad would cycle the few miles to work each day and cycle home for lunch. He was a scientific analyst, and very good at what he did. Guinness got in touch with him and asked him to come for an interview in London. A lot of people commuted by train the fifty miles to London each day. Dad went up and was shown round and was offered the job. He said he would have to consider it and discuss it with my mum. He decided that even though he would earn more money, and maybe we would be able to buy our own house, he did not want to spend so long on the train and then the underground into ‘the smoke’ every day; he didn’t want to miss out on doing the garden, coaching his boat club crew, going fishing, being with mum and us children. He would have earned much more, but he didn’t think it was worth it.
We continued to live in our rented flat, and go on our modest week’s holiday in September each year and we did have a very happy life. We were fortunate. Some people don’t have that choice – some people would have had to choose a job they didn’t really want far away from home.
It’s not a simple thing trying to reduce traffic.