Good effort, but park up the stride & ride – it's got to be park & ride all the way
This time last year I commented here on the town council’s proposal to introduce a pre-booked, fare-paying minibus service, intended to provide some Thorley Park commuters with a green alternative to private cars as a means of getting to and from the railway station.
Subsequently christened ‘Stride & Ride’ (S&R), the service is currently being trialled, but in its first three weeks it attracted only one passenger. Now, in a last-ditch effort to attract more people, a no-fare ‘taster’ trial is under way, to establish whether there is sufficient public interest to continue.
Will a free and totally flexible service appeal where earlier attempts have failed? I’m sorry to say I don’t think so.
On the face of it this concept seems such a very good idea. It makes efficient use of council-owned vehicles and offers regular commuters an opportunity to leave their cars at home, saving over half of the cost of station car parking charges.
Add a reduction in road congestion and air pollution and this is a neat and attractive package by anyone’s standards. So why the almost total lack of interest on the part of potential users?
Many reasons have been offered on social media and elsewhere. Some say there is already an adequate bus service so why would yet another be needed – unless, of course, it was cheaper, which it isn’t, apparently. This suggests that those commuters who are inclined to use a bus to get to the station already do and, as these services are not known to be oversubscribed, adding another seems pointless.
Then there is the issue of the ‘stride’ bit of the service. Some of our more sturdy walkers may already stride all the way from Thorley to the station and back, considering it good, cost-free exercise, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the vast majority don’t want to stride at all. Those that intend to catch the S&R bus have to walk from their house to the bus stop and, unless it’s very close, they may be discouraged.
A bit of a walk is OK in the summer months, but it’s a different story entirely when the cold and wet of winter is upon us, we’ve had a bad day at the office and all we want to do is to get home. The prospect of maybe a 20-minute trudge to and from the Thorley pick-up point in these conditions is hardly appealing, is it?
And there, it seems to me, is the crux of the matter. The one great advantage of Park & Ride (P&R) over the S&R service is that the walking discomfort is minimal because you can park at the P&R bus stop.
Whilst we continue our love affair with our warm, comfortable and highly convenient cars, any other way of travelling is going to have to be very attractive indeed for us to choose it as an alternative. I believe that this is well understood, and heavily penalising car use usually proves successful in encouraging people out of them.
Infrastructure! Infrastructure! Infrastructure! This is the common cry in the press and on social media, and much of this refers to the predicted inability of our local road network to take the expected levels of traffic that the growth of Stortford will bring. If it is a given (and I think it is) that we are not going to demolish the town and rebuild it around the demands of the motor car, then we have to consider the alternatives.
Increasingly I see more commentators calling for the introduction of a P&R system for Stortford. This has been the subject of a detailed consultancy report, the conclusion of which was that it would solve the problem but would be too expensive to provide and sustain.
Too expensive relative to what? How do we gauge the cost to us of a gridlocked town? How will high street traders react to their businesses being strangled because their customers can’t get to them? And what is the cost of poor air quality as a result of this overloading?
I applaud the town council for giving S&R a go but I’m afraid the writing has been on the wall from the outset – it has to be a fully blown P&R system to solve the problem. Nothing less (short of a miraculously rapid change of attitude by the community in relation to their cars) will do.
What I really don’t want to hear, though, is the likely failure of this S&R experiment being used as yet further proof, following the entirely predictable failure of the Woodside P&R several years ago, that P&R will never work in Stortford, thus putting another false nail in the P&R coffin. P&R has to work here as part of an overall modal shift strategy because there is no other way.
I’ve said this before and I repeat it now: abandoning our cars in favour of walking, cycling and public transport won’t work until the fossil fuel that powers them runs out or becomes too expensive to consider or until someone forcibly takes them away from us. And I don’t like to think about the sort of society that would do that.