22 September 2015

Living car-free in Scotland?

We've lived in the UK for over 20 years, and in Scotland for 12, without needing a car.  It helps that Oxford and Edinburgh have both proved cycle and walking friendly, and both have excellent bus systems too.  Even since we've had kids, we've not regretted not having a car in the city.  Just this summer, with an 8yo and a 4yo we managed expeditions by train and bike to Tantallon and Dirleton Castles, and their associated beaches.  It's great for the kids to have the experience of getting places under their own steam, and really seeing the countryside.  Plus it tires them out, so they sleep soundly at night :)

But half-term poses new challenges.  It's not that we can't cycle 40km easily in a day as a family, with the 8yo on her own bike, and the 4yo on the tandem.  And we're pretty adept at carrying supplies in panniers.  But a lot of places that we'd like to go require a train trip first -- like the off-road route from Glasgow to Loch Lomond.  The problem is that Scotrail only lets you book 2 bikes per train. And it won't take tandems at all (even 'compact' ones like ours).   So, while an ideal scenario would be to borrow a second tandem, load them up and take the train to Pitlochry, or up the West Highland way, we can't do that.  Even if we just took one tandem, we'd still have 3 bikes, which is also not allowed.  And as Alison Johnstone wrote earlier, just getting 2 bikes on some trains can be a challenge.

Supposedly, guards can use their discretion and let extra bikes on, but when travelling with kids, that's really not an option - you need to know that you'll all be able to get on trains, and arrive at a decent hour, not gamble on a friendly guard.   A few years ago, we got stuck on the platform at Longniddry with a toddler at dusk because the guard wouldn't let us on an otherwise empty train, because 2 bikes had boarded at an earlier station.  It didn't matter that the train was full of empty carriages, this particular woman was determined to show us that we didn't count and physically prevented us from boarding.  We had to wait another hour, as it got dark and cold. It spoiled a lovely day out watching the geese at Aberlady bay.   So, no, I won't be trusting to the good will of the guards when venturing further afield.

What's frustrating about this is that Abellio, the new franchise holder promotes itself as 'cycle friendly' and the Scottish government wants to promote 'cycle tourism'.  But I guess that's just for young fit couples, and single adventurous cyclists.  Not for families that would rather do without the hassles of car ownership.

Well, we've given in.  There is now a British license-holder in our family, and we'll be joining the car club as soon as we can.  But if the franchise terms for other lines and orders for new trains could contemplate some flexible seating into which bikes could go, or having multiple cars with bike carriage, then there would be so many more options for families like ours.

for more info:  http://www.spokes.org.uk/2015/07/new-glasgow-edinburgh-trains/

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