July 23 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, May 1, 2014
It’s Catch the Bus Week, seven days designed to encourage car drivers to become bus passengers. Car-loving Stacia Briggs decided to give public transport a fare chance and hitched a ride on a First Eastern Counties bus.
1) You can surreptitiously spy on people if you’re on the top deck (clearly this is not officially sanctioned, but I challenge you not to try and have a sneaky peak into people’s houses/gardens).
2) You can see Norfolk from an entirely different perspective. I spend my life staring at the road ahead of me rather than at the scenery.
3) You can text on the bus. Try that in the car and you’re likely to have your collar felt by the boys and girls in blue.
4) Banish all worries about where you’re going to park the car, whether you’ve got enough change for the meter and whether you can ease your vast 4x4 into a gap designed for a Smart car. You don’t need to park the car! You have no car! You are on a bus!
5) You can probably beat the traffic in rush hours. Dedicated bus lanes that really annoy you when you’re in a car are suddenly your salvation. Take THAT car drivers!
6) Just by taking the bus rather than driving to work every day, you can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 3.8 tonnes per year.
7) The only bit of the journey you need to concentrate on is (a) the bit where you get on and (b) the bit where you get off. The rest of the time you can read the EDP, catch up on emails, stare blankly into space or plan your day. Do not try and put nail varnish on while in the bus. Take it from me: bad idea.
8) Some of First’s buses sound more luxurious than my front room – they have leather seats, WiFi and something called ‘air chill’. Mini-fridges are surely next on the list.
9) You can have a cheeky pint or two and take the bus home – any more than that would be discourteous and probably not recommended: speed bumps feel bumpier in a bus (I doubt they feel any better with a hangover, either).
10) Most people in Norfolk live less than 500m away from a bus stop! This is much closer than any of us live to an IKEA.
Since I passed my driving test aged 17 and one week (neither of my parents could drive and I lived in Old Costessey – it was a necessity) I’ve taken no more than a handful of bus journeys.
Occasionally, I take the bus to the station if I’m taking the train, but that’s my limit. Perhaps it was because I spent 17 years and one week of my life reliant on buses and their appeal lost its sparkle, perhaps I’m a misanthropic misery-guts who prefers their own company and the selfish convenience of a car. Actually, it’s both. But this is Catch the Bus Week 2014 – so, in the spirit of adventure, I caught the bus.
Spearheaded by Greener Journeys, Catch the Bus Week is an annual, nationwide campaign to encourage fewer car journeys and more trips by bus and coach.
Until Sunday, passengers in Norfolk are being given the opportunity to try the bus at a reduced fare with 20 per cent off the First Weekly Network ticket on any First Eastern Counties Service.
Launched this week, the new Norwich Bus Charter draws together 12 pledges to passengers by bus operators which include reliability and punctuality (including a fare refund if the bus is more than 15 minutes late), the cleanliness and safety of vehicles, shelters and interchanges, accessibility for wheelchair users, quality of information on services and consultation on major changes, notification of any fare changes and discounted fares for regular travelers.
First, Konectbus, Anglianbus, Norfolk Green, Norse and Sanders Coaches have all signed up to the pledge.
Bus bosses hope the improvements will ensure that bus services provide an attractive, high-quality and reliable alternative to the private car which in turn will help to cut congestion, improve air quality and help Norwich retain its place as one of the country’s top shopping destinations and an attractive place for tourists to visit.
The area covered by the charter is Norwich and its surrounding built-up areas.
Hugo Forster, general manager of First Eastern Counties, said: “Bus journeys are greener, more economic and cost-effective. Travelling by bus accounts for two-thirds of public transport journeys in the UK.”
I bear this in mind as I wait to board the number 25 bus on Unthank Road, where it appears as if two-thirds of all the students at UEA are waiting alongside me (to be fair, they have a legitimate reason to be using the bus, I am just a pleasure cruiser).
On the top deck, I am instantly reminded of the number one reason why I like buses – from the top deck, you can see things you just can’t see from a car, even a really high car like my 4x4, which is essential for the rough terrain of the Golden Triangle.
I try and concentrate on the proper reasons why I should be appreciating being on a bus – the green credentials, the fact I can sit and contemplate my life instead of swearing at people in front of me who are driving at 17mph in a 30mph zone, the money-saving, the safety reasons – but then I spot that someone still has all their Christmas decorations up on their first floor. Brilliant.
And someone else has six glitter balls in their bedroom. And there’s a garden with not one but TWO hot tubs in it. A huge Yoda cut-out guards one bedroom while on one major road in Norwich there’s a house with a whole room filled with wardrobes like Narnia’s own spaghetti junction.
I try to stop spying on people’s private lives and take things to a slightly higher level, both literally and metaphorically: being on the top deck really does give you a totally different view of the city – and it’s quite magnificent.
Eaton Park from the top deck is a sight to behold: the miniature railway can be seen in its entirety, loyal volunteers hard at work, the boating lake, the tennis courts, the tree-lined avenues, the colonnaded pavilion with its domed bandstand.
And as Elvis Costello almost sang, It’s Been a Good Year for the Dandelions – the park is covered with the last straggling yellow flowerheads and countless clocks dispersing their seeds into the air and as you round the corner there are bluebells on Bluebell Lane and a glimpse of UEA lake through the woodland.
The number 25 winds through UEA before returning along Unthank Road, past the Roman Catholic cathedral, a view of City Hall, Chapelfield Gardens, the city walls, Norwich Castle, the iconic view of Norwich Marketplace through Davey Place and down Prince of Wales Road, with its impressive architecture (look out for the Royal Hotel and the glass rooftop conservatory). Then it takes in Norwich train station next to the river before ending its journey at the Riverside shopping complex.
Apparently, canny tourists have been using the 25 as a cheaper version of the official sightseeing trail – you can add various other routes to take in different parts of the city (service 11 on the pink line for Mousehold and Norwich Cathedral, service 23/24 on the red line for Riverside Walk and Cow Tower) – following the lead of visitors in London who have been using the number 11 route for years to avoid paying exorbitant fees for an official tour.
Staying on the bus for my return trip, I have to admit that things have definitely looked up from the bad old days I remember from my youth: the scary conductors, scratchy plaid seats, lingering smell of tobacco and juddering buses have been replaced with vehicles where the seating is plusher than in my front room, where there’s WiFi and a ride as smooth as you could hope for.
I caught the bus in Catch the Bus Week and I think I’ll be catching it again once it’s over. Close your bedroom curtains, cover the hot tubs and take down the Christmas decorations: you never know when I’ll be back on a bus.
• FirstDay tickets enable you to travel on any First bus in your chosen zone. You can also buy a network ticket for unlimited travel on First’s services throughout the eastern counties. Fares start from £3.60 for a young person’s FirstDay ticket.