Going public

I spent a very pleasant World Car Free Day 2022 using the train, the bus, the metro, the tram, and then once again the metro, the bus and then... In the end I was defeated by the public transport in my district

I actually had to give up on my plans to go by bus because I would have had to wait for 50 minutes, which was more or less how long it would have taken me to do the journey on foot. In fact, I spent much of the day walking, since often there were no bus stops nearby. I wasn’t late for anything and I even somehow managed to turn up a whole week early for one particular meeting. (Let’s just say that the pages of my calendar had got stuck together.) I did manage to pick up an electronic device that had been serviced and lug it back all by myself from point A to B on public transport, though I’d prefer not to have to do the same thing every day. Not once did I get stuck in traffic. I got some physical exercise in and was able to look at all the people commuting to and from the city, so it was generally all pluses, especially as I don’t get to experience such joys every day due to working from home.

In theory (and sometimes even in practice), I’m all in favour of public transport – especially as it’s so cheap that it’s virtually free. Sometimes, however, I suspect that the most passionate advocates of public transport in Warsaw are those who live in the city’s well-connected Mokotów district or some other area close to the city centre. They can set their own working hours, take the kids to the kindergarten and, at most, all they have to carry around is a yoga mat. That is, anyway, how it used to be for me when I lived there.

These days, however, I live a few miles away from Mokotów, but I can still get quite emotional during discussions over such things as the new bus lane on its main road, ul. Puławska. Now that this has come into use, I get stuck in traffic jams at night during the weekend as well as in the middle of a working day. The problem is not so much the bus lane itself, but rather that its opening hasn’t been accompanied by the introduction of more buses, while many of the bus stops en route are in fact unusable, particularly during rush hours, because it’s physically impossible to squeeze yourself onto these beautiful, eco-friendly, but jam-packed vehicles. They also operate along routes that you still have to get to from the surrounding residential areas. The difficulties that causes are particularly multiplied when the local bus route has been shortened and as a result no longer serves either the railway station or takes you to the city centre, due to the need for “savings”. The new bus lane is also often blocked by cars that are desperately trying to get off it and join the traffic jam in the neighbouring lanes. The drivers in my neighbourhood tell chilling stories about children who have to be dropped off at school by 8am with model volcanoes made from coloured paper and glitter and then they somehow have to get to about 33 business meetings across town on a daily basis. There is one way to legally and healthily bypass the traffic – you can become a long-distance all-year-round cyclist with a skin made of rubber and calves made out of steel. Where I live the train is also an “option”. But to get to the platform you have to wait for the level-crossing barriers to be raised and, because other trains are running and more and more people live close to the station, the barriers are down much more often. All of this leads me to suspect that we are getting to the stage when the barriers are going to stay down permanently. Then those living on one side of the tracks will only be able to travel towards Warsaw, while the opposite will be true for those on the other side. If I wanted to go to Warsaw’s Wola district, I would first have to travel towards Radom and then get off at the nearest station, cross the tracks via the footbridge (clearly a brilliant new invention that has not yet reached my area), before changing onto a train heading in the opposite direction. Then all that would be needed is just a quick change onto the metro and then another change onto the metro or tram. A piece of cake, obviously. But maybe it’s better not to fever-dream problems that don’t yet exist and so I should just drop the subject.

In a nutshell, more bus lanes are counter-productive if there are no buses, while trains that run more frequently don’t solve the problem either when passengers cannot even get to them. The upshot to all this is that large suburban residences that cost a vault filled with banknotes – the same as a small city centre flat – should only be sold if they come with teleportation devices included.