London and cars don’t mix very well. The amount of traffic on London’s roads has led to numerous ideas and schemes to encourage people to seek alternative forms of transport. If you park legally you face a difficult hunt for a space, and then pay through the nose when you find one. If you park illegally you will almost certainly be caught, on CCTV camera if not by a warden or a police officer, and if your car is clamped you face a long wait and a large bill. I’m not sure how much it costs these days but I think it’s around £100, to either get a clamp removed or to get your car back if it’s towed away. Add to that Red Routes and the Congestion Charge, and the message is clear: the car should be your last choice if you’re travelling to London.
In the last week then, Karen and I have been introduced to the wonders of the Oyster Card: a credit-card-sized plastic card that you can use again and again on trains, tube, and buses, and which you can top up with credit when it gets low. I’ve known of its existence for a couple of years but have never owned one until now. It’s a great idea in many ways: it’s best price guarantee gives you confidence and frees you up from worrying if you bought the best ticket for your journey, it speeds up transit through the ticket barriers, and it’s good for the environment too — London Transport prints 1 million fewer paper tickets per day than before the Oyster Card’s introduction. When a bus passes me as I walk down the street now I no longer ignore it but look at the number and the destination, and make a mental note of where it could take me for future reference.
To adjust to our new environment we’re downsizing our own transport too. Readers of Neal of Arabia will know that we’ve gone from a Land Cruiser Prado (in Riyadh) to a tiny Volkswagen Polo 1.4. It’s a much smaller, cheaper car, but even that will remain garaged most of the time. My new daily runabout trasport, from tomorrow, will be my new scooter!
Yes, tomorrow I take delivery of a brand new Yamaha X-MAX 125 and I’m very excited about it. In my youth I was quite the biker, and had the long greasy hair and leather jacket to prove it. My earlier bikes were bigger than this and I was stupider, and I proved this by having accidents: nothing life-threatening but I did knock a pedestrian down in the East End of London, and on another occasion allowed a lorry to run over my foot while waiting between lanes at a red light. My biking days came to an end before I met Karen, and to say that motorcycles aren’t her favourite thing is putting it mildly. But, I still have a full bike licence from “the old days”, I’m older and wiser(!) and — the death-trap argument aside — going on two wheels makes sense on every level. Scooters are cheap to run, fun to ride, easy to park, and are exempt from the Congestion Charge.
So, by leaving the car in the garage and jumping on my new scooter instead I’ll be helping to keep London moving. Let’s hope I can get to the end of the week without crashing into anything.