Saturday, 19 November 2011

Carfree in mid-Wales

In this week’s media blitz, a frequent comment from sceptics was along the lines “not owing a car might be ok if you live in a city or town, but what if you live in a rural area?” For some reason, Wales was often cited. So imagine my delight when this story popped into my inbox, sent by Jacqui, from…a village in mid Wales.
“I will confess that it wasn’t really of my own choice to begin with. On the 3rd of August 2010 I had my driving license taken from me for a road rage incident. At first I was distraught but I’d hated driving for years, I found it so stressful. In fact so stressful that it was one of the reasons why I moved out of Bristol to the quiet country side of Mid-Wales. I’ve lived here for 13 years now, and until 2 years ago I hadn’t suffered road rage like I used to in Bristol. That is until Tesco moved into Newtown, Powys, and added a set of traffic lights to the main junction in town where there used to be a round-about, causing major traffic problems in town where there never used to be any. Traffic jams began growing to several miles long, on bank holidays they could reach up to 10 miles long! Suddenly just popping into town was no longer possible. You faced a long delay and major stress. This resulted in my loss of driving license, with a 12 month ban.
At first I researched the bus time-table and found that there were just 3 buses a day through my village of Kerry, 3 miles from Newtown. The first was 8.15am and the next was 10.50am. The first was too early as I couldn’t leave my daughter by herself before going to school and the second was too late if I had a lot to do in town. So I invested in an electric bike. I needed one with quite a beefy motor to get me up the steep hills home, so I bought myself an Ezee Sprint. Shortly after I bought myself a kiddy trailer, not for my daughter as she was too big for it by then but for putting shopping in, kind of like the boot of a car really! I can get all my weeks shopping in this and my bike gets me and all the shopping up the steep hills home with no problem. I once weighed the shopping out of curiosity to see how much I was pulling and it was 48 lbs.!
I am much fitter than I’ve ever been, I’m not stressed out all the time because of the two-fold benefits of cycling, 1) I don’t get stuck in the traffic and 2) the exercise gets those happy-hormones flowing! I just laugh when I see the traffic jams in town now, I just take the short-cuts and often get home before others do that are going my way. Plus the price of petrol no longer causes me anxiety, except that the price of food increases as a result. Admittedly the bike is only for short distances, up to say 10 miles. Any longer journeys I do on the bus or train. But I’ve saved so much money by no longer owning a car, that 6 months after losing my license I bought a new living room carpet costing £500, and 12 months later I bought a new double-glazed front door with side-panel, costing nearly £1700.
A car is just a bottomless pit into which we pour our money into. And it is possible to be car free. Only trouble is that today’s society is geared towards the car driver, with out-of-town shopping centres, shops out of walking distance from the nearest bus stop, and village shops nearly all closed. The whole of society would have to change before a lot of people could give up their cars. People in cities surely would have no trouble catching a bus to get where they want to go. It largely boils down to people not being prepared to take on a different lifestyle, it’s easier with a car and you have total freedom.
But there are ways to get to where you want to go other than a car, either by bike, bus, train or taxi. Some people might think that these things are too expensive but if you don’t own a car then you are saving far more than you would be spending. Most big cities already have bike lanes to make it safer for cyclists. 30 years ago I lived in Bracknell, Berks., and even then they had a whole cycle path network throughout the town and you rarely had to even cross a road. I have no intentions of getting my driving license back, as that would just be inviting stress back into my life. If I can do it at the age of 47 anyone can!”

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