Our last county council meeting, on May 18th, fell on the last day of Walk to Work Week, and it got me thinking about how I, and other county councillors, get to County Hall for meetings; do we set a good example to council officers, and West Sussex residents, for using alternatives to the car?
Most of the time I cycle to Worthing railway station, take the train to Chichester, and walk from there to County Hall. It’s perfectly feasible to get to County Hall for 10.00 a.m., even gtting an offpeak fare. With the mileage rates councillors get for driving, I save the council money as well as feeling virtuous, or possibly smug, about my choices.
Could others do the same? Well, with a list of county councillors’ addresses from the WSCC website, Google Maps, and a website for checking train times, it turns out to be quite easy to work out who (in theory) should be able to use public transport for their trips to County Hall. Note that this does not take into account individual circumstances: there are at least two county councillors I know of who would find it physically difficult, if not impossible, to walk/train/walk to Chichester. They both do good jobs, so this is not intended to impugn them directly or indirectly; but they are included in the figures I give. There may well be other cases where personal circumstances make it difficult or impossible to use public transport.
The parameters I set for this are:
- Is it possible to walk directly to County Hall in less than half an hour.
- If (1) isn’t possible, is there a nearby railway station from which it is possible to get a train after 9 a.m. to arrive at Chichester by 10 a.m.?
- If (2) is true, could someone walk from their home to that station in 20 minutes or less?
- If it’s not possible to walk to a station in 20 minutes (3), can you drive in 10 minutes or less?
I’ve ignored the possibility of cycling, either directly or to a station, as I’d have to start making my own calculations of cycling times. I’ve also left out the option of getting a bus to Chichester; you can do this on Google Maps, but I’m not convinced the timetables are up to date, nor that it would make much of a difference to the overall figures.
Using Google Maps, you can enter two postcodes and ask for walking directions between them. It doesn’t take account of pedestrian short cuts, only using paths beside roads, so some of these calculations could possibly be slightly shorter; I’m also a little sceptical about the projected walking times in Google Maps, as it claims that my walk to Worthing station should take 18 minutes – in fact I can do it in 12 minutes, and my 3 year old can scoot it in 18. So I’ve split the difference and called my walk to Worthing 15 minutes, and hence adjusted down elsewhere by a similar factor of 5/6.
There are 71 county councillors, but only 70 give a full address on the WSCC website: still a pretty good sample.
Here’s what I found:
2 County Councillors live within 30 minutes walk of County Hall
42 live within 20 minutes walk of a station
8 live within 10 minutes drive of a station
18 really have no option but to drive
So nearly 75% could avoid car use without too much personal disruption. And happily, in all but one case the train fare would be cheaper than the mileage allowance – so, given the disruption we’ve asked council staff to put up with pay freezes, job cuts and reorganisation – perhaps even a little disruption to councillors’ lives would really show that we’re ‘all in it together’.
Breaking it down by district:
Unsurprisingly, it’s the rural areas of Chichester and Horsham, and the farther reaches of Mid Sussex, where councillors don’t have much choice about their travel mode, whereas in the coastal region from Southwick west through Worthing and Arun it’s much easier for people to choose the train.
Perhaps if more people travelled by train, there might be a keener sense of the worth of public transport? And if the bus was a feasible option, perhaps the council might have done more to protect bus service subsidies?