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Friday, 5 August 2011

Getting Around Soviet Style


Back in June, I made a short visit to the UK, to tie up some odds and ends in preparation for my life in Ukraine. I flew into Gatwick, took a train to Croydon, where, as I was travelling light, I decided to save money and get the bus. It was a short walk to the stop and the bus was already waiting. I hopped on the gleaming 2 year old vehicle and marveled at its airiness, cleanness and at how modern it was.

Single to Sutton please I politely asked
Sure, thats £2.20 please an equally polite driver replied
Sorry, thats Sutton in Surrey not Sutton Coldfield

I nearly dropped the pound coin I had prepared and suddenly realized where all the £2.20s had been spent. Buying the bloody bus.

Now you can call me Mr. Cynical, and you would be right, but to me, the bus is supposed to be transport for the masses, a cheap economical way to get about for those on low incomes or those in some rash misjudgment, feel that today, they will save the planet by not driving. The longest I am going to spend on the bus, traffic permitting is about 45 minutes. I dont need comfy seats, air conditioning or spacious modern surroundings. I want cheap.

Air conditioning Ukrainian style

Here in Ukraine, they have got it right. The transport system had probably seen better days under Khrushchev, by Brezhnev it was antiquated and under Gorbachov it was derelict. Gorbachov gently handed the reins of the stampeding horse of communism over to democracy some 20 years ago, but still the same transport system exists. But that is not a bad thing. Yesterday, I got on one of the multitude of trolley routes that pass our flat. It was ancient; in fact I am sure somebody had carved druid runes into the paintwork. The seats were made of solid Bakelite, the disabled access bore startling similarities to the abled access and as this was a bendy trolley it had a big rubber bellows in the middle. This had a hole in it that you could, erm, drive a bus through. The pun was intended. Being a trolley, it was electric so you would expect whisper quiet. Not a word of it, in fact you couldn’t hear any words, there was the screech of metal upon metal, bumps, crashes and of course the sound of car horns beeping because the driver just cut them up.


Granted, the seats are uncomfortable
I had the misfortune of sitting behind an elderly gentleman whose personal aroma could only be described as a subtle infusion of garlic with b.o. The passengers were a cross section of Ukrainian life, Babushka’s, students, mothers and children, in fact exactly the same as on any bus in the UK. Except it wasn’t the same, sure the journey took exactly the same time for the same distance but it cost me 10p. No not a misprint, 10p. Yes it was old, uncomfortable and had I been in a wheel chair, impossible, but I wasnt and so it suited me perfectly. I had to make a relatively short journey across town, the trolley stopped outside my flat and it cost next to nothing.

Of course there wasnt much choice, I dont have a car so it was the trolley or Shankys pony, but if I did have a car, I feel confident I would still use public transport. Now, where did I put my Ukrainian AutoTrader?