Hot off the presses of Lonely Planet comes a new guide to the West Country, which rather cheekily suggests that Bath, despite its spectacular architecture, cultural sophistication and culinary savoir-faire, will have you, the tourist, “weeping into your steering wheel” as you try to negotiate the rush-hour traffic.
And there was a telling comment about the article from a reader on thisisbath.co.uk : “You’re not stuck in traffic; you are the traffic.”
It’s a tricky one. Visitors to Bath have the option of arriving by car, train, coach, bus or bike. Each has its pros and cons, but for most people the big pro about driving a car is freedom.
Freedom from timetables, freedom from arriving in need of a shower, freedom to enjoy your own space as you travel. And, sadly, freedom to sit in a queue on the London Road pumping exhaust fumes into the skies above the Georgian city.
Those of us who live here often end up being part of the same traffic, but the reasons are a bit different.
In an ideal world there would be no need for cars in Bath. We’d all travel for free, in non-polluting electric monorail pods whose tracks would blend unnoticeably into the honeyed stone background, and which would whisk us silently from our homes on the outskirts to the cultural and retail paradise of the city centre in three minutes flat.
During the brief journey we would be lulled by ambient New Age music and wrapped in an energising cloud of lavender, grapefruit and patchouli essential oils, arriving at the SouthGate transport hub refreshed, envigorated and primed to be gently separated from our money.
In the real world, there’s First Bus.
For which, unlike the mythical monorail, you have to pay.
Of course bus companies have to make money. And of course if the fares were subsidised, we’d end up paying for them through our council tax in any case. There’s no such thing as a free ride.
But there is something a little bit skewed about a city where the most economic way to get your family into the centre is to drive a mile and a half to one of the most expensive car parks in town.
Last Saturday, even before First put its single and return fares up, it was cheaper to park in the Podium for an hour than to take self and young Miss D on the bus from Zone 3 to the bank and shops.
Cycling isn’t an option for us.
Walking in might have been, but walking back – uphill all the way – with the mighty half shoulder of lamb ordered by Mrs D was not.
Even walking there and getting the bus back would have been more expensive than driving and parking.
If we’d wanted to stay in town for longer than an hour, it might have made economic sense to drive half a mile to the Park and Ride, get the bus in and out, and then drive back home. Economic, but logistically bonkers.
We all want our freedom, and we all want our flexibility. But just for once, it would be rather nice to feel you could be part of the solution to transport around Bath, rather than part of the problem.