Wow! I just had the most luxurious bus journey I could ever imagine. Sometimes people who like cars have a lack of imagination about how good public transport could potentially be these days. To inspire you, here are the highlights of todays trip:
- The bus was due to leave Chang Rai in the far north of Thailand at 8am. It was ten minutes late leaving, the only flaw in the whole journey. It arrived at 7:30pm this evening (11.5 hrs later) in Bangkok. The journey is a distance of 785km, slightly shorter but roughly equivalent to travelling from Aberdeen to London.
- I travelled VIP class, at a cost of 700 Baht, about 14 US dollars or 10 pounds. Admittedly everything is a bit cheaper in Thailand, but even allowing for that, this seems excellent value (National express charge 35 pounds for the economy class trip from Aberdeen to London, which curiously takes about the same amount of time).
- The coach had only three seats across, two on one side of the aisle, one on the other. There were only 24 seats in the whole coach, half the number of economy class seats that could have been squeezed in. I had lots of space and leg room, and I’m very tall.
- Not only was it air conditioned, but they gave you a blanket in case this made you cold. Or to huggle under to help you sleep.
- Like an airplane, refreshments were servered at your seat. At the start, a bottle of chilled water. In the morning, coffee and some excellent pastries. In the late afternoon a can of cool coke, and a refreshing perfumed napkin thing. We stopped for lunch (included in the price), which was rice and a Thai curry. Yum.
- There was a film in the afternoon. Admittedly it was a ludicrously silly Chinese movie for kids, about the God of Cooking who would use marshal arts maneuvers to slice vegetables, mix sauces and create excellent food, and compete with similarly talented rivals. Dubbed in Thai with no subtitles, so perhaps I just didn’t understand what was going on.
- Most importantly, there was a toilet at the back of the coach. This is a great luxury, not featured in even the most upmarket executive cars. Thai roads are very straight and very good quality, so the bus hardly had to turn a short corner, which meant the toilet was usable.
- You could walk round and read books and write and look at the scenary and sleep and think.
If private cars were to be banned, the free market would make all journeys this good within months. Of course, in the new high tech economy these vehicles would also feature:
- Screens on adjustable arms that come out the seat in front, and feature: video on demand (streamed from a hard disk), music on demand (from a massive licensed library), computer games (multiplayer with other passengers), internet access (web and email). All with headphones, of course.
- Sockets for recharging your mobile phone, or any other common electrical device (adapters available from the stewardess).
- Wireless ethernet / wired ethernet / infrared for internet access from your laptop computer or PDA.
- Full at-your-seat bar and snack service (i.e. you can pay for extra food/drinks/sweets/fresh fruit…).
- Full through ticketing between all forms of public transport, including luggage, door to door. In other words, when the bus stops, a licensed taxi driver would automatically meet you, collect your luggage, and take you to your exact final destination, all included in one ticket price. Similar help would appear when you set off. There would be pre-paid porters at every major station to help people with luggage when changing between buses/trains/boats, or to provide other services at a supplement (please could you get me such-and-such a novel from the bookshop across the road…). Also you could send a trunk ahead, like in the Good Old Days.
Repeat after me… We will help save the world from the destructive weather patterns caused by global warming, whilst simultaneously improving service, building community, and creating jobs, by making truly excellent public transport.