05 OCT 2017: One of these days vehicular traffic in all the world’s major cities is simply going to grind to a halt and might well never move again. Many of us may have to climb out through the sunroofs before walking away and abandoning our cars forever. At least they may make better digs for homeless people!  

Okay, so that picture may be just a teensy bit exaggerated but things are getting ugly out there.

Remember the good old days when city traffic had clearly defined ‘rush hours’? If you wanted to avoid them, you simply had to leave a tad earlier or later. But no more: Nowadays just about every major city seems to have moved into perpetual rush hour mode. Distance travelled is no longer measured in mph, now hpm (‘hours per mile’) is a more accurate metric.

Unless I absolutely need the car, I’ve long since stopped driving the 45 miles from my Connecticut home into New York City. The highways into the city are bad enough - one can usually get to the outskirts of the city in about an hour – but getting a few additional miles across town can frequently take another 45 minutes. And once you get to your destination, parking garages in midtown Manhattan can cost $70 or more for just a couple of hours - that’s assuming you can find one! The last time I begrudgingly took my car into the city (I had a heap of files that were too bulky to lug onto the train) it took me 45 minutes of going in ever widening circles to find a garage without a ‘Full’ sign outside. When I did find one, I was almost a cab ride away from my destination!

By comparison an express commuter train to Grand Central Terminal (at 42nd Street) gets me there in just under an hour, a round-trip, peak ticket costs around $30.00 and the subway, although crowded, is safe, clean and affordable to most parts of the city.

With its 8.8 million denizens, London has a lot in common with New York. Arriving at Heathrow early last Friday morning, I’d contemplated taking Uber into the city – if the city’s taxi tsars have their way it won’t be around much longer – but after talking to a Virgin Atlantic agent in the arrivals lounge, I thought better of it. It was around 7:30 a.m. when she counseled that, “Unless you want to pack sandwiches for lunch in the car, the Heathrow Express is the only way into the city at this time of the morning.”

She was right. The Heathrow Express takes a mere 15 minutes to travel the 20 miles to Paddington Station – which means it zooms along at 80 mph. One pays a pretty penny for such rapidity however: A one-way ticket cost me £25.00, ($41 ) which for a 15-minute ride is pretty steep – this Saturday for instance just £2 ($3.30) more would get you a one-way Ryanair ticket from London to Bordeaux!

Once at Paddington you theoretically have two choices – cab or tube. However, unless you really know your way around the subway system and have minimal baggage, the only sensible move is to grab a cab. This guarantees you a chatty driver who’ll happily fill you in on everything you pass as he (97.8% of London cabbies are male) zigzags down all nature of backstreet shortcuts to get to your hotel. It can still take you a long time to get there though - last year the average traffic speed in the City of London was just under four miles per hour.

I opted for a stately three-mile cab ride to Charing Cross and from there took a blissfully easy 20-minute train ride to my destination of Blackheath in Southeast London where I was staying with friends.

Except for seeing my beloved Miami Dolphins lose badly in their game at Wembley Stadium – I had a great (birthday) weekend and we all used almost nothing but public transport. All too soon however, when it came to planning my means of transport to Heathrow for an 11:30 a.m. departure, to a person, my London friends rolled their eyes in dismay. To my mind it was a simple 23-mile trip across the city but to them it seemed tantamount to preparing to climb Mount Everest.

It got worse when I declared that I was going to take an Uber rather than battle rush hour subways and trains. Against a backdrop of groans and much shaking of heads and pursing of lips, one of them asked, “Why can’t you get a later flight? Mid-afternoon wouldn’t be quite as bad.” Another suggested that, if I left by 5:30 a.m. – six hours before my flight! - I “might” avoid the worst of the traffic. Stubbornly, I was having none of it. I did however compromise by setting out at 7:45, much earlier than I would normally have done.

Well the good news is that my Uber driver managed a far greater speed than that City of London average: We positively flew along at an average of 10.2 mph and pulled into Heathrow a couple of minutes after 10.00. I made my flight okay but must confess to a few anxious moments along the way.

The really good news is that, as none of my friends in London read this column, nary a one of them will have the opportunity to say, “See, we told you so!”

 

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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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