I am struggling to use my Senior Railcard regularly. It came free, so it doesn't affect me financially if I use it only rarely. But that seems a waste. The Railcard is one of the major perks of senior life, and I want to make use of it on principle. And in theory that shouldn't be difficult in the south-east of England, with its dense railway network, and plenty of places linked by frequent train services.
And yet I am still driving almost everywhere. What's the problem? Let's make lists of why it could be great to take the train, and why it often isn't. Bear in mind that, for me, there are only two likely rail destinations: Brighton (for ordinary socialising or shopping, or getting my hair done) and London (which I would like to visit now and then for touristic or cultural reasons). I'll concentrate on Brighton.
Why train travel to Brighton can be a great idea
# Parking isn't easy, and taking the train means I don't have to find somewhere to park.
# And parking is very expensive! The return rail fare is actually the same as the cheapest on-street parking I can conveniently use up to 8.00pm, and much less than what I'd pay for even two hours of multi-story city-centre parking.
# If meeting friends, I can have a few drinks without worrying about that nagging drink-driving problem.
# Although it's a bit of a walk to my local station, and then, at the Brighton end, from the station to the town centre, this is all jolly good exercise! Highly beneficial.
Why train travel to Brighton is not always a good idea
# I am within walking distance of a station, but (to ensure that I have time to buy a ticket) I need to allow nearly half an hour to walk from my front door to the station.
# Walking to and from the station, and hanging around for the train, is not comfortable in bad weather.
# The train services are generally reliable, but that's not to be absolutely counted on.
# I always have a seat on the train, but who knows who my fellow-passengers will be.
# The walk home from my local station is no joke in the dark. It's creepy. And I'm always on my own.
Today, for instance, it's the Clare Project Meet & Eat in Brighton. It kicks off at 7.30pm, when it will have been dark for three hours already. There is no way I'm taking short cuts to the station in the dark! I'll have to go the long way round.
Brighton itself will feel safe, because there are so many lights, and so many people about. But I'll be travelling home after 10.00pm. Brighton station will be fine, but I'll be concerned about the company I'll have on the train. And nervous about who might notice me at the home end. An unaccompanied woman leaving the station and walking home alone late at night will attract attention. The last thing I want is an unwelcome encounter, benignly intended or not, with someone leaving the train with me, or staggering out of the village pub. Friends have suggested a taxi from my local station, but that would instantly more than double the travel cost of the evening, rural fares being what they are. I won't do it.
So, tonight I'll be using the car. I can travel almost door-to-door. It's super-convenient, and super-safe. The extortionate cost of central parking? Well, that's the price of personal safety. Worth paying for.
And I'd rather drink nothing if it means I can use Fiona, and feel immune from poor weather and unpleasant drunks.