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April 3, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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Commute This.

A while back, my car broke down. Now the idea of something breaking in this case is a relative thing, because when it comes down to it, my car was for the most part already broken. The drivers’ side window did not go down. Which was a pain when I was a smoker, because I couldn’t ash out the window, and had to delicately lean over and flick with all my might so as to get the ash out of the passenger side window. On top of this, both the doors on the drivers’ side couldn’t be opened from either inside or outside. I also couldn’t unlock the passenger door from the outside. So to unlock my car I had to unlock the boot, open the back seat on the passenger side, open up the front passenger seat and then climb into my car. People laughed at me when I gave them lifts and I started leaving it unlocked. People would tell me off for such blatant disregard of all the nasty forces in this world that would happily steal such an impressively feminine car. (My car is an impressively girly, purple-ish Volkswagen Polo.) But it finally gave out, in anti-climactic fashion – the electronics quietly failing during the night.

I’m guessing though, that car troubles are a foreign issue for many students.

Extortionary Kelburn rents push more and more students out of the surrounding university suburbs. Our university’s campus is starting to spread further and further across the city, and increasingly tight university timetabling is leading to cross-town scrambling to make class. Shopping needs to be done – and cheaply – so entire flats need to be transported to and from Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save (although you may be tempted to help yourself to the pick’n’mix, on the one time you get complacent they will show little remorse in evicting you from the premises). For any student a car is a valuable commodity. Hell, any practical reasons aside, it’s fun to just take a drive with some friends and clear your head. You’ll discover some weird parts of this city, I promise you. I will never ever forget the Deliverance style road workers on the Upper Hutt-Kapiti Road, or the time we came across weird carnies with shot guns out the back of Karori. (A prize for anyone who can tell me where the Beerhaven steps are in Wellington.)

A car is a necessity for some but it can also be a luxury at the same time. Students are a poor bunch, and owning a car can come hand in hand with several different parts of society holding a gun to your head. You get the Wellington City Council and Wellington’s criminally high parking charges – Wellington is one of few places in this country where you have to pay to park outside your house. And if you live in the central city you can’t even pay to get a permit to park outside your house; god help you if you have unpaid parking tickets. Petrol companies have their hands around your throat, not to mention those pro-environment harpies rolling their eyes at you.

Maybe it’s all this talk about Tony Blair and the climate change conference, but I keep wondering what exactly are the alternatives? We do need to look after the environment, but I can’t preach on this, being an unrepentant polluter myself.

Firstly you have trains, though the New Zealand rail system is a little bit of a joke. They are however, a good alternative to driving to and from the Hutt in rush hour traffic on the motorway. Walking? Biking? Wellington is cold and mountainous. You want me to brave that cold each morning?

The bus? If you want me as a citizen to exercise some sort of moral responsibility and leave my car at home I’m guessing Wellington’s bus system is what you have in mind.

But no, I won’t do it. And coming face to face with public transport in this town just puts me in a bigger hurry to get my car fixed. The buses are never on time. I have in fact stopped actually adhering to timetables and just started showing up whenever. You have as much chance. I have zero idea of the actual time I will arrive there. It is tremendously pointless for actually trying to arrive at work on time. (Thankfully I am my own boss, so I can get the telling off out of the way on the commute. I imagine it’s quite a sight to watch a big bearded guy yelling out “That’s a bad boy!” at the top of his voice on a crowded bus.)

It’s actually pricier for me to bus to work and back then it would be to drive. And it’s poorly thought out. If I walk one block down the road and get off at the start of Courtenay Place it costs me a dollar, but if I get on a block before and off a block after it’s two and a half times more expensive. The bus drivers are rude, often refusing to pick people up or give change. The buses are also crowded, dirty and uncomfortable. They are a poor advertisement for the problems they could relieve. You only have to witness the screeds of rush hour traffic the bus has to content with to see how underused they are. And deservedly so too.

So I won’t take the bus. But I’ll probably have just as much to bitch about driving to work.

We’re damned either way really. I’d just rather be damned in comfort.

Happy Easter.

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About the Author ()

James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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