Thursday, 17 August 2017

A view from the window

Something you won't see from the train

The point has often been made that people’s experiences in their daily lives inevitably influence their perceptions of wider issues. A thought that occurred to me is that how people see the British pub scene may well be affected by their use of the transport system.

According to the latest edition of the Department for Transport’s Transport Statistics Great Britain, 82% of all adults between the ages of 30 and 59 hold a driving licence, broken down between 86% of males and 77% of females. Although it isn’t analysed in the statistics, those who don’t are likely to be disproportionately drawn from the lower socio-economic categories, so amongst mature adults in the ABC1 groups, not having a licence is a distinct rarity.

Yet I would say those who don’t are considerably over-represented amongst those who pursue pubs and beer as a leisure interest. Before anyone jumps down my throat, this is purely an observation, not any kind of criticism. For some, it may have been a deliberate decision, as being a non-driver makes life simple and avoids a whole load of sacrifices, compromises and balancing acts. But it’s probably more a case of seeing it as an easily accessible hobby, or because being a public transport enthusiast (where there is a strong overlap wth CAMRA activism) makes the idea of taking up driving less attractive in the first place.

As a non-driver, virtually all of your long-distance journeys will probably be by train between the centres of towns and cities, even travelling relatively short distances such as between Manchester and Rochdale. There’s a lot that you will see, but also, by not using the roads, a lot that you will miss. It’s really only through travelling by road that you will witness for yourself the scale of the devastation of the British pub trade in recent years.

Journey from the centre of Manchester to any of its major satellite towns and you’ll see a whole parade of closed and boarded pubs. Over time, some will be demolished or converted to alternative use, but plenty still remain. On some trips, such as that to Oldham, there may well be more closed pubs than open ones. Continue over the tops to Huddersfield, and you’ll see plenty more. And on any longer journey away from the motorway network, the evidence of pub closures in rural areas, villages and small towns is inescapable. Often, each trip made every year or so will reveal yet another one that has bitten the dust. If your experience was confined to your own local area, and the centres of towns and cities in other parts of the country, you could be forgiven for concluding that the trade continued to enjoy fairly rude health

On the other hand, you will also miss a major advance in the pub trade. On the outskirts of pretty much every town of any size, you will now find a modern retail park, and alongside this, more often than not, you will find a new-build family dining pub, often, although not always, owned by Greene King or Marston’s. They may not be your cup of tea, or mine, but they must represent about the biggest category of bricks-and-mortar investment in the sector in recent years.

27 comments:

  1. You sound almost optimistic here. Interesting post.

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  2. I think that you are making a mistake in equating holding a driving licence with using a motor car as your primary means of transport. A good number of licence holders, myself included, regard driving a motor car as a last resort when it comes to travelling. Especially when going out drinking which is an activity not really compatible with driving.

    Nor does not using a car mean that you travel mainly by train, especially in the lower socio-economic classes. Many reluctant drivers are older people who have a "buss pass" and make many journeys by buss. And you certainly get a good view of the state of the pub trade from a bus.

    Indeed, on a recent bus trip, my wife was vastly amused by my conversation with a drinking buddy, The conversation was essentially a commentary on the many closed pubs we passed with the occasional nod to a new micro pub which we didn't think would survive

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  3. Having a driving licence obviously doesn't guarantee you're going to make extensive car journeys, but not having one pretty much guarantees you won't, except occasionally as a passenger.

    I'd suggest very few people ever undertake bus journeys except to their nearest towns. And do any service buses take you past the Fickle Mermaid?

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  4. Perhaps you are right though I often travel as far as Derby by bus. Longer bus journeys, like many car journeys, tend to be on motorways. But one can more easily "Journey from the centre of Manchester to any of its major satellite towns" by bus or tram than by motorcar and can view the closed pubs.

    High Peak busses service 190 passes within a furlong of the renamed Fickle Mermaid; not a restaurant I would chose to visit.

    More appropriate to your thesis it passes the closed White Horse, the closed Jodrell Arms, the closed Navigation, the closed Dog and Partridge, the closed Squirrels, the closed Crown and Mitre, the closed Cross Keys, the recently reopened Wanted Inn, the site of the demolished Royal Forester, the closed Devonshire Arms, and the funeral director's which was the Prince of Wales

    All that in less than ten miles. You don't need to travel by car to see what is happening to public houses.

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    1. And today I rode the number 60 bus to Macclesfield. Passing the closed White Horse, the closed Bulls Head, the closed Highwayman, the closed Rising Sun, the burned out George and Dragon and the closed Durham Ox. Half the pubs on that ten mile rout closed in the last ten years.

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    2. The White Horse shows as open on WhatPub, which was updated only on 15/08/17. And surely if currently closed it's only temporary.

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    3. The White Horse has been closed for some months now. Local opinion is that it will not reopen. It is not in a good location and the nearby Drum and Monkey *(formerly the Board) seems to have captured most of the local trade.
      On the positive side: work has restarted on the Jodrell Arms. And Mike Wild of the Whaley Bridge Brewery is currently fitting out a brewery tap.

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  5. When I first checked out the CAMRA wallas a similar feature struck me. How few of them, despite being a cohort of the middle class, owned cars. Most were public transport users & as such knew all the local bus routes & numbers & all had season tickets.

    Whether this influenced their behaviour or was specifically chosen as to better support their hobby I never figured out.

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    1. It is undoubtedly the case, but hard to tell whether the chicken or the egg came first. Even one or two who have driving licences have abandoned car ownership.

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    2. My son has a very well paid job with a high tech company initially in London and nowon the West coast of the USA. To him and his contemporaries the idea of owning a car in a city is regarded as quaint. He lives within walking distance of his work and local entertainment, uses Uber taxis to get across town and hires a car for weekends away or holidays.

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    3. I think we're getting off topic here into areas that we have extensively discussed in the past in another place. And your son might start to take a different view if and when he has a family.

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    4. I will put the caveat that when based in large cities I as most do, depend on the tube/bahn/trams/metro but rarely the bus. With the exception of a tube strike in London & an unexploded WW2 bomb scare in the Munich district of Schwabing that had me figuring out bus numbers & routes.

      However in northern towns the public transport system is sub optimal. It's bus based and buses are poor.

      A car is the logical choice. Therefore it is surprising to meet people in these areas that do not drive. Maybe they are ahead of their time. Apparently along with pub going, car driving is in decline among the young though this does not bear out my own anecdotal view of a nearby sixth form college that appears to have a lot of student drivers. Learning to drive was common when I was in the sixth but not car ownership. I was rarity at university buying an old ford escort in the final year of undergraduate studies.

      To stay off topic, my parents never willingly used buses. In retirement my father is all over his free bus pass using it whenever he can. My mother ignores hers in favour of a car or taxi. Some people like free stuff more than others.

      To return to topic, the cheap (subsidised) off peak bus passes offered in european cities encourage public transport use among those who do not use the bahn for work & this has a knock on effect to the local economy & the use of restaurants, kneipes, beer gardens & the like.

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    5. Another point is that most of the committed CAMRA non-drivers are single blokes. As I suggested to David Brown, if they got married and started a family their perspective might well change.

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    6. I'm still waiting for my bus pass, as is my wife. We both hit 60 two years ago, only to find the government had moved the goalposts, and we are not eligible now for a bus pass until we reach state retirement age.

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    7. You're still working, Paul, and presumably earning a reasonable whack, so why should taxpayers earning £12k a year subsidise a bus pass for you to go on pub crawls?

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    8. god forbid i say anything that could be interpreted as agreement with Paul, and I hope this isn't, but transport isn't a free market anywhere. My choice of car ownership isn't a result of market forces, it's a result of transport policy. The government have invested in roads & built tax incentives to private transport in areas of less dense population. In areas of dense population this is impractical so public transport has investment and incentives.

      If this were to change, for whatever reason, you could expect behaviour to change. Though I guess what I am looking forward to most is the self driving car. I fully intend to be first in the queue.

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    9. Oh and my 70+ father thinks his free bus passes is not really justified, it's just that he likes free stuff. In case you were wondering where I get it from.

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    10. Although the "bus pass" is on the face of it an individual benefit it can also be seen as a subsidy to rural bus services by a government that is ideological against subsidising public transport. Without that subsidy many rural bus services would be lost and many people would become isolated or forced to use motor cars which they are no longer really capable of driving safely.

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    11. The answer to both your questions Mudge, is "yes", but seeing as until just a few years ago, bus passes were being handed out to people on their 60th birthday I do feel slightly aggrieved that the government have moved the goal posts.

      I might have known that an ultra-free marketer, libertarian like yourself would be against any form of tax-payer funded benefit, but I am also a taxpayer Mudge, handing over quite a wedge each month to HMRC.

      It would threfore be nice to get a little back after having been robbed blind by the taxman for all these years!

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    12. Ah yes, the mindset that thinks the government is doing you a favour when it takes a quid off you and then gives you a 30p voucher than you can only spend on buses.

      And FWIW I wasn't opposing providung bus passes to people over the state pension age.

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    13. The government doesn't do anybody favours, even though it likes to give the impression that it does. This applies to whichever party is in charge!

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  6. I don't reside in the UK but there is one fellow who makes use of buses (as well as trains):

    http://brapa-4500.blogspot.ca/2017/07/brapa-summer-special-day-3-truro-love.html

    Cheers :)

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    1. Yes, but Simon rather proves my point in that he makes all long journeys either by train or in his father's car. He only uses buses to get from the station to his end destination.

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    2. He either has a very understanding father, or he tips him well!

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    3. I get the impression his dad quite enjoys it, to be honest :-)

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  7. Good point Mudge. My apologies. Wasn't trying to be contrary.

    I wish I had the opportunity to use a bus/train combo. Most places in Canada outside of the big cities it's car or nothing.

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  8. I find adult nappies are essential for long rural bus journeys

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