A ministerial mountain bike to cope with the Old Kent Road - that would be a real touch of class

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The Independent Travel
My bike ride to work yesterday was pretty typical. The five-mile journey from south London to the office goes like this: a debris-strewn cycle lane that peters out just when things get tricky, and is anyway blocked by a delivery van and an articulated lorry; past a Tube station that closed for repairs two years ago and shows no sign of re-opening; and a half-mile detour through a building site because a stretch of the Thames Path is shut for the next two years "for reasons of health and safety" (presumably to damage health and reduce safety).

The journey is made more bearable by the thought that motoring would be worse. I recall an article in The Independent earlier this year, where a former actress described her dreadful five-mile drive to work: "I still live south of the river, so it takes me between an hour and an hour and a half to get to Westminster".

I reached Canary Wharf early enough to grab one of the 15 bike parking spots allocated for the 7,500-capacity tower, and switched on Radio 4. A politician was on the Today programme, promoting the commendable Don't Choke Britain campaign to reduce traffic congestion: "The essence of the campaign is how we can get to work other than by car."

The two quotes, of course, are from the same person: Glenda Jackson, newly appointed Transport Minister. I was delighted to deduce that Ms Jackson had undergone a conversion from her car to public transport since the Independent interview in January.

Had she, I wondered, travelled to the Broadcasting House studio on the 53 bus, which offers an almost door-to-door journey from her home? Perhaps she had taken one of the frequent Connex SouthEastern trains to Charing Cross, followed by a brisk walk? Or maybe there is a ministerial mountain bike to cope with all those pot-holes on the Old Kent Road - now that would be a real touch of class.

Answer: none of the above: the BBC had to send a radio car to her home, adding another dose of noxious emissions (not a reference to Radio 4) to pollution levels that hit a record high for the year in the capital yesterday.

The National Rail Timetable that comes into effect tomorrow is not such gripping reading as, say, Women in Love, but as the first schedule to be published since every train operating company was privatised it has important implications for Britain's transport.

Buried among the millions of digits and footnotes are some encouraging signs. Edinburgh and London move closer, with the journey time shrinking to under four hours. Air travellers in the south will be pleased to see that Gatwick is to acquire a new direct link with Watford, Milton Keynes and Rugby. But others will be appalled at the poor service to some of Britain's smaller airports.

If you want to travel by train from Birmingham or Cambridge to Stansted airport, for example, there is just one train a day - and it arrives at the airport after all the flights have left.

Worse news for people in the North-east: if you miss the 1.24pm next Saturday from Middlesbrough to Teesside airport, you have a whole week to wait before the next one.

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