We Should All Live in Premier Inn

I’ve stayed in Premier Inn quite a few times now. It’s a really convenient hotel to stay in and was especially helpful when I was doing EV road trips over the last few years. They’re all very similar in design. The rooms are virtually identical across the board, they’re good quality but not overly expensive, they’re air conditioned (I’ll get back to that) and they offer everything you need for your stay.

But it was only during my most recent stay in one, at the hotel north of the city of Cambridge that I realised I could live there. Of course you would need to have a cooker and therefore some kind of kitchen, but aside from that, it offers everything I need.

The location is great. It’s super quiet and I was able to cycle into the city centre easily with my Brompton using the guided busway path that runs all the way along it. It could have more separation between bikes and pedestrians but coming from the cycling hell that is Worthing, I was just happy to see no cars and a smooth surface. And storing the bike itself was incredibly easy. The rooms have a corner near the window where you can leave a full size bike or several full size bikes. A Brompton can be left there half folded with a huge amount of space remaining.

Even walking the bike through the hotel was easier than I thought. At first I folded it all the way down, but then I realised no one cared if it wasn’t folded, and so I just rolled it all the way through from my room to the lift, which it fitted in easily. And then straight through the lobby and out front. It was just pure joy. The fact that I was so excited by this seemingly simple revelation probably lends credence to my “cycling hell” comment.

The experience of cycling in Cambridge was great. It’s not Utrecht of course, but it’s a long way from a cycling hell, and for me it may as well have been a Dutch city for those few days I was there. But I want to get back to the subject of the hotel itself.

Premier Inns are generally in low to medium rise buildings, and built to a fairly modern design standard. These are exactly the types of dwellings we need to be building to facilitate sustainable living. It’s no longer enough to build 3 bedroom detached houses, equip them with solar panels and a heat pump and then brush your hands together and say job well done.

Real sustainability is living in the smallest area you can with the least amount of stuff you can. Instead of detached houses, it’s about modern apartment buildings with communal gardens. Or better yet, a street with only apartment buildings, with a giant green space connecting them all to help nature thrive. With no car parking, built for cycling. Secure bike parking garages and bike roads (with the ability for RoboTaxis or deliveries of large goods to get in. Not everything can be delivered by cargo bike after all.)

Last September when I was in Cambridge, I was there during a week of extreme temperatures. Fortunately not as extreme as the record setting time earlier in the summer, but it was still stifling every day. The fact that all rooms are individually air conditioned was so crucial during that time.

Every day I would get up early and get out on the bike as soon as I could. I enjoyed exploring the city and the surrounding area, and I aimed to get back to the hotel before midday, or before it got too hot.

And then I basically just relaxed in the air conditioned room until the evening when I went to get some dinner. Had it not been for the AC I would have really struggled to cope with the conditions. So I was really thankful to have it.

We need to immediately start building these types of low rise apartments immediately considering it takes years to design and build them. And we need to ban our favourite 90s style cookie cutter housing estates and limit the disastrous urban sprawl just as fast.

It’s really hard to be positive right now considering everything that’s going on. We can’t even solve a crisis that simply requires staying away from people and wearing masks. So when you then look everywhere and see basically everyone treating the climate disaster in the same stupid way, I don’t know what to do any more. But if people do smarten the fuck up in the near future and want to do something, then making housing look like Premier Inn would be a good place to start.


Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Cheap Bike

One of the things that frustrates me most as a cycling enthusiast is when people buy cheap, junk bikes because they think bikes are overpriced or they can’t afford one.

So I decided to do a little calculation to compare riding the bus for short journeys (5 miles or less) around town over a year to buying a bicycle, to see which comes out ahead on price (not to mention fun, health benefits etc).

I looked on the Stagecoach bus website for Worthing and found that a Worthing 52 Week Megarider season ticket costs £603 per year. Compared to buying a ticket on the bus or via the app per ride (or even compared to monthly season tickets), it goes without saying that it’s a bargain and I would get it if I was a daily bus passenger.

So if I was to ride a bicycle for all of these short trips around town instead, I could spend about £600 on it. Except you tend to keep a bike for several years at least. So I think it’s fair to say that I could spend around £1800 on bikes and equipment. And after 3 years I could keep it and continue saving, or buy another one if I felt like it.

The money adds up, but why not just buy a cheap new or used bike and save even more? Cheap new bikes generally use worse components which will end up lasting far less time than more expensive ones (up to a point where it becomes mainly about weight). This will mean more maintenance costs for you, higher likelihood of the bike letting you down during a ride, for example with a dropped chain during your commute, which no one wants. When you buy a more expensive bike, the components are more reliable, work better and are longer lasting. And that’s before you get into things like belt drives and internal hub gearing which take the benefits to a whole new level.

Buying second hand can be a good idea if you get lucky, but in my experience, I think you’ll struggle to find a bike in a good enough condition at a low enough price. You often find people selling bikes in the hundreds of pounds when they need a lot of work. To the point where it makes more sense to just buy new. I hope that as cycling matures and more people buy better quality bikes, and actually look after the bikes they own, it will become better. But for now, I would recommend to buy a good quality new one. It’ll pay for itself in the long run. And perhaps even in the short run. If you replace an Oyster season ticket in London with a Brompton you could save thousands every year.


The Average U.K. Train is Twice as Old as the Average Car

How can it be that the average car on our roads is about 8 years old, while the average train has spent around 19 years on the tracks. Trains will travel many times the distance of a car during its lifetime, and because they’re used by so many people, it makes sense to replace them at regular intervals of around 10 years. It keeps the experience fresh and enjoyable for passengers and keeps the railways relevant to the world changing around it. In many cases, they can keep on going, and that allows you to send older rolling stock to other lines. Especially if it allows you to replace old diesel trains with newer electric ones. You routinely see this kind of thing in Asia when old Japanese trains often find their way to less developed nations in the region for example.

If the old carriages are not needed on other lines, they can of course also be refurbished or recycled. We’ve seen an example of up-cycling recently when some old tube trains were refurbished for use on a national rail line. Vivarail have even been turning some of them into battery electric trains, which for me is how they all should be. It’s the easiest way to electrify old lines and make rail travel even more sustainable.

It’s important to remember that it’s ok to replace new trains every 10 years. You can see it as wasteful when you can keep running old trains for decades. But on lines where Pacers are still used for example, you won’t find many people who love that service or those trains, apart from the rare fanatical enthusiast. Even if we were to do the worst possible thing and just scrap the trains after 10 years, that would be nothing compared to the insane levels of waste that the car industry creates. We need huge and sustained investment and we need it to be spent in the right places. It must provide the best bang for the buck. So, in other words, everything other than HS2.


How to Fix UK Train Ticketing

One of the reasons I haven’t used trains more than a handful of times in the last decade was because of my frustration at the lack of innovation in ticketing. While they have made progress in that time, it’s still a far cry from the Suica and Passmo smartcard systems Japanese travellers enjoy.

We started with services like Trainline, an app where you can buy tickets. It has some nice features, but one of the biggest problems is that, at least here in the south, we can’t just show the conductor our phone screen. Instead, we have to enter a code provided by Trainline into the station ticket machine in order to print out a paper version of our ticket! In other parts of the country you can keep it in-app via QR code. But even then, it doesn’t strike me as an elegant solution. I think you should be able to use NFC to scan the phone on the gate to open it like you would if you were paying for something with Apple Pay. Presumably this will become an option at some point. I hope so.

But, perhaps the holy-grail of easy ticketing is the Oyster Card style tap in and tap out system where you don’t have to buy any tickets ahead of time for the quickest and most seamless experience.

Sadly, Oyster isn’t available outside of TfL lines but we do now have a dizzying array of smartcards available from every rail franchise in the country. And I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to find out that in true British Rail tradition, they all work in slightly different ways and are unnecessarily confusing. Most of them appear to only work with season tickets or regular tickets you pre-purchase on an app, website or ticket machine, which to me seems to defeat the purpose.

The best example I’ve found is The Key Smartcard by GTR. Which fortunately for me allows me travel on my local Southern service as well as Thameslink, GX, and Great Northern. But puzzlingly, not Southeastern. Despite them also being part of Govia and also distributing their own card with the same name.

The best thing about “The Key” by far, which sets it apart from all of the others, is the ability to combine the season ticket function with this feature called KeyGo. This allows you to assign a debit card to your account, and enables pay as you go travel for lines you don’t have a season ticket for. Or just make travel super easy for less frequent train travellers. Just tap in and out as you would with Oyster. Pay attention every other train operator. You need to do this immediately.

And then once we get to this point, we need a fully integrated system were you can use one card on any line and the ticket money gets automatically distributed to the right TOC. Maybe a card branded National Rail Smartcard which works at any station. This should be a major focus for National Rail. We can’t afford to fall any further behind the rest of the world. And passengers deserve a ticketing system fit for the modern world.