I KNEW the first question was coming. We'd scarcely settled around the kitchen table in my home off Fishergate when Hazel Anderson fixed me with a look. Not a pushy look, or a judgemental one, just ... a look
"Do you have a bicycle?" she asked.
How to answer that one? Probably honesty was the best policy, I thought.
"I do. It's in the garden shed. It's rusty and it's got flat tyres and I never use it. I just don't like cycling."
I expected a raised eyebrow at least, but Hazel's expression remained pleasantly neutral.
"That's OK," she said. "We never say 'you must try this or try that'. It' all about offering different options."
I'd invited Hazel to my home to offer me some free travel advice: that is, advice about ways of getting around York without always having to resort to my car.
Hazel is one of a team of city council 'i-Travel advisors' who, since May 2013, have been knocking on doors in the north of York offering advice on bus and cycle routes, car sharing, and even walking.
The initiative is part of the council's i-Travel programme, funded by the Department for Transport (so it doesn't cost York council taxpayers) which aims to get more people in York walking, cycling and taking the bus to work or to the shops – so reducing congestion and pollution.
"Our aim is to increase levels of cycling by 20 per cent and walking by ten per cent by 2016," said the council's cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Levene. "We are also working towards increasing bus usage by 18 per cent by 2015.”
The door knocks have focused on the north of York – Clifton, Rawcliffe, Huntington and Haxby – because council statistics have shown people living there make a lot of short car trips. But there have also been stands and events in the city centre designed to get people from other parts of York involved too. Hence Hazel's visit to my home.
Another nannying council initiative, I hear you sniff.
Hazel was the least nannying advisor you could imagine, however.
She wasn't there to judge, she said. And she certainly wasn't anti-car. "We're not saying to people, 'You must never use your car'. We're just helping them to look at other ways of getting around."
She arrived at my home armed with information tailored to me and where I live.
After a few initial questions – "Do you have a bicycle? Do you ever use the bus?" – designed to assess what advice I might benefit from most, she got down to the nitty-gritty.
There were four categories of advice – about buses, bicycles, walking, and driving.
We started with the buses.
I never used York buses, I said, because I never knew what bus would take me where.
Hazel produced a neat, colour-coded map and spread it out on the table.
It was a revelation – one which made me wonder why I hadn't seen it before. By following colour-coded lines, you can see at a glance exactly where each bus goes, and where you might need to change. There was even an enlarged section showing stops in the city centre.
I decided to give Hazel a test.
"If I wanted to get to Acomb on the bus, how would I do it?" I asked.
She plonked her finger on the red line running along Fishergate. "The Number 7 to the railway station," she said. "Then the Number 1. The Number 7 is Park & Ride, so it is very regular. The Number 1 isn't Park & Ride, but it is brilliant: very direct, very regular. It's called the Number 1 for a reason."
Next problem: to get to Acomb I'd need to change buses. Could I get a through ticket that would take me all the way?
The best bet, Hazel said, would be an-all day ticket. You can get a First Bus day ticket for £3.70, or an 'All York' ticket which allows you to use any bus in the city for £4.50.
Food for thought: all-day travel around York for the price of a couple of hours of city centre parking. Those with smartphones can even avoid the annoyance of long waits at the bus stop. Each stop now has its own number. Text the number of your local stop (there's a 12p charge) and within 30 seconds you'll get a text back telling you the times of the next departures from your stop. "Text from your sofa," Hazel said.
We moved on to walking. Not much to tell me there, I said: I usually walk to work anyway.
Undeterred, Hazel gave me details of a website – walkit.com – which calculates the best walking route between any two destinations in any city in the UK. I tried it later, and couldn't stop playing with it, finding different walking routes around York. You can even ask for direct routes, less busy routes or low-pollution routes.
Cars. One way of reducing car journeys in York is by encouraging people to share car journeys.
Hazel directed me to the website CarShareYork.com, which aims to match up people wanting to make similar journeys so they can share a car. Again, I tried it out later, looking for someone travelling from Acomb to Hungate. The websitegave me details of someone offering a lift every weekday from Holgate to Lord Mayor's Walk. Not an exact match. But if you don't find a match straight away, you can put in details of the journey you'd like to make and see if someone contacts you, Hazel told me.
And what about if the person you hooked up with turned out to be a serial killer? "Take a friend along with you on your first journey, or arrange to meet first in a public place," Hazel said. "There is no commitment. If you don't feel comfortable, you don't have to offer or accept a lift."
She also gave me information about the city car club, which has cars dotted at strategic locations around York. By joining the club, you can use these cars as and when you need them, booking in advance and paying for just the petrol and the amount of time you use the car.
And finally, we came back to cycling.
Knowing I didn't like bikes, Hazel didn't push it: contenting herself with giving me another handy map showing all the off-road cycle routes around York, together with cycle parking and bike repair shops.
Looking at that map, it was easy to see how, with careful journey planning, you could easily link up off-road routes to get around much of York by bike without ever going on a main road. Hazel also gave me leaflets about eight fun circular rides - great for the family.
My advice session ended with a challenge: to try using the bus at least a couple of times over the next week, including going to Acomb by bus.
To help me, Hazel gave me a pass entitling me to free bus travel for a week. Quite an incentive. So who knows... I might just give it a go.
Don’t let that ‘i’ put you off
YOU may have seen i-Travel mentioned in The Press, on council literature or at city centre stands. If you're like me, your eyes will have glazed over at that awful name.
Don't let it put you off. That annoying lower-case 'i' stands for 'intelligent' and 'information', apparently. And all i-Travel really is is an attempt to provide information about alternative methods of travel around York in the hope that more of us will occasionally leave our cars at home (so reducing pollution and congestion) and travel to work or do the shopping by bus, by bike or on foot.
The advice covers everything from car sharing to bus routes and times, off-road cycle routes, friendly local cycle groups, and ways to plan walking routes to avoid busy roads and traffic fumes.
The programme received £4.6 million from the Department for Transport's 'Local Sustainable Transport' Fund' in 2012. In July this year, the council received a further £1 million to continue the programme.
To find out more about i-Travel, or to get tips and advice on travelling around York, visit www.itravelyork.info/
To find out about car sharing visit www.carshareyork.com
To plan good walking routes, visit walkit.com/
A map of bus routes is available from the Travel Centre at York Railway Station, or can be downloaded from http://www.itravelyork.info/
A map of cycle routes can be downloaded from www.itravelyork.info/
How Helen learned to live without a car
Hazel Anderson (left) giving i-Travel advice to Helen Brown at her home in Earlsborough
A CHANCE encounter with an i-Travel advisor made a big difference to York mum of two Helen Brown.
Her marriage had failed, and she was depressed and isolated. The 33-year-old had also just lost her car. "It failed its MOT, and I didn't have the money to fix it."
Money was tight. And because she had no transport, she had to do her shopping at a small local shop, which was expensive.
One day she walked into town with her children from her home near Marygate. There was an i-Travel stand giving out leaflets and maps showing bus and cycle routes.
It was the bus route map that really impressed her at first.
"That changed everything for me," she said. "I didn't know before that where the routes went. But now I know that the No 10 goes to Poppleton, the No 4 to Acomb."
In the first week, she was given a free bus travel pass. She used it to take the children swimming at Yearsley baths. Before long, Helen was travelling to Tesco at Askham Bar by bus to do the shopping, and also using the bus to go to church on Sunday morning in Acomb, and to take the children swimming.
To save money, she tends to go shopping and do something else on the buses on the same day. That way, she can buy an all-day ticket and make the best use of it.
She was also inspired by the cycle map – and by the leaflets giving details of fun rides. Now she and the children regularly go for bike rides. "We rode out to Beningbrough Hall once. We took pack-ups."
A year on, she's feeling healthier and less cut-off. "I've even started at college doing GCSEs." The i-Travel advice made her realise you really don't need a car to get around in York. "You can get out and about without a car – and sometimes it is easier."