or Night-time transport in Bristol

The Bristol Taxi Lottery occurs every Friday and Saturday night in Bristol city centre. It's a lottery where no-one wins, everyone loses, and some could lose big.

As a student, the first and most important thing drummed into me time and time again is safety. Looking after yourself is paramount in any city, especially when it isn't your home town. Safety. Don't walk home alone in the dark. Safety. Always take a taxi if your group has been drinking. Safety. Carry personal attack alarms with you after hours. The third is impractical most of the time, and my own belief is that anyone beating your face in will do it far enough away from people for the alarm to be of use; but I digress.

Normally, these rules are easy to follow, and they've kept many in good stead. You read about people who do get into trouble, and you can guarantee they broke at least one warning given by the police. But why did they choose to break such obvious rules? What would drive a person to do something foolish enough to walk home by themselves, in the dark?

The answer, of course, is the Bristol Taxi Lottery. This is the term I have coined to describe the state of night-time transport in Bristol city centre on a Friday and Saturday night. Every other time is fine, there are more than enough available taxis to go around. No problem. But, on those hallowed days, hundreds of people are within the city centre at 2AM. All want to get home. What are we supposed to do? Get a taxi. Safety. The police mill around looking authoritative but are useless to your plight, almost mocking you that the safest place to be is where you are now. Cold and downbeat, you hold out your arm like a fool, attempting to be the most attractive proposition to the taxi driver. If I knew what a taxi driver looked for in a customer, I probably wouldn't have first-hand experience of the lottery. I don't think the take-away kebab container helps. This permanent stasis of induced stupidity can easily carry on for an hour, before finally, by seemingly sheer chance, you get picked up. But hang on, I forgot about safety. We have to make sure the taxi driver is reputable. The taxi driver must have his ID on show, be driving a black cab preferably, have licenses on the front and back of the vehicle, and look like a nice guy. By the time you've done all this, some drunken fool has already leaned into the cab's window, shouted some incomprehensible drivel and happily jumped into the back. As you finally think "Yeah, I'm not going to be mugged by this taxi driver" it's already gone. But at least we're all safe.

Some people (read: everyone) would find this palaver pathetic at best, and at most enraging (such as myself). The authorities claim they want us to be safe, but where are the buses? Once every hour for a bus that may well stop nowhere near your house doesn't cut it, and it doesn't mean you won't be put in danger as you walk from the bus stop to your house. The Bristol Student Union tell students not to walk across the Bristol Downs. The Downs are large expanses of unlit grass. Thirty metres in and you're invisible to anyone walking around at night. It's asking for trouble. One problem: the University of Bristol halls are on the other side. If you aren't on the bus (highly likely) you have to walk along a lonely and unpopulated road, easily dragged into the Downs. The StudentLink buses (straight to halls) finish at Midnight, when many are still in the bars and clubs.

It's all well and good to tell people to be careful, but if no-one is willing to provide the means to let the population look after themselves properly (bar flick-knifes, baseball bats) vulnerable people will continue to put themselves at risk. The speed and ease afforded by not participating in the lottery and walking is very appealing, especially when under the influence. I place the blame at the bus service, and ultimately the council. The bus service on these nights should be increased dramatically, one bus every half an hour going to popular stops in the suburbs of Bristol. The taxi service is stretched to limits, and by its nature is a private industry and not something the city council should concern itself with. The bus service is its problem, despite privatisation. This is the only way that you can persuade people that its not worth the trouble of taking matters into their own hands. But currently, it remains:

Gambling is the safest option.