James J. Hill

James J. Hill was one of the richest railroad executives of his time. His business practices were sometimes unfair, and might be described as unethical, but these strategies helped him to earn the nickname of the “Empire Builder”. One of his companies, the Great Northern Railway, became the first transcontinental railroad to be formed without public money and was one of the few transcontinental lines that did not go bankrupt. Because of the success of his railways and his ability to carry them through economic depression, James J. Hill secured a legacy as one of the greatest business minds in history.

James Hill had very modest beginnings. He was born in Ontario in 1838. As a child, an accident with a bow and arrow blinded him in the right eye. After going to school for only nine years, he went to Rockwood Academy, where he was forced to withdraw due to the death of his father in 1852. He soon moved to Kentucky where he got a job as a bookkeeper. At the age of 18 he moved to St. Paul, MN where he planned to settle permanently. While in St. Paul Hill got a job as a bookkeeper for a steamboat company. He eventually worked for grocery and produce companies, where he dealt with logging their freight. This experience was vital for him in his future work in the railroad business.

In 1870 Hill put all of his experience to good use and formed a steamboat company. The company was very successful and just two years later he merged with Norman Kittson to form a monopoly in the upper Midwest. At the same time he was monopolizing the steamboat industry Hill entered the coal business and just five years later in 1874 he had a monopoly of the coal companies. Along with steamboats and coal companies, Hill also sat on the Board of Directors for several banks. While Hill is best known today as a railroad mogul, it is important to remember that even before his first railroad company he was a very rich man.

James Hill obviously had great instincts and timing in his business decisions, and his entry into railroads was no different. During the panic of 1873 the St. Paul and Pacific railroad went bankrupt. Hill had been researching the company for some time, and decided that it could make a profit given the right management. He then formed a group of investors (included Norman Kittson), and formed the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway, with Hill as its General Manager. To improve it, the group bargained for tracking rights with the rival Northern Pacific railroad. He soon formed the Great Northern Railway which served Minnesota and North Dakota at first, but grew to become the first intercontinental railroad to be built without public assistance.

Over the next twenty years Hill worked on expanding his railway empire. He purchased railroads from all over the country and cut employees’ wages while charging as high of rates as his monopoly allowed. The only change to his formula was during the Depression of 1893. During this time he slashed prices on all freight in order to make shipping more affordable. At the same time his workers unionized under Eugene V. Debs and demanded better wages. In order to get his workers back he restored their wages to a higher level. During this depression his longtime rival, the Northern Pacific, went bankrupt. Ever the aggressive businessman, Hill used his friend JP Morgan to get enough credit to buy the rail line. He now had a complete monopoly over the railroads. Unfortunately for Hill on the same day the Great Northern and the Union Pacific were set to merge, William McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt, ‘the trust buster’, became president.

Hill’s railroads did survive the trust busting, and he remained extremely wealthy. However he would never reach the same heights of monopoly again in his life. Hill died in 1916 and left a fortune of over $53 million, or $2.5 billion 2007 dollars. This fortune was one of the largest of the time and even more extraordinary considering his corporations went through two of the worst depressions in United States history. Hill’s legacy as an empire builder is secured in history and probably will never be matched.

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Thailand bus journeys

Thailand, the Land of Smiles, has an excellent network of bus services. Buses in all shapes and sizes connect the big cities with the smallest villages.

The centre of the network is of course Bangkok, the country’s capital metropolis with around eight million inhabitants. Although the number of public transportation buses operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) in the capital is adequate, the heavy traffic during rush hours (which in Bangkok virtually means throughout the day) makes getting around by bus literally a long-lasting experience. Often just walking would get you to your destination sooner. The authorities have partially solved the problem of overcrowded streets by building a mass rapid transit system utilising commuter trains.

Coaches leave from Bangkok to the provinces from three main bus terminals in the west, north and east of the city. Fares are very low; the one-way fare on an airconditioned coach from Bangkok to Pattaya, a distance of some 95 miles (150 kilometres), is a mere 110 baht (₤2). A non-airconditioned bus is about half the price, but the added luxury is more than recommended for a trip in a country where the temperature ranges between warm and very hot.

There are three main traffic arteries running through the country. The first goes to the southeast, into the Eastern Seaboard, following the Sukhumvit road, passing the country’s most popular tourist resort of Pattaya, and all the way to the Cambodian border near the town of Trat. To the north lies the country’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, some 400 miles (640 kilometres) from Bangkok. On this route, the second artery, the bus companies face heavy competition from the railways. Just as coaches, there are numerous daily trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, including night trains with sleeping accommodation. Trains are cheaper, but also slower. The third and final main artery runs to the south, over the long-stretched peninsula to the town of Hat Yai and finally the Malaysian border.

Again there are various types of buses to choose from for long trips, ranging from luxurious (and still cheap) VIP-style airconditioned coaches with fully reclining seats (these buses have a layout of only 34 instead of the usual 50 seats) to non-airconditioned, uncomfortable carry-everything-you-have-including-your-chickens buses with five-abreast seating which are extremely cheap. Double-decker buses have been introduced on long-haul routes as well, offering 82 seats in a two-class layout (economy in the lower deck and VIP in the upper deck.)

The most important makes used are Thai Hino, Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu and Nissan, with Daewoo, Volvo and Scania having a much smaller market share. Most buses are assembled in Thailand of imported Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits, including the chassis and engine. Complete buses are rarely imported as this incurs a very high tax and requires a special approval for each model type. Thonburi Automotive near Bangkok assembles Mercedes-Benz chassis from imported kits and manufactures bodies. They also maintain the Daewoo fleet of the BMTA. Isuzu also has an own plant. A Volvo chassis and body manufacturer is based in Korat, northeast of Bangkok. Scania, DAF and Nissan chassis are imported as Completely Built Up (CBU) units.

Mercedes-Benz is the market leader, with 34% of total sales. The yearly sales numbers of new buses are very low in relation to the total number of buses used in Thailand. This is due to a prosperous industry engaged in rebuilding buses using old rebuilt chassis, new or second-hand diesel engines and new bodies. Only a quarter of imported engines are new; most used diesel engines used by rebuilding factories originate in Japan. Many bus operators choose for the cheaper option of having old buses rebuilt instead of buying them new, well extending the average life span of 20 years of the original frame.

The key player in Thailand’s coach network is Bor Kor Sor, The Transport Company Limited, which was formed in July 1930 under the name Aerial Transport of Siam Company Limited to pioneer Thailand’s first commercial air links. It soon started to offer scheduled bus services as well. It became a state-controlled company in 1938 and was renamed Bor Kor Sor during the Second World War. In the forties and fifties, the company also operated a fleet of cargo ships. In the sixties, The Transport Company started talks with the numerous private bus companies throughout the country in an effort to set up regulations and collaborate for providing better passengers services. Operators were urged to organise themselves in limited partnerships, joint-venture companies or unions. In 1980, the Bus Operators Association was formed.

Being a state company, The Transport Company also operates services on non-profitable routes under the Public Service Obligation which private companies refuse to serve, often with an operating loss.
The Transport Company and its affiliates serve a network of more than 300 routes throughout the country with a fleet of 8,500 buses, of which about a thousand are The Transport Company’s.

A totally different type of bus, which can be found throughout the country, is the so-called baht-bus (songtaew in Thai). These are pick-up trucks with a covered rear area for passengers. The system is very simple. Hail them down on the street, jump into the back, sit down on a bench on either side and, when you reach your destination, press a bell to let the driver know you would like to get off. Baht-buses follow fixed routes through the city; a trip along such a route costs 10 baht (₤0.20). They can also be hired as taxis, for a price to be negotiated with the driver. Some people like them, others don’t, but fact is that they are a great means of transportation for getting around in a town. In Pattaya, for example, the municipality has recently introduced a new service run by Pattaya Beach Bus Co. Ltd., with three different routes in and around the city. Fares for these airconditioned buses are fixed at 35 baht (₤0.75). But until now they have proven to be very unsuccessful. Why? Because baht-buses are cheaper and more plentiful. The stream of baht-buses driving along the main roads seems endless. And who needs air-conditioning for a short trip anyway?

The infrastructure in Thailand is improving rapidly, thus shortening travel times as well. Ten years ago, a trip from Bangkok to Pattaya or vice versa could take up to six hours, especially on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons as many Bangkok residents flee the crowded city for the weekend. The Sukhumvit road, then the only direct connection between these two places, used to be clogged up entirely. Driving (or rather, standing still) on this road was a nightmare. On top of that, the road passes through a number of towns and villages along the way. But things have dramatically changed since then. A large section of Sukhumvit now has an elevated part as well, where the upper section is a toll-road. And there is a complete new motorway from Bangkok to Pattaya, which runs a bit more to the east of Sukhumvit and does not pass through any town. The trip from Pattaya to Bangkok’s International Airport can now be done in two hours or less.

Safety is a bit of a concern here. Bus drivers make long hours, and the driving skill of Thais can certainly not be classified as among the best in the world. Obtaining a driving licence is very easy, and that also applies to bus drivers. They heavily rely on the main rule of the road in Thailand, which says “the bigger goes first.” They will pull out onto a busy crossroads and expect everyone else to stop for them. But the addition of three-lane motorways has certainly improved the situation considerably, now that buses can overtake slow lorries without endangering the rest of the traffic.

Another branch of the transportation industry which competes with long-haul coach services besides the railways is low-cost airlines. A number of carriers have started to operate on Thai domestic routes over the last years, apart from the flag carrier Thai Airways, which also has dropped its air fares considerably. Although the majority of people travelling home to the countryside from Bangkok cannot afford to pay even the lowest air fares of 499 baht (less than ₤10.00), these flights to Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai and other province capitals with airports do take a considerable amount of passengers away from bus services. Sometimes the choice between bus and airplane is easily made. The trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son for example, in the north of the country, takes six to eight hours over a mountainous, dangerous road, while the hop by plane is a mere thirty minutes.

Undoubtedly buses will keep playing an extremely important role in the daily life of Thais, especially in more remote areas in the northwest and northeast of the country. Rising fuel prices have increased operational costs and fares, but the lack of a good rail network throughout the country will guarantee that demand for bus and coach services remains high.

Hornsby to Sydney

At the intersection of three different train lines on Sydney’s CityRail network, Hornsby is the busiest commuter station on the north shore of the Australian city of Sydney.

After grabbing a coffee from the kiosk, I wait on platform two for the 07:53am North Shore line train. When I board the train, I try to find a seat on the top deck by the window, so as to enjoy the most panoramic views on my way to work.

The train glides along, stopping frequently at each of the suburbs on Sydney’s North Shore. Each time that the doors open, more commuters get on and the train becomes more crowded.

As we approach the lower North Shore area, commuters begin to alight from the train, especially at St Leonards, which is home to the large Royal North Shore Hospital and many major companies.

Commuting by train in Sydney is very convenient, whether you live on the North Shore, in the western suburbs or further away. The CityRail network connects most of the city with reliable and frequent services.

The most convenient tickets for commuters are the RailPass and the FlexiPass. The RailPass is valid between any two stations for either seven days or fourteen days, but, if you can afford to pay upfront for a longer period, the FlexiPass is a more cost-effective option.

After many more commuters have left the train at North Sydney, we reach Milsons Point. The train is about to rattle over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and I always appreciate the wonderful views of the coastline, the water below, and the Central Business District of Sydney on the opposite side of the bridge.

As the train rumbles over the bridge, landmarks on the opposite side of the harbour appear. The tall, thin Sydney Tower stretches over 300 metres into the sky and Sydney Opera House gleams in the sunshine on its prominent position at the edge of the harbour.

At the end of the bridge, as a vivid contrast to the light and beauty of the view, the train plunges into the darkness of a tunnel. My journey is almost at an end. At 08:35am, I join the stream of commuters departing the train at Town Hall station in the centre of Sydney.

As I leave Town Hall station, I turn left into the Queen Victoria Building, a quaint, Victorian shopping arcade, which is a delight to walk through on my way to work. As I emerge into the light of day on busy Market Street, my working day is about to begin.

Gifts for commuters

There are few things less appealing than getting up in the mornings to go to work. Unless of course, your route to work involves a long bus ride, two train interchanges and a short walk before you get to the office. In the rain. Or during winter. Or both. Add to that the pressures of delays, crowds, dirt, noise and pollution and it’s no wonder many commuters find themselves stressed and anxious well before they even get to their desks. Luckily there are gadgets, knick knacks and gifts that can make commuters lives a little easier.

Toys for grownups

A long commute can be awfully boring. You can pass the time with a button click and a screen flick, whether you are playing games, watching movies, listening to music or “reading” an audio book on your mobile phone or your MP3 player.

Nintendo DSi

For the child within us all, a Nintendo DSi is the perfect gift. Many commuters while away the hours playing games on this portable player.

Adults can enjoy grown up games like the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, revisit their teen years with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks or indulge in role play with Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron. Other games that are available for DSi are classics like Jewel Quest, Tetris, Pinball, and Space Invader.

An iPhone is the obvious all-singing, all-dancing choice for a mobile phone, camera, media player and internet browser all-in-one plaything, but the iPod Touch will work just as well for playing music and videos if your budget is slightly lower.

The Samsung P3 is another sexy portable player, now complete with Bluetooth for use with wireless headphones. You can drag-and-drop your media files if you connect it to your home computer – the media player recognises a variety of different file types.
To drown out the sound of the rushing trains or the traffic outside, the new Shure SE115 Sound Isolating Earphones are the smart commuter’s best budget bet. These headphones isolate sound and offer a personalization fitting kit for greater comfort. On the other end of the market are the legendary Sennheiser headphones, which are large, over-ear phones that block out noise and minimize distortion.

Perfect commuter laptop for use while standing

The ASUS Eee PC 1000HE is the netbook that I’m using right now. It’s the perfect commuter laptop. So light that you can use it standing in a packed train, holding it with one hand. And of course, it’s tiny, so you can throw it in your everyday bag and not have to think about a special laptop bag. And did I mention the battery life? 9.5 hours! After the iPhone, this is my favourite gadget.

All you need now is some media to play. iTunes offer gift cards for music or podcasts for Apple enthusiasts, or you can download your favourite tunes from napster.com or kazza.com. You can also buy audio books to listen to on your ride in. The BBC is the UK’s leading audio publisher and their audiobooks are available from traditional bookshops and entertainment stores like HMV. Online sites such as audible.co.uk offer audiobook downloads for a fee.

 

Bibliophiles will also like the Kindle from Amazon or the Reader from Sony, both e-books with the capacity for hundreds of books. Commuters can stash their entire library into a device that is about the same size as a paperback and bring it with them wherever they go.

Victorinox

Everyone who commutes eventually needs a knife, a pair of scissors or a toothpick. All commuters need a Victorinox penknife. I have the creditcard version in my travelcard holder.

Useful and unique gifts

A great gift for the hygiene conscious commuter would be travel sized bottles of hand sanitizer. Many chemists sell these. Look out for alcohol-based sanitizers as these effectively kill off the bacteria that cause colds. A thoughtful touch would be a bottle of hand moisturizer to complement this gift – no one likes dry hands! In light of the recent swine flu scare, other useful gifts for commuters are a few pairs of gloves or face masks. You can order these online from janices.com, which stocks organic cotton products.

For the sleep-deprived commuter afraid of missing his or her stop, a portable alarm clock that vibrates or rings will help. However this is not always foolproof, as trains do not always run perfectly on time and you may still miss your stop if your train is early. Commuters on the London Underground have the option of using Wake Me Up At … Stickers, round, brightly coloured stickers that bear the legend “Wake Me Up At [Tube Station]”. Cute, kitsch and good for a laugh, the stickers come in a set of nine, covering stations like Earl’s Court, Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo and Embankment. Some stickers are left blank so you can add your own station. If you think you can place your trust in your fellow commuters, order your set of stickers from designmuseumshop.com.

If you take the same route every day, you probably know your transport system like the back of your hand. Just in case you do get off track, however, it would be handy to have a map lying around. Forget about the normal paper stuff – they tear too easily and aren’t environmentally friendly. Whether you are commuting in Paris, New York or London, head to shop.tfl.gov.uk where you can find credit card sized, mirror polished, etched stainless steel maps of the Metro, Subway and Tube.

And to keep it all together, a commuter needs a hardy, durable card holder. The best ones are designed so that there is no risk of your cards falling out. Steel or silver card holders won’t work for electronic transport cards, so choose leather, plastic or cloth versions. At the high end, luxury brands like Montblanc and Hermes offer some glossy leather card holders for the discerning commuter, while in the mid and low range, anything goes. They can be found on Amazon, Kelkoo and eBay.

I am not a paper cupMany commuters can’t start their day without coffee. In these cash sensitive and environmentally aware times, the best gift for a coffee-loving commuter would be the “I am Not a Paper Cup” reusable mug from Target. In the style of Anya Hindmarsh’s “I am Not a Paper Bag”, this mug looks like a normal polystyrene coffee cup but is actually made from porcelain, with a reusable plastic lid to prevent spillage. However, to keep tea or coffee warm, commuters may prefer a traditional thermal flask. The website corvusweb.co.uk stocks a sleek and functional flask that can hold just under a pint of your favourite morning brew. The flask comes in six different colours guaranteed to make the morning brighter.

Chorleywood to the City of London

Chorleywood to the City of LondonMy daily journey starts at Chorleywood station awaiting a southbound Metropolitan line train. Because of a bend in the track, passengers on the northbound platform can see southbound trains approaching before those of us on the southbound side can. But as the car park is on the northbound side we know the train is about to arrive when people in suits or smart dresses and high heels start running along the northbound side and into the subway to get across in time.

Once on the train I choose a seat at the front of a carriage. This is important because without air conditioning it’s better to be at the end of the carriage where some fresh air can get in. By getting the same train every day I see many of the same people. As we’re British, we never talk to each other, or even acknowledge the presence of anyone else if we can help it. I try and avoid the seat opposite the man who always puts his briefcase behind his legs so that his feet stick out too far.

Met line trains through Chorleywood run to a set timetable every 17 minutes, and in the mornings are usually on time. However, the trains are old and the track is older, so it’s always a relief to get past Harrow on the Hill, 15 minutes down the line. There are often problems in the area, with all passengers frequently being turfed off trains without warning.

Trains on the Amersham branch of the Met line (which includes Chorleywood) are designated as ‘fast’. In practice this means they don’t stop at all stations, though they are known to crawl along at a pace that allows passengers to watch flowers grow in neighbouring fields. Assuming it’s a good day, we rattle along at 35 miles per hour, passing slower trains and disgruntled passengers at non-stopping stations. On a very good day the disgruntled passengers are also getting wet.

After 25-30 minutes we reach Finchley Road, where many passengers disembark and change to the Jubilee line. Many others get on, and by this time it’s standing room only, if that. At last we enter a tunnel and the tube can live up to its name. About ten minutes later we emerge into the light at Baker St. Again many get off but more get on. From here the Met Line joins the same track as both the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines to run from Baker St to Aldgate. No one would describe this section of track as ‘fast’. There are too many trains and too many people.

Those of us in seats can look smugly out as we pull into platforms and see the crowds at each station. Fortunately we’re back in the open air after three stations, so not only is it lighter and brighter but there’s fresh air available – very pleasant when the train’s underseat heating is still on in July and the backs of my legs are nicely toasted.

Finally, after one hour and thirteen stops we pull into Aldgate. If we’re lucky the driver will make comical announcements such as, “This train terminates here; please leave your valuables on the train and I will collect them at the end of my shift.” If we’re unlucky there’s no announcement and the few people who’ve fallen asleep remain slumped in their seats. We leave the train strewn with discarded free newspapers and emerge onto the street, thankful it’s over but knowing that eight hours later we’ll have to do it all again in reverse.

Limehouse to Oxford Street

central lineI leave the house right on time at 08:00. It is a short walk to the Limehouse Direct Light Rail (DLR) station. Unlike the tube stations, DLR stops don’t always have barriers. They operate on the honour system and passengers swipe in and out on the Oyster card readers of their own accord. The system works fine on days when I remember to do this – you would think I’d have my daily commute down to an artform by now, but there are bad days when I forget and have to run back down the stairs to swipe in, or worse, find myself at Bank being charged a full day’s price for my ticket.

The DLR comes every five minutes or so. In peak hour it comes regularly, already packed with commuters from the eastern suburbs like Lewisham, Island Gardens, Stratford and Beckton. My regular train is at 08:07 and I always choose the first carriage. This is because it is the closest carriage to the exits at Bank, my interchange station. We pass by towering council flats, hip new container block housing, and the shiny, distinctive shape of the 30 St Mary Axe in the distance, home of the Swiss Re offices and affectionately known as the Gherkin (for obvious reasons). Just after we pass the Shadwell stop, we plunge into underground darkness before arriving at Bank.

A web of tube lines extends out from Bank – it is one of the busiest stops on the London Underground. I usually arrive at about 08:15, and then it’s a short walk up two tube escalators, then down some stairs before I find myself on the Westbound Central line platform.

There is heavy traffic at Bank, so I find myself dodging other commuters and hurrying up the right hand side of the escalators towards the Central line. I needn’t worry, really, because Central line trains come every two minutes – there is one at 08:19, another at 08:21, the next one at 08:23 – but I can’t help trying to keep up with other Londoners.

At St Paul’s and Chancery Lane, the two immediate stops after Bank, the suits and their Blackberries get off. At Holborn, the tourists, bound for the British Museum, alight. At Tottenham Court Road, shopkeepers head for their day’s duties. And finally, four stops after Bank, the train gets to Oxford Circus and I disembark with more than a little relief.

Connect with me at the social networking site for commuters and join my journey.

Kelana Jaya to Kuala Lumpur

Kelana Jaya to Kuala Lumpur7:45 a.m.: Clutching my thermos of coffee like a lifeline, I head towards the Kelana Jaya Light Rail Transit (LRT) station, about to start my daily commute. It’s Monday morning in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and, as always on Mondays, there’s a bigger than usual crowd at the station. It’s a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed in Kuala Lumpur – on the roads, on trains, and everywhere in the city, there’s extra congestion on Monday mornings. I can’t figure out why this is so – surely everyone leaves for work at the same time every day?

8:00 a.m.: Fifteen minutes later, I’m at the front of the queue. Even though the Kelana Jaya station is at the end of the line, “kiasu” (literally translated to “afraid to lose”) Malaysians get on the LRT a few stops ahead and then take it back to the end of the line just to ensure that they have a seat or at least prime standing room. This means that the LRT, which only has two cars to begin with, is always half full when it arrives at the station.

8.05 a.m.: I finally manage to squeeze onto the LRT. We are packed in like sardines. Mercifully, the LRT is air-conditioned. However, the mass of bodies makes the ride very uncomfortable, particularly when I find myself with my nose pressed into a guy’s armpit. Even at this hour, the guy’s BO is strong enough to make me gag. I take advantage of the LRT’s next stop to slowly shuffle around to face the other way, treading on a few protesting toes in the process. Luckily, I’m of slightly above-average height for a Malaysian, and in my heels, I am just tall enough to be able to get a bit of breathing space.

8.25 a.m.: We reach KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur’s main transport hub, where the Putra LRT, Monoline, and KTM commuter train intersect. Half the passengers get off, while the other half rush to get precious seats or the coveted corners of good standing room space. Meanwhile, another horde of commuters rush in to pack the LRT full, and we are off again.

8.45 a.m.: KLCC station! I get out of the LRT, doing the LRT dance through other commuters and battling my way past the anxious commuters getting on to the train. A few steps more and I’m at my office – yet another work week begins.

Join me on this journey from Kelana Jaya to Kuala Lumpur

From Sherlock Holmes to Zero Longitude

GreenwichThe Baker Street stop is a little touristy, thanks to the giant statue of Sherlock Holmes at the entrance. I watch in amusement as the tourists dart in and out from underneath the feet of the regulars hurrying to the tube. Even at rush hour, this early in the morning, there’s bound to be at least one there, hurrying to be first in the line that invariably forms at Madame Tussuad’s across the road.

From Baker Street Station, I catch the 08:11 Eastbound Jubilee line to work in the morning. I aim to be on the platform, waiting for the train, by 08:05 – if I miss my usual train I have to wait a whole ten minutes before the next one comes, which is a lifetime to wait for a tube service. Most trains on other tube lines come every 3 to 5 minutes.

There aren’t very many passengers and I usually find a seat, or at least, a strategic place to stand when I board. Everyone sits huddled over their papers, books and iPods. It takes about 13 minutes to get to London Bridge Station, where I leave the underground chaos of the tube and change for the Thames Clipper.

Most Londoners don’t even think about the river as an option when they commute, but taking the Clipper is an underrated transport option. I prefer it to the dirty and claustrophobic tube, even if it is slightly more expensive. I use a monthly season ticket that costs £100. Oyster card holders get a slight discount on Clipper tickets, and from November 2009 commuters will even get to touch in and out like they already do on buses and the tube. I have the added plus of not worrying about tube strikes and the like – as long as I can get to London Bridge or even to Westminister or Waterloo, the Clipper will take me straight downriver from these stops to Greenwich, whether or not the tube lines are running.

My boat comes at 08:32, and I catch the Clipper towards Queen Elizabeth II Pier. It is a pleasant morning journey, taking approximately 20 minutes depending on the tide. We call at Tower Pier, pass the brooding Tower of London, skim underneath Tower Bridge, then stop at Canary Wharf with its glossy, glassy skyscrapers, then at Greenland Pier and before arriving at my final destination – Greenwich Pier.

Join this journey from Baker St to Greenwich

Ottawa to Kanata morning bus ride

Deer peekingThe regular bus route for many high tech employees in Ottawa is the number 182 Kanata, originating from downtown Ottawa. I normally catch the last morning trip leaving Lincoln Fields Station at 9:09 a.m. If I miss this trip, it means taking a different route, transferring buses and walking twice as far to my destination. Fortunately OC (Ottawa Carleton) Transpo service, on this route, is very reliable and only a short walk from my home.

The bus consistently arrives on time in good weather, whereas in winter, it usually runs a bit later depending on conditions. The regular driver is quite pleasant and says good morning to each passenger upon boarding. Dropping two tickets in the fare box covers the cost of $2.30 CDN per trip. A paper transfer, displaying the boarding time, is issued and acts as a receipt, allowing riders one and a half hours travel time to get off and re-board any bus during that period. At 9:20 a.m. the bus arrives at Bayshore Station after picking up several more passengers along the way. This is the final station on route to Kanata and the few remaining seats usually fill up with more high tech workers. A minute or so later, we’re heading onto the 417 Queensway in the rapid transit lane, off limits to automobiles. The bus exits onto Moodie Drive heading north, and turns into Nortel Networks, around 9:25 a.m. Watching a handful of employees departing, brings back memories of several years ago when Nortel was a thriving company in the Ottawa region, and the bus was literally packed with employees. The IT downturn in 2001 really hit this area hard, which still hasn’t recovered.

Exiting the Nortel complex, the bus travels back on Carling Avenue heading west to Kanata through a rural area. Several horses can always be seen grazing at the large riding ranch located on one side of the road, while on the opposite side, another farm is home to a lone llama resting in the field. Several large hay fields and an enormous corn field can be seen further along. Deer are often spotted venturing out of wooded areas, foraging for food. On one trip this past winter, I recall the bus driver slamming on the brakes, barely missing a couple of deer galloping across the road. Thanks to his quick reaction, the deer weren’t injured, and passengers only slightly startled.

The 182 makes one more side trip, looping into the Communications Research Centre at Shirley’s Bay, before heading to the Kanata North Business Park. At 9:40 a.m. the bus reaches my destination in Kanata. The thirty minute bus ride leaves me feeling relaxed, refreshed, and more like I’ve experienced a nature tour rather than battling early morning gridlock.

Join Harry on this journey from Ottawa to Kanata

Seremban to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Seremban to Kuala LumpurIn Malaysia most commuters prefer to drive instead of taking public transport. However I prefer the latter as my daily train ride from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur gives me a chance to relax and reflect instead of being cooped up in a traffic jam, crawling in a line of northbound cars on the Federal Highway.

I have to wake up early for my daily journey, as there are few express trains that ply the route. My usual express train leaves at 06:55 and arrives at Sentral Kuala Lumpur, or Kuala Lumpur Central Station, at about 08:00. The service is run by Keretapi Tanah Melayu, the government-controlled train authority of Malaysia. If I miss my usual train, I jump on the next regular train instead. However the journey may take as much as another half an hour to an hour longer, depending on delays. The next train is at 07:20 and only reaches Central Station at about 08:45 or later.

One way tickets on the KTM Komuter service cost RM6.00 (approximately USD2.00 or GBP1.50). I invest in a monthly Kad Karib pass, which can be used on Komuter and Light Rail Transit lines within Kuala Lumpur. This costs me RM100, and I manage to bypass the queues when I need to change transportation mode. The express train passes idyllic countryside, lush greenery and sleepy villages, through the satellite towns of Nilai and Bangi, then the university – Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), before making its first stop at Kajang.

The seats, which were relatively empty before, start to fill up. I am dozing, shifting slightly to make space for my fellow passengers. There are construction workers carrying their tools, students with their notepads, suits and their suitcases. The train is air conditioned and this early in the morning, the day’s heat and humidity have not yet seeped into the carriage. More scenery flashes past – we pass Bandar Tasik Selatan, or South Lake City, which always reminds me of Salt Lake City in the USA; Seputeh, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumur; the behemoth bulk of Midvalley Shopping Mall and then finally, we arrive at Kuala Lumpur Central Station, a sleek, shiny, modern station of steel and glass. I invariably wake just in time to alight at this stop, alerted by some internal alarm clock. From here it is a quick walk across the road to my offices, next door to the Hilton Hotel.

Join this commute between Seremban and Kuala Lumpur