Air travellers can look at masterpieces from Dutch artists while they’re waiting for their flight in Amsterdam. Metro and bus commuters in Moscow can download a book from the Russian canon of literature free of charge. What do we users of the British public transport get in the way of cultural diversions? Very little based on my experiences at our busiest transport hubs in the last few months.
Let’s start with Heathrow airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Apparently it does have an art gallery but this is only in Terminal 5. It’s probably the airport’s best kept secret since I’ve used this terminal at least 20 times in recent years and have never seen even a signpost for this place. Such a pity because it looks as if it has some high quality exhibitions (take a look at the T5 gallery website). Other terminals though are a cultural desert unless you count shopping as culture.
Maybe the rail providers do a better job? St Pancreas is an architectural delight but offers very little else. Wi-fi isn’t free so if you’re stuck waiting for a train at Paddington you’ll have to rely on the tiny and always incredibly crowded outlet of W H Smith for any reading material. What a contrast to the metro system in Moscow where a virtual library of Russian classical literature has been made available free of charge; all you need is a smartphone or tablet capable of scanning a code. Take one of the city’s buses, trams or trolley buses and you can get the same service.
Even Paddington is a huge improvement however on Cardiff’s central railway station and adjacent bus station. There may be some people fascinated by the habits of pigeons but I’m not one of them. Two minutes of watching them peck at a discarded cigarette end or cold chip is two minutes I will never regain and not even the sound of the national rugby team singing from the nearby stadium helped make the experience more interesting.
I know public art always attracts controversy and the argument that the money would be better spent on education, health etc act. But it seems our public transport hubs could badly do with some beautification.
What have you seen on your travels? Any gems of public art or culture you experience on your commute?