Bus, train, and car: We tested out the best way to commute from the valleys to Cardiff

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The commute to Cardiff is something that a lot of us from South Wales stress over almost on a daily basis.

Whether it is delays on the train , a collision on the M4 , or a bus that didn’t bother to show up, there is always a fear that something won’t quite go to plan and you will end up late for work.

I have been commuting to Cardiff from the Rhondda Valley for the last three years and I have always wondered, what is the best way to get to the city?

I live in Porth , which is roughly 16 miles from the city centre and around a 30 minute drive out of rush hour.

This week, I took it upon myself to find that what is the best way to get to Cardiff ? I took the train, I drove, and I got the bus, timing my journey from start to finish, to find out what is the best option.

Train

Start time: 6.40am

End time: 7.53am

Overall journey time: One hour and 13 minutes



I like getting the train – and hope that the service will improve soon

The train from Porth to Cardiff Central Station, according to the Transport for Wales App, takes just 41 minutes so I planned to get the 7.10am train, which would get me to Cardiff in time for my 8am start.

However, like a lot of people in the Valleys, unless you live near the train line, you face a pretty lengthy walk – for me, that is 25 minutes.

I left my house at 6.40am and got to the train station just after seven o’clock ready for the 7.11am train, which turned up two minutes late – which is a very minor delay and not something to complain about.

As it was an early morning train, the station was busy but not enough to overcrowd the train, which had already stopped at eight stations before getting to Porth.

However, by the time the train got to Taffs Well, there were people standing, so if you live in Cardiff and rely on a Valleys train to get to the city centre, your short commute will probably be very uncomfortable.

Considering the Valleys trains have a pretty bad reputation for being late and often overcrowded, my experience of this route was not all that bad and there are no complaints.

The overall journey time is a little longer than I would like but if I were to drive to the station, which has a pretty big park and ride car park, then that journey time would drop to roughly 47 minutes.

On the way home, I got the 5.35pm train from Cardiff Central which turned up three minutes late, another delay that can’t really be complained about. After getting a lift home from the station, I arrived at my house at 6.30pm, making my overall journey time just short of one hour.

Car

Start time: 6.40am

End time: 7.43am

Overall journey time: One hour and three minutes



The car was the fastest, but there is a risk you could get stuck in delays caused by collisions

There isn’t much more I dislike than being stuck on a road unable to move in gridlock traffic and it is one of the reasons I have always avoided driving to the city.

I was surprised by how little traffic there was on the way into Cardiff and I turned off at Leckwith at around 7.25am, only racking up an extra 15 minutes onto my journey time at that point.

I took the M4, starting in Porth, travelling along the A4119 which joins the M4 in Miskin, then exciting at J33 to join the A4232.

The main point to take away from this short journey time is that it is all about the time you leave in the morning, and 6.40am is a great time to miss any major traffic jams.

The traffic along the A4119 from Tonyrefail through to Llantrisant and on approach to the M4 at Miskin junction was busy but moving.

The slowest part of the journey was exciting the M4 at J33 as cars queued around the roundabout to join the M4 and A4232.

Not even the A4232, known colloquially in the Rhondda as Concrete Road, was congested at 7.15am.

So why was my overall journey time over one hour when the drive in was pretty clear? Parking.

I attempted to park near Grangetown but after ten minutes of looking I gave up and drove to the Cardiff Stadium carpark, which is cheaper than most in the area at just £8 a day.

Though the journey time was comparatively low, as soon as I got into the office our breaking news editor was working on a story about a collision causing long delays at J33 Cardiff West and Services on the M4, proving that travel time by car is not that reliable.

If you work outside the city centre on a retail park or if your office has parking in the centre, you could miss the majority of morning traffic if you timed your start time right like I did, but, if you do need to rely on parking in a car park or anywhere nearby, it will add a considerable amount of time to your journey.

Travelling home, from the moment I got in my car at 4.45pm to the moment I got home took exactly one hour of usual delays and no unexpected disruption.

Bus

Start time : 6.45am

End time : 8.50am

Overall journey time: Two hours and five minutes



The bus is definitely one to avoid

In two hours and five minutes I could have driven to Bristol and back again. I could have got as far Reading in a car. I would have gotten to Pen Y Fan in Brecon, parked and made a good start walking up the mountain in that time.

It is safe to say I won’t be getting the bus again.

I knew this was going to be the option that took the longest but not everyone has access to a car or lives in walking distance of a train station so I wanted to test how long it would take if I was in that position.

The good thing about catching the bus is that for most people, there is almost always a bus stop within walking distance of their house.

There is a bus stop in my street and but that isn’t served by the 122 that goes to Cardiff from Tonypandy but I still had only a short walk to the stop on top of Cymmer Hill – which if you know the area well, isn’t the most pleasant of walks.

The bus, which was supposed to show up at five to seven, turned up ten minutes late .

The first half of the journey was fine and there was no traffic delaying the route until the bus arrived at the Plasdwr development on Llantrisant Road.

At this point, I had already been on the bus about an hour, so if you work in that area of Cardiff, the bus isn’t that bad of an option if you don’t have access to a car or would like a more environmentally friendly option.

However, if you work in the city centre, I would advise to avoid the bus at all costs.

The 122 service also serves parts of Cardiff like Danescourt and Llandaff which adds a considerable amount of time onto the journey. Many other bus routes that serve Cardiff from other parts of the valleys also stop through the suburbs, so unless that is where you work, it isn’t the best option.

I decided to not attempt the bus home as I couldn’t face another gruelling two hours of travelling.

Conclusion

If you time it right, and are lucky enough to not get caught up in any delays due to a collision, then driving is the fastest way to get to Cardiff.

However, if you do get caught up in any delays, that short journey time could go from 40 minutes to one hour and a half pretty fast.

Also, if you don’t have access to a work car park, you will spend anything from £35-£60 on parking a week, on top of the petrol you put in your car.

This option is also the least environmentally friendly, especially if you are a solo commuter contributing to a city which is already over-congested.

Out of the journeys I took this week, the one I most preferred was the train. Transport For Wales’ reputation hasn’t been the best since it took over from Arriva last year but in my opinion, I would rather sit on a delayed train where I can read a book or check my emails than be stuck in traffic unable to move anywhere.

It is also the cheaper, a weekly ticket from Porth to Cardiff Central costs £25.20, a monthly ticket is £96.80, which works out up to £35 cheaper than paying for a car park, and that is without taking into consideration fuel costs.

Not every train journey goes as smoothly as mine did though, and the valley lines are often hit the worst by delays and overcrowding.

The Treherbert and Pontypridd lines are expected to increase in capacity when new trains arrive, but the new Class 769s won’t arrive until the next year.

So let’s hope that the commute to Cardiff will get easier as more investment in the rail system is made.



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