March 08, 2003

The London Junto

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport) | Rail Economics | Road Miscellany | Transport General

Last Thursday (6th March) I spoke to the London Junto on the subject of the UK's lousy transport system at the Sherlock Holmes pub in central London.

The Junto is a discussion group that takes its name from a group founded by 18th century polymath and revolutionary, Benjamin Franklin. The modern version was originally founded in New York and has recently set up a branch over here under the watchful eye of Michael Balboa.

I can't speak for the speech (which I will post up soon) but the discussion that followed it was excellent. We learnt that one of the reasons that Japan's train usage is so high is that there are all sorts of restrictions on car use. Petrol taxes are high, there are toll roads everywhere and if you want to even buy a car you have to prove to the police that you have somewhere off street where you can park it. Come to think of it I can't remember once seeing a car parked at the side of the road the whole time I was there.

I understand that there are also all sorts of hoops that owners of old cars (that's three years or more) have to jump through in order to keep their cars on the road. The hoops are so many and so high that for the vast majority of people it is simply more cost-effective to buy a new car and scrap the existing one. That would go a long way to explaining why when I was over there the cars seemed so new. It would be nice if I could get some confirmation of this.

We also had an excellent chat about the Central Railway and the struggle this privately-funded railway has had in even getting Parliamentary approval for its project. It seems that there are powerful lobbies out there that would be threatened by an unsubsidised competitor. And it didn't help that a key government official had it in for one of the directors.

But the most interesting discussion from my point of view was one that came up more than once about the nature of government. People would say that what we need is a sustained government policy on transport. I would point out (as politely as I could) that they had tried. In 1997 a Labour government came to power with probably the best economic outlook since 1914. In John Prescott it had a Transport Minister who was committed to a long term vision of transport. And yet... and yet transport policy is still a mess. Now, my conclusion was that if after more than 50 years of trying and the most promising scenario ever they still can't get it right the chances of the state ever getting right at some point in the future and certainly in our lifetimes is about zero and that therefore the best thing we could do would be to accept defeat and give up.

To which I was greeted with some pretty dusty looks. And then the mantra would start up all over again: "What we need is for the government to engage in some long-term planning..." Sigh.

Did I really expect it to be that easy? I did but I was wrong to. It takes a long time for people to change their opinions (note who is doing the changing). There are very real and probably well-founded reasons for not being so easily moved. After all, in this day and age our political beliefs are, for most of us, as near as we get to religion. They are a part of what we are. That goes for the rest of the world just as much as it does for me.

I should be grateful that Thursday reminded me of the fact.

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Comments

Patrick,

I think at least part of what you got was not so much a wish that the government undertake long term planning as frustration at the government's inability to undertake long term planning. There are two possible responses to this. The first, and simplest, is that the government need to be able to plan longer term. The second, and for many people ideologically harder response is that we should look elsewhere than government for the planning. Getting from the first response to the second is easier than getting to the second from scratch, and that is progress, even if it doesn't sometimes feel like it.

This was the point I was trying to make when I brought up motorway building in Sydney. The nature of the private contracts that have been awarded for motorway building (ie including leases of 25 years ago) has forced planners (be they government or non-government) to think on a 25 year timescale. Even when one government lost power and it was replaced by a different party, that new government was constrained by the contracts that existed to continue thinking on a 25 year timescale. That was quite an interesting consequence. Even though in the cases I was talking about the private contractors were rather more constrained in their actions than you would like, the presence of the private sector rather dramatically increased the time period over which people were thinking. This is interesting. (I will post something on this when I have time.

Posted by Michael Jennings on March 9, 2003

I may not think so clearly or be as erudite as some of your contributers but I am bothered by one thing at this moment in time - Blunkett and his identity cards. I think he, just plainly wants them, and any excuse will do so long as he gets them. He seems obsessed with the idea and I think it ought to be taken as seriously as Margaret Thatchers 'Poll tax' idea. What if I, as a pensioner of 73, refuse to have one or show it! Do I lose my pension for the duration of my stubbornness? Can I be put in prison? Like the TV licence it will be a trumped up law which can threaten an entire population with no come back. In Britain we have got along quite well using Common Law rather than having a written constitution and I am not advocating any change save the addition of a Common Anti-Law, if such could be worded right. A kind of law which vets blanket acts of parliament which allow the public blackmail of the whole country in such blatent ways. We should have a choice to obey or not in these kind of circumstances. I do not mind showing my driving licence to obtain a service which needs to be safeguarded from the thief and swindler or any other kind of identity but to devising an identity card such as Blunkett would love is an abuse of power. Did I lose my father and forego a decent childhood for this mans ideas to take root? In this country I can, at present, walk around, safe in the knowledge that no authority will stop me and ask questions that I do not wish to answer. I thought it was a bit silly during the war when a whole crocodile trail of schoolchildren was asked to show their identity cards. No doubt the authorities would have thought so too but it did not stop it happening that once. Identity cards might seems sensible in some intellectual argument but in reality it would be a bully's charter.

Posted by Brian Buxton on May 29, 2003

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November 15, 2004

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October 24, 2004

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October 20, 2004

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October 19, 2004

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October 14, 2004

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October 13, 2004

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October 11, 2004

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October 01, 2004

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September 26, 2004

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September 22, 2004

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September 16, 2004

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September 14, 2004

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September 08, 2004

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September 06, 2004

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September 03, 2004

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August 30, 2004

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August 24, 2004

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August 22, 2004

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August 20, 2004

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August 19, 2004

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August 15, 2004

Squander Two calmly talks about speed cameras ...link
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August 14, 2004

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