January 15, 2004

Trains are for cattle

Brian Micklethwait | Transport General

Samizdata regular R. C. Dean, commenting approvingly on the Detroit Auto Show, expresses a characteristic libertarian view with great clarity, I think.

The internal combustion automobile is one of the biggest engines of personal liberty ever created, right up there with the firearm. With it, the individual is free to leave the jurisdiction, free to travel on his own schedule, and free to haul an enormous amount of stuff around with him if he desires. "Mass" transit trains its users to be livestock, and so it is no wonder that our putative betters are constantly trying force us into its cattle cars. The old saw about totalitarian governments making the trains run on time cuts deeper than many think. By contrast, the automobile makes you captain of your own ship.

fordtruc.jpg

Enough with the mixed metaphors. The American insistence on bigger and more powerful automobiles, and continued avoidance of mass transit except as an utter last resort, should give lovers of liberty cause for cheer.

Okay, back to the trains.

Trackbacks

http://citycomfortsblog.typepad.com/cities/2004/01/clear_but_inacc.html
An Englishman claims that people who favor the furthering of alternative to the auto are against autos. And of course they are all his "putative betters." Maybe in Britian. But anyone who has experience of local transport politics in the
City Comforts Blog on January 15, 2004

Comments

This of course is the drive (sic) that governments and councils miss when exhorting us to leave the car behind and get on buses and trains. As a regular commuter between Bristol and London for a little over two years (thankfully over) I can confirm that the practise is for masochists - an abject misery endured only because there was no other choice. I won't ride my motorcycle in London and I won't wear it out on a 400 mile daily jaunt. As for buses, when will these buffoons realise that thay are a part of the problem, not the cure.

Posted by Mark Ellott on January 15, 2004

I love travelling by train. I find this pleasant. I don't see any contradiction between this and being a libertarian. (Of course, the way in which trains are regulated in this country and indeed much of the world makes me jump up and down and scream). For financial reasons I do not own a car at present, but I have owned cars in the past, I like driving, and the "freedom" aspect of cars is something I find very appealing. I am for the building of lots of new roads. (I don't especially enjoy being a passenger in a car, mainly because I get motion sickness, especially if I try to read).

Buses are a vile way to travel, however.

Posted by Michael Jennings on January 15, 2004

Michael, until very recently I worked in the rail industry, so believe passionately in a reliable, safe and efficient rail system. We have something that falls somewhat short of that. Even given my free travel, it was still hell on wheels and whenever possible, would choose to travel by road just to ensure arrival at the designated time - I just couldn't rely on my own industry to get me there on time :-(

Having said that - I can echo your sentiment, it can be very pleasant given reliability and efficiency.

I too am a poor car passenger - I used to be a driving instructor and tend to read the road ahead, mentally questioning the driver's lack of reaction to hazards - but that's another story.

Posted by Mark Ellott on January 15, 2004

Cars are great when your journey is different from everyone else’s. But when thousands of people are making almost identical journeys at the same time each day it makes no economic or practical sense to have each one do so in their own vehicle, especially when those vehicles are themselves so inefficient.

It's also such a shallow argument to only acknowledge private cars as the sole means of private transport. Pedestrians and cyclists are certainly examples of people being in control of their own transport, however their journey's are frustrated and endangered by all the people in cars.

What's the argument for public transport aeroplanes or do all "libertarians" avoid these too in favour of their own private planes. I think not. This only goes to show that private car use is absolutely nothing to do with a libertarian attitude and all to do with a motorised dictatorship where the evil car barons intimidate all others with their unfair bully tactics.

Fine, allow people to travel in their own cars but it can hardly be described as “libertarian” when they do so at the expense of other road users.

Posted by Gordon on January 15, 2004

I didn't feel too "liberated" driving around my neighborhood for half an hour looking for a place to park my car. In fact, I would have been much more free to do as I please had I taken the train instead of driving to do my errand.

Posted by randolph on January 15, 2004

Let's see, if I had a car and used it to travel to work every day I would be free to:

- worry about the state of my tyres, battery etc.
- sit for two hours a day in traffic jams listening to crap radio, unable to really use the time for anything except watching out for potential hazards around me the whole time
- every few months waste half a day and shell out a pile of money taking the damn thing to be serviced

If I use the train I can:

- relax and read something worthwhile
- or get my laptop out and write my weblog
- hire a car whenever I feel like enjoying driving around in the mountains for a weekend.

So in which situation am I more free?
At other times in my life - such as when I lived in England and public transport was laughably crap - I owned a car. Now that I live somewhere where I don't need one, I'm hugely enjoying the freedom from owning one. Freedom is good.

Posted by Alan Little on January 16, 2004

Alan,

you missed;

Sitting for hours going nowhere because the train in front has failed.
Missing your connection, because you were sitting for hours behind the failed train.
Waiting for hours at the station because a failed train has blocked the junction entering the station.
Being given none or misleading information about your missing train. Birmingham New Street is notorious for this.
Signal failures.
Flooding.
Buckled rails.
Broken rails.
Bridge strikes.
Tunnel closures.
Trespass and fatalities.
Impropmtu diversions - which not only you weren't informed of, but neither is the driver, so you go on a magical mystery tour and no one has planned how to get you back.

There are others, but I'm getting depressed now - believe me, I've experienced all of these.

The one constant feeling I got from all of these is a sensation of being trapped. On the bike, I can nip up to the front of the queue or take a diversion, set out later, earlier or do whatever takes my fancy.

Apart from that, trains are okay ;-)

Posted by Mark Ellott on January 16, 2004

Mark,

no, I don't miss them in the slightest. Perhaps you overlooked the bit where I mentioned not living in Britain.

Alan

Posted by Alan Little on January 16, 2004

Alan, I didn't miss that - but my points are relevant to Britain (and made in that context) - my list is a misery endured by commuters on a daily basis. Until there is radical change, travelling by rail doesn't make one feel in the slightest bit free. Quite the opposite. Which is a shame. As I said earlier, I believe passionately in rail travel as a practical mass transport option (particularly for freight). And, given the right circumstances, it can be a pleasant experience...it just isn't very often :-(

Posted by Mark Ellott on January 16, 2004

As a Glaswegian of my acquintance once said to me - they've built all these roads so we can get into the city centre more easily - its a shame they had to knock down the city centre to do it.

Building more roads will only create more locations in which we can sit in congestion wishing we were somewhere else. Anyone driving regularly on the M25 or trying to move around the West Midlands on the motorways will no doubt wholeheartedly agree about the freedom offered by car ownership.

Posted by Ian on January 17, 2004

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