February 2004


February 29, 2004

Safety is not the only thing

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | General Points (not just transport) | Road Safety

Jeremy Clarkson gets wound up by the EU’s regulations on car design, all made in the name of safety. The Association of British Drivers gets wound up by speed cameras, again made in the name of safety. And I get wound up because I don’t think they are making the case properly.

Actually, it’s worse than that. I don’t think they are making the case at all.

Let me explain. Last week I walked into a shop in Twickenham’s high street and bought myself a throw and two cushions. I could have spent that money on health insurance but I didn’t. Why not? Because aesthetics matter. They matter to me. Do the test for yourself. How much do you spend on clothes, CDs, pictures and soft furnishings? How much extra do you spend on cars, houses and stereos in order to get a better looking one? Plenty, I should think. Why? Because aesthetics matter. Because they matter to you. Remember, you could have spent that money on health insurance or a safer car/house/stereo. But you didn't. Why not? Because the marginal aesthetic benefit was more important to you than the marginal benefit to your health or personal safety.

And that’s the point. Safety is not the only thing. It’s one thing. It’s an important thing for sure. But it’s not the only thing in life.

Let me give another example, a bit closer to home. What do you do when you get in a car? OK, you may not be doing this consciously but what you are effectively doing is saying that the benefit of getting to your destination outweighs the possible cost of losing your life on the way. Same goes for driving over the speed limit. Why? Because to you it is worth it to get to your destination that bit quicker, or maybe, you enjoy the thrill. But at the root of all this behaviour is the fact that safety is not the only thing. If it was we wouldn’t have roads at all.

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The Congestion Charge: success or failure?

Patrick Crozier | London Congestion Charging

It’s a year now since drivers had to pay a fiver for the pleasure of driving into Central London. So, has Congestion Charging been a success or a failure?

The real question to my mind is: how would you know? What measurement should you take? Average speed? If there was only one vehicle allowed in the zone that would give you a very high average speed but I don’t think that would be a particularly good thing. Passenger-miles travelled? Not bad but it could just be an indicator of things being too spread out. And it in no way takes account of freight. And how do you measure that: by weight or by value? And how many ton-miles makes a passenger-mile? Tricky, huh?

Perhaps we’re missing the point entirely. When talking about railways I keep banging on about land values. But shouldn’t exactly the same apply when talking about roads? Perhaps that should be the measure. But there are all sorts of other factors that determine land values, not least the vagaries of the South East’s housing market which is overdue for a fall.

The truth is it’s difficult to say. But that in itself suggests that at very worst it hasn’t done much harm. And that being the case it is probably here to stay.

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February 25, 2004

Footbridges

Brian Micklethwait | Transport Miscellany

Do footbridges count as transport? If not, apologies, because here is a link to a posting I've just done on my Culture Blog, about: footbridges.

The twin stars of the posting are the deservedly famous curved footbridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the equally charming and cleverly designed, but much smaller and less well known new footbridge which connects London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden to the Royal Ballet School, across Floral Street, just down the road from the old Alternative Bookshop where I used to work. Several photos of both, plus two other little London footbridges, and a link to a fancy new footbridge in America.

Footbridges are a big deal in London, and getting bigger, because of the Congestion Charge, which has made London much more pedestrian friendly. Plus, they've done things like shut down and pave over the road at the top end of Trafalgar Square. So footbridges are part of a process that most definitely impacts upon transport, even if they aren't transport themselves. Which they are, I think.

But are they culture? Oh who cares? - I love them.

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February 23, 2004

A beano

Patrick Crozier | Railtrack and Network Rail | Railways - Japan

There was an article in Saturday's Times (subscription only for foreign residents I'm afraid) on Japanese railways. It was all about a proposed study trip by Network Rail managers to see what they can learn.

There is nothing new in this. Railwaymen have been going to Japan for yonks. I went with a group two years ago. Adrian Shooter (formerly Managing Director of Chiltern Railways) has been running a scheme for ten years. And there have been plenty of others. I remember a comment on yet another trip reported in Modern Railways about three years back to the effect of: "we keep sending people over it's about time we started learning the lessons."

What I found from our trip is that people à la Michael Jennings saw what they wanted to see. The ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) guy saw an example of fragmented management and proclaimed that fragmentation could work, the journalist saw the state subsidising infrastructure and concluded that that's what we should have here, the London Underground guy took one look at the maintenance depot and decried its inefficiency - LU's contracted out structure was far better and I saw privately-owned integrated railways and concluded that privatisation works and state-inflicted fragmentation doesn't.

Network Rail say that they need to make comparisons:

If we are not careful we can be fat, dumb and happy. So we have to create a substitute for competition by doing international benchmarking.

Or they could engage in a bit of historical benchmarking. They could compare themselves with British Rail or even, for that matter, Railtrack. Save themselves a fortune they would. Mind you the results might not look so good bearing in mind that it takes the modern, fragmented railway nearly £4bn to achieve less than what the integrated one did for about £1bn. McAllister may come to regret making the comment about being "fat, dumb and happy".

There are a couple of niggles I have with this article. For instance, I am really not sure about this claim that delays are recorded if trains are 15 seconds late. A couple of years ago I was actually in Tokyo's main control centre asking the head honcho there about this very thing. Delays are recorded when a train is a minute late.

And Japan is not the only other significant economy with a privatised railway. There's another one. Readers may have heard of it. It has the biggest railway in the world.

It's called the United States.

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February 22, 2004

Do facts matter in political arguments?

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport)

Yes, I know it's a long way from the layout of the Bilbao Metro but last week I did make the rather bold statement that "facts don't matter". I have been having second thoughts ever since.

I think a lot depends on the nature of the fact and the nature of the person being argued with. There is no point in attempting to convert someone whose mind is closed. In this case neither facts nor ideas matter much.

But if you are dealing with someone who is interested in your opinions then it is a different story. Although I had been a libertarian for some time when I heard about the existence of education without the state and 19th Century private welfare provision I was still very glad when I did. In this case although the facts did not change my beliefs they did make them stronger, more sure-footed.

It is worth bearing in mind that often you are dealing with both types of person. The person you are directly arguing with is often an implacable opponent but the audience may well be far more sympathetic. So, facts matter.

The nature of the fact is also important. A fact that few people are aware of or are difficult to verify eg the prevalence of interlocking in the late 19th Century, is much less useful than facts that almost everyone is aware of eg the collapse of the Soviet Union. Almost as good, if not better, is any fact that the person you are arguing with has brought to the discussion. One of my great delights is being able to deploy facts given to me by political opponents such as Christian Wolmar and Adrian Vaughan.

One final point. Facts are only useful if there is an agreement over what is good and what is bad. When we talk about transport we tend to make the assumption that moving about the planet is a good thing. This is at very least questionable and is one of the reasons I am very glad that Transport Blog has a category called "Staying Put".

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February 21, 2004

Why people need to see what they expect to see.

Michael Jennings | Rail General

I am presently in an internet cafe in Manchester. I should be half way back to London in the last Midland Mainline train via Leicester, but as it happened, I missed the train. I will instead be catching a midnight National Express coach back to London, which as a thing to do is a little annoying, and which will cost me an annoying but not horrendous sum of money (£19). Now, there is an interesting reason why I missed the train.

I arrived at the station in time to catch the train, around five minutes before it was due to leave. This station has two television screens near the ticket office giving departures and arrivals. Or, rather, giving arrivals and departures. That is, the arrivals screen is on the left, and the departures screen is on the right. I walked into the station, looked at the left screen, saw "London St Pancras: 19:02 Platform 4" on the screen, and walked to Platform 4. I then waited for a few minutes, and then heard an announcement saying that the train on Platform 2 was the 18:59 train to London St Pancras. I then ran to Platform 2 and the train was still there, but the guard (who was behind an open window on the train) explained that the doors had been locked and the driver had been informed he could go, so she couldn't let me on. The train (an Intercity 125 I think) seemed to have slam doors and I am not sure whether they actually were locked, but I took her word for it and did not attempt to board the train. (There is a genuine safety issue here, and I do respect this). I therefore missed my train. I then went back to check the departure screen, and again I saw "London St Pancras: 19:02 platform 4". I raised my camera to take a photograph of this to send to Midland Mainline. However, before actually taking the photo, I finally noticed that the "Departures" screen was the one on the right, rather than on the left as is usual. I realised that I had missed my train because I had confused "Departures" and "Arrivals", and I was annoyed with myself. (Unfortunately I did not actually take the photo for this blog post).

My ticket was an advance purchase valid this train only valid Midland Mainline only ticket, but if this had not been the last train of the evening, I would have boarded the next train anyway. (Often conductors have a little discretion and will often allow passengers to catch the next train after the one their ticket is strictly valid for, because there are plenty of reasons for missing a train that are the fault of the operator - late connecting services for instance). However, it was the last train of the (Saturday) evening, and Midland Mainline have no Sunday service from Manchester to London, so my options were to board the next Virgin service to Euston (and probably pay another fare, as there is really no good reason why Virgin should honour a Midland Mainline only ticket) find some non-rail way back to London, or wait until Monday morning. Even if I tried the Virgin option, I would have had to wait until the next morning, as the last Virgin service of the evening had already departed. Which would mean I would have to find and pay for another night's accommodation. So the National Express coach was looking better and better. (Bring on Megabus, however).

I will write to both Midland Mainline and whichever operating company runs Stockport station, and point this out. (I may even mention that I write for Transport Blog), explaining that yes it was my fault and not asking for any recompense, but pointing out that standardisation of departure signs is very important. Because far more people look at departure boards than arrival boards, it is normal to put departures on the left. (Or, often there is a departure board and no arrivals board. And if you do not do this, confusion and missed trains will occur as a consequence. As happened to me tonight).

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Peter Gordon's Blog

Patrick Crozier | Links

I really have no idea who Peter Gordon is - Jay Jardine describes him as a "Maverick Urban Planner" - but judging by his use of the term "Voluntary City" and his enthusiasm for road pricing it looks like his blog could well be worth a read.

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February 19, 2004

Our Railway companies are so on the ball

Michael Jennings | Rail Miscellany

On the door of a waiting room at East Croydon station this afternoon, I saw the following sign.

croydon.JPG

To slightly misquote the late Douglas Adams, this is clearly some new definition of the word "automatic" with which I was not previously familiar.

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February 15, 2004

Fact fights are pointless

Patrick Crozier | General Points (not just transport)

After nearly two years my very first posting has, at last, acquired its first comment. Which is the good news. The bad news (for me) is that Nick Kocharhook, the author, uses the opportunity to take me to task. He says:

I don't exactly agree with your timeline of the bus/tube decline. From what I've read the different lines were openly hostile and contentious before they were consolidated under the London Passenger Transport Board (LT) in 1933. This and the busses competing with the Tube meant that if the best way for you to get somewhere was via some combination of transit options, life would not be easy for you.

Ouch.

As a publicly owned but independent-acting organization, LT could borrow money against future earnings at the preferred Government interest rate and then use it however it liked. Even more importantly, Lord Ashfield ran LT with the long-term firmly in mind. Many line extension projects were proposed and many of them were carried out.

Fazzawazzabazzawazza, as Muttley might say.

I was going to reply with a few facts of my own. But then I remembered that “the facts don’t matter”. Why do I think that? Because I once read Brian Micklethwait’s Libertarian Alliance pamphlet: The Tyranny of the Facts. I don’t quite remember what he said (I told you the facts don’t matter) but it basically runs along the lines that we all have pretty well set beliefs and that rather than challenge these beliefs we will far prefer to reject any evidence that appears to contradict them. We can do this in a variety of ways – ranging from rejecting new facts altogether as lies to claiming that, while true, said facts actually prove something entirely different.

What really matters is our beliefs. Facts, by themselves will not alter them. How you alter someone’s beliefs? Well, that’s a whole different question. Wish I knew.

I agree with this view almost entirely. The only thing I would add is that there are some Big Facts out there that really do matter. The Holocaust, the collapse of the Soviet Union, that sort of thing. These sort of things usually do force some sort of reappraisal. Mind you, there are plenty of Holocaust deniers out there.

Incidentally, I think Nick’s description of the London Passenger Transport Board is an almost perfect illustration of the hockey-stick model of state intervention. Which is ironic because the LPTB was the very example I used to illustrate it in the first place.

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February 14, 2004

iGreens

Patrick Crozier | Links

I found this while doing a Google search on UK rail accidents (as you do. There was a Guardian article in need of fisking. Anyway, that can wait). I can't say I was too enthusiastic. iGreens. Didn't sound good. Sounded too much like: "Big bunch of hippy crap". And then I spotted that the "i" bit stood for "individualist". And then I spotted that the piece on UK rail accidents wasn't completely stupid. So, I went to the Home page and thence the About page (which reminds me - we really ought to get one here sometime). And what did I find:

…decentralised systems are better at reconciling different interests

and:

Political decision-making favours short-term solutions and the interests of well-organised groups

and:

Collective ownership is usually wasteful

Excellent. We'll have to add it to Transport Blog's list of Good Sites when we get round to creating one.

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February 13, 2004

When staying put means you don't learn

Brian Micklethwait | Staying put

I've just done a piece for my education blog about the kind of learning that is far more likely to happen face to face, which therefore, as I said in it, has relevance also to Transport Blog.

Mostly at this blog we take it for granted that people must travel to work, or to be educated. But why? Nowadays, there are more bits of kit available to enable us all to stay put, as one of our categories here has it, than ever before. Yet the demand for travel doesn't seem to slacken at all. My piece goes a little of the way to explaining why.

Briefly, what I say is that when learning consists of lots of little things, things that you didn't know about until someone seeing you at work suggests them, then that is when working in the same place pays the most educational dividends, and when learning at a distance is least likely to work nearly as well.

And computers are all about lots of little steps, each one easy when you know how, but until then baffling. The very kit which is touted as the thing that makes travelling unnecessary is the most hard to master on your own.

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February 11, 2004

Godair

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany

Talk about a captive audience:

AN AMERICAN Airlines pilot is facing an internal investigation after reportedly asking Christian passengers to identify themselves, and suggesting that non-Christians on his flight were crazy.

Speaking today on CNN's American Morning, several passengers said yesterday's flight from Los Angeles to New York had not yet taken off, when the pilot chose to address everyone on board.

"He said he'd recently been on a mission trip, and he'd like all the Christians to please raise their hands," said passenger Jen Dorsey.

According to fellow passenger Karla Austin, "He said, 'If you are a Christian, raise your hand.' He said, 'If you are not, you're crazy'".

These remarks made the passengers deeply uneasy:

Passengers said the remarks had made them deeply uneasy and that many on board had reached for their mobile phones, fearing the pilot might take some sort of drastic action.

Scary. I wonder what will happen to the guy.

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Adventures in Transitland

Patrick Crozier | Transport General

Live from the Third Rail's amg (why do they insist on lower case?) has been on his travels and he's found Transitopia, a place where you don't need a car, rarely need a taxi, where the trains and buses are on time and need no public subsidy. As he says:

The entire trip was, door-to-door, completed on public transportation and all but three legs (cab rides) were completed on mass transit -- and the transit was quick, safe, and almost always on time.

And where is this land of milk and honey? Don't ask. Just don't ask.

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February 09, 2004

Ryanair and Charleroi

Patrick Crozier | Positive Externalities

Last week there was a lot of comment about the EU's ban on Charleroi subsidising Ryanair. I find it a fascinating question but as yet I haven't quite made up my mind what I think. Tonight I tried to pen an article entitled "Ryanair, Charleroi and how the state queers the pitch for everyone else". Unfortunately, half way through I realised it had a couple of rather large holes. So, it's back to the drawing board. Here's hoping nothing similarly dramatic happens this week.

In the meantime here are a couple of lovely tailfins:

Ryanboob.jpg

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February 06, 2004

Why are Japanese trains so overcrowded?

Patrick Crozier | Fares and Ticketing | Railways - Japan

I wrote about just how awful the situation is some time ago. I have always suspected that the culprit is fare regulation but I've never had the evidence to back it up. Even when I was in Japan the year before last (and in the company of Japanese railwaymen) I couldn't find out. Now, with the publication of Japanese Urban Railways, Markets, Capital Formation and Fares - Private Railways by Hideki Moriya in this month's Japan Rail and Transport Review I have that evidence.

2002_1008_091238aa.jpg
Keio Railway's Shinjuku department store. A needless distraction?
Although Moriya himself does not make the connection between artificially depressed fares and overcrowding it is quite clear that the Japanese state has kept fares low for a very long time.

What is really interesting is that Moriya suggests that low fares have discouraged private railways from investing in their railway businesses with the result that they have preferred to invest in property development. The suggestion is that such property development is a distraction from their core business and, therefore, a bad thing. So much for me and my enthusiasm for positive externalities.

All of which suggests a truly frightening thought: the Japanese railway could be even better than it is already.

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February 05, 2004

Train enquiry jobs go to India

Patrick Crozier | Rail Miscellany

In the Times article about the National Rail Enquiry Service (NRES) being partly moved to India, a couple of quotes stood out:

Chris Scoggins, [NRES's] chief executive, said: “There is a higher level of politeness in India and a greater desire to help . . . it is a more pleasant experience on the whole.”

While:

David Fleming, National Secretary of Amicus, said: “This is an insult to British NRES staff who have a reputation for being very committed to the job and stay for the long haul. There is a high turnover at the Indian call centres as the graduates move on to other jobs.”

Which makes me think that some people really ought to be insulted from time to time.

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February 02, 2004

TV Alert - Ultimate Trains

Patrick Crozier | Media

Here's the blurb:


Time - 20:00 - 21:00 (1 hour long)

When - Monday 2nd February on Five

A look at how the design of trains today focuses on making rail travel safer, faster and more futuristic. Train technology is currently making a comeback as public services are now more in the public eye. The programme looks at the latest in inter-city travel including the Canadian Jet train, the Japanese Bullet and, of course Eurostar which all travel at speeds in excess of 170 mph.


Can't wait.

Update

Just in case you can't wait here are a couple of Shinkansens at Tokyo station:

max.jpg

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February 01, 2004

Transport – how they used to do it

Patrick Crozier | Transport Miscellany

 

100_0061.jpg
Lessons from the past?
Brian Hayes is a former railwayman whom I met on the Railway Study Association’s trip to Germany. Since then we have been in occasional contact and on one of his trips to London we met up for a chat. The conversation turned to how trams and buses were managed in the past and I mentioned to Brian that this would make an excellent blog posting. On his return to Shropshire Brain e-mailed me with some thoughts. This is what he said:

Last week I discussed with Patrick the local transport systems of London and Birmingham after the war. In Birmingham, at both terminii of a tram or bus route, and at intermediate points, perhaps every three or four miles were what were known as 'bundy' clocks. These displayed the time, and the driver of a bus or tram inserted a numbered key into the clock at the designated departure time, and turned the key clockwise. This recorded on a paper roll inside the punctuality of the vehicle. Other systems like Leicester, used a time clock where the conductor or guard, inserted a card for it to be stamped. This was a way of ensuring the punctuality of a system, but no doubt checking was time consuming and expensive. Some continental systems now have a buzzer in the driver's compartment on a tram which sounds when it has not departed on time.

In London and Birmingham, trams and buses were manned by drivers and conductors; the latter also known as clippies. In Stockport and Manchester the latter were referred to as guards. In Birmingham, all city centre terminii had an inspector present to ensure prompt departures for vehicles, and if necessary to change vehicle diagrams [ie their routing, Ed] to overcome delays. On most routes, an additional inspector would be placed at an intermediate point, perhaps adjacent to the depot, to take similar action to avoid delay and ensure timekeeping. A similar structure worked in London, with inspectors at key points; eg Westminster Embankment, Angel Islington, Elephant, Camberwell, New Cross, Tooting Broadway. The headways of many London tram routes might be as low as 4 minutes, and on many occasions when there was late running, it was not unusual for an inspector to transfer the passengers on the front car to the following car, and by use of an intermediate crossover [allowing the tram to cross from one set of tracks to another], return the front car on an immediate working in the opposite direction. Very few moans were heard, as the passengers concerned experienced no further delay, passengers waiting in the opposite direction had less time to wait because of out of course running, and the general feeling was that the LPTB [London Passenger Transport Board - the nationalised authority] was doing a good job.

All this was done at a time when staff were available and the word redundant was unknown. The only question to be asked. What was the cost? Efficiency and passenger comfort were more important. How times have changed!

So, passengers were prepared to abandon their tram were they? In the rush hour?

Actually, as I understand it the cost in those days would have been rather lower than it is today. In its early days the LPTB broke even. These days, its replacement (Transport for London) most certainly does not.

Notwithstanding the fact that these organisations seem to have been in the state sector (boo, hiss) it does illustrate something that I feel strongly about, namely, that you don't need the latest whizz-bang technology to deliver a good service. When I was studying for an IT degree (don't laugh) one thing I studied was the management of IT projects. One quote really stuck in the memory. It went something like this: "Good organisations get good results from new technology: bad organisations don't."

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IN BRIEF

This is a list of date-based archives from the In Brief section:

November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004