The 2011 census is looking...interesting...from a civil liberties and privacy perspective. The Office of National Statistics is keen for everyone to know the postcodes of their places of work for transport reasons. Spyblog has the story. Quoting an ONS press release:
Knowing their workplace postcode is a key piece of information that feeds into the overall picture of life in England and Wales. Details of where people live, where they work and how they travel to their place of employment provide important statistics for transport planning and other strategic decisions.
Note that the ONS makes no provision for simply filling in, say only the first 4 digits of the Post Code, which would be more than adequate for such planning purposes.
Previous Census data has not succeed in producing “the right transport infrastructure”, in the past, due to all of the other political and financial factors, so why should it be any different with the Census 2011 ?
The claim seems dubious at best. A one-off snapshot of this information does not seem very useful. It’s based on the delusion that such things can be centrally planned if only perfect information was centrally available. But this is impossible. Any changes in transport infrastructure will affect people’s behaviour. There are all kinds of non-linear feedback effects at play. The problem is distributed. The only way to get the correct transport infrastructure to meet people’s needs is to distribute the organisation of transport. And the best information to be had is price signals.
Wasn’t all this figured out in 1776? Someone should tell the ONS.
Mario Polèse has a piece about Why Big Cities matter More than Ever in, appropriately enough, City Journal.
He makes many worthwhile points. My favourite one (i.e. I already strongly agree) is that the rise of electronic communication at a distance intensifies (rather than reduces) the demand for face-to-face contact, and hence for transport. Not all information can be transmitted over wires or through the ether. That much can increases the value of face-to-face meetings (like this one for instance), because quality face-to-face teams can now influence and trade with the entire world.
What about the argument that falling communications costs actually undermine urban concentration? For example, didn’t the existence of e-mail encourage Silicon Valley companies to outsource computer programming to Bangalore, India? The truth is that this shift did foster urban concentration - in Bangalore.
As for falling physical transport costs causing physical dispersion, well, yes and no. Consider the live theatre business. Theatrical endeavour clusters in one spot (like Broadway or the West End of London), for all the usual reasons that businesses cluster (economies of scale - big pools of core professional talent - variety of ancillary professional talent - inside info - face-to-face contact (see above)), but good transport enables more punters to come to town, to witness these performances. Transport enables a dispersed population all to benefit from the same services, which it thus makes more sense to be concentrated in the big city.
Transport, in other words, isn’t going anywhere.
One of my favourite means of transporting myself is to go for walks, in London, and in particular beside the River Thames in London. It is surely a significant transport issue that walking alongside the Thames in London has got steadily easier as the decades have passed, as more bits of riverside path have been added to what was already there. I would love to learn more about who exactly set this process in motion and how it has been kept going. Clearly, nobody is allowed to build anything next to the river now without a piece of riverside walk being included, even if it will only join up with the rest of the riverside walk years later. Is there an office where all this is “coordinated”?
As I walk along next to the river, I see things, especially things in (or should that be “on") the river (and a lot of things go by river these days), that puzzle me. Like this:
I’m talking, in particular, about these:
You see these all the time, being dragged up and down the river. But what’s in them?
With the magic of computerised photos, I can take a close look at what looks like it could be a clue:
Cory Environmental Ltd, the Authority’s Waste Management Services Contractor, operate two waste transfer stations situated on the River Thames in South London; one in Wandsworth and the other in Battersea.
So now I know.
I spent the night before election day and the night of election day watching Boris Johnson get elected Mayor of London. And I think it must have been in the rather testy TV interview he did for the BBC, after his official acceptance speech, that he said he favours moving Heathrow to the Thames Estuary. I do as well, if only because it will make for such great aerial photos while it is being built, to say nothing of when it is finished.
I have mentioned this notion here before, although the only serious commenter on that thought the scheme nonsensical. What I didn’t mention was that Boris is in favour of it. So it may not go away just yet.
Whether Kit Malthouse, the writer of the piece I originally linked to, is anything directly to do with Boris I do not know. Ah. At the bottom of that piece it says that “Kit Malthouse is a businessman and former Tory councillor and is standing for the London Assembly in 2008”, so I’m guessing: yes. And I’m guessing he got in, if only because the Tories in general did so well.
Vote Conservative for better ways to waste public money!
“It’s not much of a quid pro quo for having lived through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward...”
The other night Michael Jennings, Brian Micklethwait and myself sat down with the intention of recording a podcast about South East Asian Metros, Michael being pretty clued up on the subject.
We started well. We managed to keep to the subject for a good five minutes before veering off onto topics as far apart as colonial architecture and the evils of communism1 the Metropolitan Railway’s Club carriages, the importance of passenger information, maps and timetables (or lack of them), international fare system convergence and commuter escalators.
And our tendency for all talking at once continues unabated. Oh well.
1. As evidenced by Michael’s quote at the top.
Update 11/01/08 Michael tells me that that “South” bit in the title is inaccurate.
Lead item on BBC Breakfast the other morning was on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Apparently it’s running out of capacity so either they’ll have to put up the fares or introduce a fancy “computer-controlled” signalling system or the government will have to build a new, high-speed line.
(Is the comma in the right place in that last sentence? It should mean a new line that is high-speed and not a new high-speed line to go with all the other ones. Oh well, never mind).
The reporter also added that because the government was going to introduce toll charges on the motorways that would push lots of people onto the railways - again putting pressure on capacity. He went on to suggest that what this showed was that the government needed to plan more and it would, therefore, be a good thing when the 30-year plan turned up.
A little later they interviewed Ian Coucher, a high-up at Network Rail. He thought that all the problems could be solved with a few extra carriages and, anyway, the whole kerfuffle only served to underline that the whole thing was a “success story”.
Oh God. Where does one start?
Well, let’s try the low-hanging fruit.
“Computer-controlled" signalling. I am far from an expert on the subject but I am pretty sure that the signallers have already managed to get the odd ZX80 into their control centres over the last 30 years or so. What the reporter was probably referring to was “moving block” signalling which is an incredibly snazzy way of putting more trains through the same amount of track. Snazzy, that is, in all respects apart from actually working. It was tried on the Jubilee Line Extension. It didn’t work. It was thought about for the WCML. The bosses thought it was spiffing. The boffins took one look at it and realised it was a non-starter. The company (Railtrack) went bust.
“Success story”. The upgrade to the WCML (WCRM as it was known) cost, according to the report, £8.6bn (a sum that looks suspiciously low but I won’t bother arguing about on this occasion). The tax payer will be lucky if he ever sees more than a few pennies of that. So, it’s made a loss. Losses are bad.
Now for the hard bit. First of all, what’s wrong with it:
- The assumption that higher road prices will mean fewer people using the roads. It could easily mean more.
- The assumption that if people do flee the roads they will end up on the railways. They could equally easily end up at home. Or on marble-smooth super-highways built by road entrepreneurs.
- The assumption that the state is any good at planning.
- The assumption that if the ultimate answer is a new railway that the state should fund the construction. It shouldn’t.
And here’s how things should work:
- The roads should be privately owned. So should the railways.
- Polluters should compensate their victims. Railways just as much as roads.
- If there is enough of a market then road builders will build more. Ditto railways.
- In the resulting market roads may still dominate but or it may be that railways become viable (though I doubt this) or neither. Staying at home could well prove the best option.
But how would these new roads or railways be built?
- Well, you’d have to abolish planning laws. Not that that would be any big deal. The lack of compulsory purchase might be an obstacle but I don’t think so.
Why do you doubt that rail would become viable?
- I just don’t think that pollution charges for global warming would ever be that high. And even if they were high, rail would be punished along with everyone else. While on a per passenger per mile basis, trains may produce less greenhouse gases, a lot of energy will have gone into the creation of the infrastructure.
After what I said in the post below, here are a couple more dubious surveys:
Now, I have little problem in believing that sprawling* suburbs are good for you in all sorts of ways - after all, I live in one - but fixing congestion? well, that’s quite a different proposition. Central London has been congested for a couple of hundred years. Bearing in mind that in that time its governors have ranged from extreme liberals to extreme socialists you would have thought that if there was an easy solution ie not congestion charging, they would have found it by now.
* Whoops! Banned word (warning: short).