21 February 2011
Transport excuse for intrusive census questions
Rob Fisher

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.

Spyblog adds:

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.

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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.

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