September 2002

September 30, 2002

Lord Montague slams "anti-motorists"

Patrick Crozier | Road Safety

In a letter to the Times* he said:

Every motorist should be grateful to Mr. Frederic Harrison for his frank letter advocating the suppression of motoring. It shows how much hatred, malice, and uncharitableness there lies behind the complaints of many anti- motorists. This trait - that of opposing progress - has been manifest for untold generations. Their arguments are always the same and are always proved baseless by time...
But he reserved his his severist criticisms for the police saying:
By all means let police-traps be placed where there is any reason to think danger may exist, but if the police and law-abiding motorists are to combine to suppress the road hog, the tactics of setting traps on roads where there is no danger in speed must be discouraged by the authorities. At present, the police neglect their other duties and look upon trapping as a regular sport...
Oh, and when did he write this letter? September 30, 1907.

*The Times (bastards) require foreign readers to make a paid subscription.

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September 29, 2002

Holland isn't perfect - shock

Patrick Crozier | European Union | Road Miscellany

Holland is not perfect. I found it difficult to believe too but the view came from a Dutchman and so I guess I will have to (reluctantly, mind you) accept that Netherlands reality diverges in significant degrees from Utopian fantasy.

"How?", I asked.

"Well, your road manners are much better than ours." came the reply. Boy, was I glad my chair had arms - otherwise I would have fallen off it. Boy, was I glad there was a carpet - otherwise my dropping jaw would have sustained a nasty accident.

But this guy was the expert. He had lived and drived in both countries and found that when he went back to Holland he was surprised that people would tailgate, that they wouldn't let him in and in various other ways weren't quite as nice.

Well, well, well.

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September 24, 2002

On mobile communication

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany | Best of Transport Blog | Transport Miscellany

Brian Micklethwait of Samizdata writes:

I recently visited my sister Daphne and her husband Denis in western Wales. On the train from Swansea to Carmarthen I sat next to a mobile phone addict. Annoying, you may be thinking. A rant against mobile phones, you may be expecting. "I'm on a train. I am due to arrive at Carmarthen in seven and a quarter minutes, see you then. I am due in four and three quarter minutes, because we've been slightly delayed, see you then or soon after." - etc. But it was nothing like that. The guy was running an entire business from his train seat. He was responsible, it seemed, for about half a dozen building sites scattered all over the south of England, and to solve the various problems that were continually arising he had only so many good people, a few of whom were not at all eager to be doing any more work late on a Friday afternoon and had to be soothed and bribed. Thousands of pounds of work, if not tens of thousands, were being done from an office the guy kept in his pocket.

Much is made of the economic impact of the Internet, and this is now big and and will be more so. The application of computers in general to business in general proceeds rapidly. But one of the great economic success stories of the last decade has been the humble mobile phone, especially when applied by people without settled offices, and in countries without previously functioning phone systems. Getting mobile phones to work is not easy and involves much planting of spikes in the countryside, but it's a lot easier than putting wires and switching stations everywhere and keeping all that going without interruption. (Besides which, the Internet started to work even better when that too became pluggable into mobile phone sockets.)

I've read about the economics of mobile phones in books, and I recall reading newspaper reports about how mobile phones, although still then quite expensive, made the reconstruction of - and reintegration into civilisation of - East Berlin after the Wall had come down, a lot easier. One mobile in an Indian village entirely changes the rules of the bargaining war between rural farmers and the big crop buyers, because suddenly the village knows what others are getting for their crops. It's not only drug-dealers who use these things. But reading a book or newspaper is one thing; sitting next to the thing and actually listening to it is something else again, and this was the first time I'd really done this. (All the previous times it was idiot suburbanites telling each other they'd meet in four and three quarter minutes.)

I told brother-in-law Denis about this and he offered a recollection of being out with his son-the-BA-airline-pilot and a friend of his son-the-BA-airline-pilot who was a biggish cheese in the then struggling to emerge Ryanair. I think it was Ryanair; maybe one of the other cheap and cheerful airlines. Anyway, this guy was sitting at the restaurant deciding which airplanes should go where. ("Take 135 to Frankfurt, and divert 133 to Edinburgh, and then use 133 to do F52554, instead of the dodgy one, which can stay in Edinburgh where the maintenance people know it better, etc. etc. etc.".) That's somewhat off my main point, but since it was transport related...

So, getting back to my point, which is mobiles used on transport rather than merely to organise transport from a fixed spot ...: A particular form of transport isn't just nice because it's cheap or fast or comfortable; it's also nice if you can continue to communicate easily with the outside world while using it, in other words if you can continue with your life. The battles about drivers or airline passengers using mobiles are not trivial. That tube trains don't allow mobile communication if in their tubes, ditto. (Will that ever change? Do tube systems beyond London allow mobiles to be used from within the tubes?) [I thought it was because radio waves can't penetrate the tunnels. Mind you I suppose that is an argument for base stations (or whatever they're called) in tunnels - Ed]

But maybe, in the trains where you can use portables, there should be mobile and non-mobile compartments. So to speak.

PS: When I was polishing this I went all through it eliminating the earlier word "portable" and replacing it with more recent "mobile". An interesting nuance. Portability is effort. Mobility is automatic. When will portable but still serious computers, of the kind that don't oblige you to have another real one back at base, finally make it to "mobile"?

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September 18, 2002

Association of British Drivers

Patrick Crozier | Planning | Road Miscellany

Praise be to the ABD. That's where I got the link illustrating just how green and pleasant Britain still is (see below). It is also the location of articles on why the car is not a threat to the environment and how asthma is actually the result of clean air. Personally, I thought it was a result of the abolition of leaded petrol but it is something of a pet theory of mine.

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England's new first airport

Brian Micklethwait | Airport Expansion

Brian Micklethwait of Samizdata writes:

Sean Gabb was on BBC Radio Oxford last week. He was on to denounce the hideous notion of a national, compulsory DNA database, and denounce it he duly did. He also legalised all drugs and abolished gun control.

I know all this because Radio Oxford sent Sean a tape c/o me and I had a listen. After Sean was finished, I carried on listening and just before the tape ran out there was a report about how the British government intends the construction of the second biggest airport in the world (with only Chicago being bigger) in a green bit of the midlands, in the Rugby-Coventry area. The first report was a mere listener ringing up about a horrified letter a friend of hers had sent her. A hoax right? Apparently not. A local BBC reporter came on and said, yes, this is indeed the plan. It was apparently announced on the day before parliament broke up for its summer holidays, and there will only be a few short months for the inevitable protesters to protest against it all.

Personally I'm for it. I don't live in the Midlands, but if I did I would probably be even more for it. I'm confident that airplanes will go on getting quieter, and airports accordingly ever less disruptive. Airplanes fly over me when they land at Heathrow. Only Concorde is at all noisy and Concorde would be magnificent at twice the din. Even more magnificent in fact, because then you'd know even sooner when it was coming and could rush out and look at it even more easily than you can now.

Plus, if you take the trouble actually to fly over England in a airplane, you can observe that England is anything but overcrowded. It consists mostly of empty greenery, and it will go on doing so for many decades to come. The only reason people think it's overcrowded is because the crowded bits are the bits that most people spend most of their time looking at. Most people now live in towns or cities, and motorways and mainline railways, in addition to themselves (motorways especially) being development also attract more development alongside them, and people confuse the view from the car or train window as they whiz from one English town or city to another with the state of play everywhere. "Overcrowded" is a typical townie cliché, not a reality.

Even so, did you know about this new airport plan, Patrick? It sounds like it may be about to keep you very busy.

Err... no I didn't. It does seem a rather odd place to put an airport though. [Ed.]

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September 17, 2002

The Greatest Railway in the World

Patrick Crozier | Railways - Japan

This photo comes from the Japanese Railway Society and is captioned "A 113 series EMU passes Tamachi station on its way to Tokyo station on a Tokaido Line suburban working in June 2002."

There are a couple of things that really struck me about this photo. The first is how clean everything is. The train is clean, front and side, the platform (what little you can see of it) is clean and free of litter. The ballast (not that I am an expert on this) is clean and neatly laid. There is no litter on the tracks (as there so often is in the UK)

The second is how ugly everything is. The train is ugly, its livery is ugly. The overhead masts are ugly as are the cables they support. Even the platform looks ugly. It is a million miles away from the romantic shots of steam trains puffing their way across rural landscapes that most of us are used to.

I am not going to speculate on whether this ugliness is a product of commercialism or Japanese culture or some other factor but I would say that if the choice was between this ie Japanese levels of punctuality, reliability, capacity and cleanliness, and what we have in the UK at the moment I would take this every time.

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September 16, 2002

The New Labour Fear Factor

Patrick Crozier | Rail Crime | Transport Miscellany

In an otherwise platitudinous article on why we should elect him Mayor of London, Tony Banks does at least say:

I often have to travel home late at night and it can be a disgusting and frightening experience.
He won't do anything about it, of course, but it does at least indicate that Socialists are having to suffer the consequences of their own actions.

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September 15, 2002

Tee hee hee

Patrick Crozier | Frivolity

See this. If only Stelios had called it easyVirtue.

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September 10, 2002

Billions of Blue Blistering Bendy Buses

Patrick Crozier | Buses and Jitneys | Transport Miscellany

Actually they're not blue, they're red. But they are coming to a road near you (if you live in London). All sorts of the great and the good eg. Ken, Transport for London, the Bus Users' Group etc think it's a really good idea.

Which makes me suspicious. Of course, I can't tell because I know little about buses and it is extremely difficult to evaluate these things especially in the topsy-turvy world of state economics.

There was one line that got my goat:

"The driver can see the whole length of the bus rather than relying on a restricted view of the upper deck through mirrors. This makes the buses less vulnerable to vandalism and also helps passengers feel safer."
You see, my feeling is that potential vandals should live in such fear of the probability and consequences of being caught that they would never dare try. I do not know whether the decision to abolish of one of London's finest traditions was tipped by the vandalism factor but I hate to think that it was. We must stop these people - not run away from them.

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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