January 2007

31 January 2007
Five myths about suburbia and automobiles - ie, sprawl. (Hat-tip: Instapundit - like he needs it)  …link
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Planning
29 January 2007
Brian Micklethwait

Boris Johnson piles in on the (not actually – we wish!) First Great Western train disaster:

Unbelievable! And even if they did want to lay on more capacity now, the Government interferes at every turn. There are currently 14 officials in the Department of Transport who are working on the railway timetable, and at a recent meeting with angry MPs Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, was seen to be poring over his copy of Bradshaw and musing on whether or not an 0848 service could be added to some branch line, in addition to the 0932. The Secretary of State!

The Government is simultaneously blaming the train companies for the mess, while bleeding them of cash and micromanaging the timetable to destruction, and at a time when passenger numbers have risen by 40 per cent over the past 10 years.

That was up at the Boris blog four days ago, so sorry about the delay linking to it.  But, I don’t suppose things have improved that much since then.

Some interesting comments at Boris’s, of which this was my favourite, from “idlex”:

I got lost on the subway of a Japanese city some 18 months ago, laden with shopping, baffled by the ticket machines and the maps. All of six Japanese people came to my assistance, one after the other, independently of each other, and guided me to my destination. The last one came up to me to simply ask if I needed any further help.

I wonder if that ever happens in London?

Probably not.  In London, we mostly mind our own business.  Which can be scary, I’d be the first to admit.

Most of the rest of the comments are of the “You started it”, “You’ve had time to fix” it, political bickering variety.  Apart from some nincompoop recommending this.

The Oyster Scandal
Patrick Crozier

Stephen Pollard gets ripped off by Oyster.  He’s not the first.  Two stories on the same subject, eh?  That makes a category.

Talking of rail-related smart cards.  What’s with the marine wildlife connection?  In London it is called Oyster.  In Hong Kong it is called Octopus.  And in Tokyo it’s called Suica.  OK, so I don’t know what Suica means.  But they promote it with a penguin.


27 January 2007
"Quentin responded with extreme good grace given the bollocks he was forced to listen to and placed facts before the daft bint with whom he was supposed to be having the discussion."

Watching a piece on 4x4s Mark Ellott wonders why he bothers with the TV.

For what it's worth, I don't think 4x4s are a fad - they've been too popular for too long. But I suspect the reasons for their popularity are subtle. I am only guessing but could it be things like the driving position, the number of seats, ease with which you can get the toddlers in and out of their child seats, comfort over speed bumps etc?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (2)4x4s
24 January 2007
A fare strike in the West Country.  What it (and a whole bunch of other things) tells us about what railways should and shouldn’t be doing.

The other day there was a fare strike in the West Country.  The issue seems to be the withdrawal of trains which has compounded the existing overcrowding caused by (you guessed it) fare control, leading to trains being so overcrowded that they can’t be boarded.

Strange isn’t it?  You don’t seem to get these problems with coaches or aircraft.  Now, I am not quite sure why it is.  I think it is to do with the relatively small number of trainsets coupled with incompatibility problems.  But it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are.  The point is that it is just another black mark against not the rail industry but rail as an industry.

There’s a widespread belief that rail should be competing against road and air on a universal basis.  That trains should climb every mountain, ford every stream.  A lot of this is down to the belief that clean trains are in an unfair fight with dirty cars and planes.  Now, if pollution costs were fully included in the price of every journey, things might be different but I doubt if they would be that different.  And, anyway, trains pollute too. 

The long and the short of it is that in just too many areas due to flexibility, reliability and cost, rail simply can’t compete - and so, shouldn’t.  In the market for journeys ending or beginning in city centres, rail has a huge advantage and it is this market it should stick to.

As it happens I was travelling down on first Great Western only today - First Class!  Not bad.  In need of attention, but as I understand it, a refurb is planned.  Not as good as Virgin.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)General
23 January 2007
Speaking of car crashes…
Andy Wood


From here, via Patri Friedman.

Car crash ready reckoner
Andy Wood

Carnegie Mellon University, in association with the American AA, has produced what looks like a nifty little tool for calculating the risks from various modes of travel. Quoth the New York Times:

...the risk of death for vehicle occupants who are 16 to 20 years old, on weekdays, is 13.86 per 100 million trips between 8 a.m. and noon. But between 8 p.m. and midnight it is 30.51 per 100 million trips, more than twice as high.

Is this because teenagers are driving their mums to the supermarket in the morning and playing games of chicken at night?

I’m not up to speed with the tool yet, so I don’t know if it can tell us whether Patrick’s claim of yore, that trams are the most dangerous road vehicle known to man, is really true.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

22 January 2007
Beardy v Weirdy
Patrick Crozier

When I heard about the Blog Brother affair I was reminded of the time Tim Ireland got a name check here (February 23):

Tim Ireland gets chucked off a train - readers must decide for themselves whether he got chucked off as a consequence of a) the mendacity of South West Trains or b) because he was acting like a complete tit…link

Strangely enough that link no longer links to the original article.


17 January 2007
Now that’s what I call a pothole!
Patrick Crozier


From English Russia.

15 January 2007
Pete Waterman on pre-nationalisation state interference in the railways
Brian Micklethwait

Yesterday I watched a trainspotting documentary TV show fronted by trainspotting fanatic Pete Waterman, in the house of a friend who owned the DVD.  Waterman made his money producing pop songs but he apparently likes to spend it, some of it, buying up and restoring classic steam locomotives.

Anyway, in part two of this four part series, which covered the pre-WW2 pre-nationalisation period, Waterman said something interesting, which I did not know.  He said that Britain’s four great pre-nationalisation railway companies, LMS, LNER, the Great Western and the Southern, were obliged to become “common carriers” of freight.  Whoever wanted to use trains to send freight could do it, at a price determined by the government, however inconvenient and hence unprofitable it might be for the train company.  Nor were the train companies allowed to charge less than the government-ordained and publicly announced price for freight.  No wonder freight on the roads took off, if you will pardon the use of a transport metaphor to describe transport.  All they had to do was (a) undercut the railways by a few quid for convenient jobs that they wanted, and (b) just refuse to do all the inconvenient stuff, which the railways then had to do.  No wonder the railways went into decline, and were unable, after the war, to resist nationalisation.

“They were forbidden”, said Waterman, “to be entrepreneurial.”

Is that true.  Or is Pete Waterman just a rich and rabid trainspotter, who believes what he wants to believe?

Steam-powered tram locomotives
Patrick Crozier

“Many trams of the time were still hauled through the streets by steam locomotives.” he (being James Hamilton) said.  Much to my surprise.  But it turns out he was right:


How very odd!

10 January 2007
Power up your mobile phone while you pedal. A new product for "emerging" markets, i.e. markets where electricity supplies are dodgy.

Brian Micklethwait • PermalinkFeedback (0)Cycling
Oyster card charges a pound for a free journey and three more pounds for not having enough credit
Brian Micklethwait

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is demanding that the rail companies make more use of Oyster Cards.  Meanwhile, Rob Fisher complains about Oyster idiocy:

Tube travel was supposed to be free on New Year’s Eve, something to do with NatWest sponsoring tube travel. On the way home the gates were open but I touched my Oyster card anyway because we are constantly told to “always touch in and touch out” on posters and in P.A. announcements. I didn’t want to find a closed gate and have to pay the £4. When I got to my destination the gate announced that there was not enough credit on my card. What? Not enough credit to pay for a free fare? I was tired and no-one was around to help, so I walked through the open gate.

When I checked a few days later, it turned out I had been charged for an incomplete journey on that New Year’s Eve. £4 for a free journey seems a lot. When I challenged it at the counter, I was told that I could only be refunded £3. So that’s £1 for a free journey. I am sure that NatWest would not be happy at their money being stolen by TfL in this way.

TfL means Transport for London, by the way.

To me the real rip-off here is that you only get refunded the mere cash that you lost, or in this case not even all of that, rather than all the cash you lost plus ten quid minimum for all the bullshit involved in getting the cash back.

Rob also links to an article about what programmers can learn from the good and the disturbingly numerous bad things about the Oyster system.

08 January 2007
London’s bridges – who maintains them and a book about them
Brian Micklethwait

Did you know that the five Thames bridges of the City of London are maintained without the taxpayer being bothered?  I didn’t.

The Trust built and continues to maintain all of the City of London’s bridges - including Tower bridge - at no expense to the taxpayer.

That’s the what used to be the Bridge House Trust and which will now be the City Bridge Trust.

It’s one of the biggest and oldest but least well-known grant-giving charities in the country, with £700m in its coffers. It traces its roots back to 1097.

It began collecting tolls to cross London bridge and then rent from the houses and shops built on it.

The bridge became so important to Londoners that they would leave legacies to “God and the bridge”.

Tolls and rents reinvested in property results in an annual income that vastly exceeds the £4m to £5m it costs for the upkeep of London, Tower, Millennium, Southwark and Blackfriars bridges.

Bridgemasters maximised income including “receiving tolls on carts passing over the bridge, tolls from ships passing under the bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the bridge”.

Londonist‘s Mike found this somewhere in the Guardian, if I understand him right.  And he links to an interview with the author of a book on London’s bridges, a book which gets that rather rare thing for a quite obscure book, a slamming on Amazon.  Usually, everything gets either four stars or five.

The book promises much and delivers very little. Technical information is severely limited and hardly offers an understanding of any of the bridges the author seeks to describe. The author demonstrates a poor understanding of the way in which bridges are built and who builds them, describing Ove Arup’s as the builder of the Millenium Bridge and apparently oblivious of the fact that they undertook the engineering design. As to others involved in major works they get no mention at all, including Rendel Palmer and Tritton who were the consulting engineers for Chelsea, Waterloo and the Thames Barrier. Engineers are described as architects. The author appears unaware of the events on the river and makes no mention of the occasions on which bridges have been struck by ships. There is no mention of the collier hitting Battersea and virtually demolishing the main span in 1955. If you are looking for a history of the bridges and competent photographs then this is not the book for you. If you are looking for amusing anecdotes then this book has some merits.

The only other Amazon reviewer liked it:

This really is a gem of a book for anyone who loves London. Riverside walks are also all the more enjoyable for it! Far from being a dry history, it’s packed with interesting tales and is immensely readable. Recommended.

So there.  And the books publishers like it too.

Larry David car pools
Mark Holland

Patrick’s thoughts on not being able to charge passengers to car share reminded me of the fabulous other way around arrangement Larry David stumbled upon in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The deal goes something like this.

“Hi Geoff, yea I want to get over to the game but the traffic is all clogged up.”


“No of course I’m not going to use the car pool lane. Why not? Because I’m just not okay.”


“Hey baby, you wanna go have some fun this afternoon?”


“No it’s alright thanks, I’m going to watch the Dodgers.” Thinks…


“Yea, sure, hop in.”


“So what do you want to do baby?”


“No really, we’re just going to watch to game.”


Zips past the snarled up non car pooling traffic.


Airlines quit Bristol over dangerous runway. Don't these capitalists know that they are supposed to put profits before safety?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Air Safety
07 January 2007
Transport in Scotland
David Farrer

Here is a PDF file on some rail and road options in Scotland. It’s from the Edinburgh based Policy Institute.

Patrick Crozier

Is it me or have there been all sorts of schemes down the years to get people car sharing? of which, this is just one such example.  I can just about remember it being murmured about during the first oil crisis.  Back then, I seem to remember asking why car drivers didn’t just charge people, to be told that that was against the law. 

Which is the problem.  My guess is that while people are quite happy to share their cars on a commercial basis, sharing which implies something much closer to, well, something much closer, is far less attractive.  What if you get saddled with someone you don’t like, for instance?

03 January 2007
Here isn’t the news from the BBC
Patrick Crozier

Today rail fares have gone up.  This is good news for taxpayers as the railways will require less subsidy and good news for passengers as their trains will be less crowded.

This has prompted renewed calls for the abolition of all fare controls.  Patrick Crozier of Transport Blog said: “The abolition of fare control would improve time-keeping, reduce overcrowding,  allow rail companies to stand on their own two feet and look into investing in more capacity, more seating and all sorts of new services no one’s even thought of yet.”