November 2008

27 November 2008
The BBC Box
Rob Fisher

The BBC are tracking the journeys of a shipping container as it travels around the world.  You can look at a map and see the route taken so far.  The position is updated about once a day.  It seems to be something to do with a documentary about globalisation.  It left Southampton in early September and is now in the middle of the Pacific.  The name is inspired by the title of Marc Levinson’s book, The Box.  From the Amazon reviews it appears there is politics and controversy in the history of shipping containers; the book should be worth a read.

26 November 2008
Fare hike outrage
Patrick Crozier

Every year (or near enough as makes no difference) the government allows the rail companies to increase those fares that they, the government, control.  Result? Instant outrage.  “Why should we pay more when the trains are so overcrowded/unreliable/expensive etc…”  Sometimes there are feeble attempts to justify these rises along the lines of “Oh they are needed to pay for longer trains, taller trains, newer trains, more trains, faster trains etc.”

If you want to see the absurdity of this situation you need only compare this state of affairs with that state of affairs at Tescos.  There’s none of this outrage when Tescos puts up the price of, say, a tin of peaches and no attempts to justify it on the grounds of “Oh we need to raise prices in order to fund the new store at Banbury.”  No, there’s just the acceptance that if Tesco is putting up the price of something it is either because it costs them more to buy or because they want to prevent empty shelves.  The store at Banbury will be expected to pay for itself.

Actually, you don’t even have to look as far afield as Tescos - simply look at those times and places when fares have been free.  There was none of this outrage in the past when fares (for the most part1) unregulated.  Mind you in those days fares for the most part were coming down and conditions improving2.

You don’t even have to delve into the history books.  Currently, first class, most inter-city fares and freight rates are completely unregulated and there are few complaints.

The simple fact is that none of this outrage would exist if we had a true free market, with private rail companies having absolute freedom to charge whatever they liked.

So, why don’t we just return to that system as quickly as possible?

Vested interests.  Or the man on the 0822 problem.  He’s the guy who needs the 0822 to get to work but if fares went up dramatically (as they probably would if they were free) he would either have to lose his job or move home.  Clearly he wouldn’t be very happy and would resist any dramatic move to a proper free market.  And I can’t say I’d blame him.  The point I’d make is that when you fix a problem it often involves pain but do you blame the person trying to fix it or the person who got you into that problem in the first place?


1.  100 years ago regulation such as it was extended only to what were known as Parliamentary Trains and Workmen’s Fares.

2.  See the story of Midland’s abolition of Second Class.  Also here

Mondo Spider
Brian Micklethwait

This evening I was watching a rerun of QI on Dave, and they mentioned something called the Mondo Spider, and showed a bit of it in action.  It’s an eight-legged walking machine, made by some Canadian artists:


Video here, complete with rather fine sound effects.  Website here.  The above picture, of Mondo Spider being driven by the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, found on flickr, here.

Clearly this principle of locomotion has very little in the way of a present, other than as entertainment on YouTube.  But does it perhaps have any kind of future?  Unmanned planetary exploration?  Domestic robots?  Small robots?  Helping oldies up steps and staircases?

22 November 2008
So we get the annual whingeing when rail fare increases are announced. This has come up so many times since Transport Blog's inception that there really ought to be a really good response to it by now. Unfortunately, there isn't, so here in approximate order of unbadness, are some less good ones:

High fares are good for you
Free the fares
On the weirdness of popular rail economics
Here isn’t the news from the BBC
High fares are good for you - ultimately
Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Fares
21 November 2008

In case you watched Ian Hislop’s Off The Rails which was repeated on BBC2 last night here is my take from its original BBC4 broadcast.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Rail History
10 November 2008
The future of driving part three
Rob Fisher

The third and final article in Ars Technica’s series on self-driving cars is about how they will be regulated.  It discusses whether government subsidy or limited liability will be needed to give car manufacturer’s an incentive to introduce the technology.  Subsidy is probably unnecessary as something is either profitable or it is not, but apparently:

At one point, “all of the general aviation manufacturers stopped making planes because they couldn’t handle the liability. They were being found slightly liable in every plane crash, and it started to cost them more than the cost of manufacturing the plane.” Airplane manufacturers eventually convinced Congress to place limits on their liability.

The article goes on to look at who will have control over the software used.  Arguments in favour of open source software are presented, but I don’t think the situation is much different from software used in aviation, so the outcome is likely to be similar.  However, there is concern that the government would like nothing more than to take control of your car.  It seems inevitable that the police will be able to remotely disable it and politicians will control its speed.

07 November 2008
Transport blogging in the wild
Brian Micklethwait

Yes!  As already reported at my personal blog, I can now post not just stuff but pictures, when out and about.  And that’s what I am now doing.  I’m in Maria’s Vietnamese cafe in Lower Marsh, and very nice it is too.  I have not once been home since taking this snap:


So, I can now transport blog while being transported.  And, my transport experience will be transformed for the better.  That’s if my dongle will work in buses, trains, etc.  We shall see.

That’s a picture of a bookshop that is also transport related, although they also stock books about war and various transport and war related toys and kits.  Sort of Old Nerd Heaven, you might say.  This shop is also in Lower Marsh, which is where I also get my second hand classical CDs.

I should report, however, that as of now it takes me about a quarter of an hour to post a photo, because it takes me ten minutes to load a picture up to Web Resizer dot com so that it can be resized.  My mini-laptop can’t seem to resize photos on its own.  Why not?  Search me.

04 November 2008
Supersonic business jet
Rob Fisher

Next Big Future are reporting on a supersonic business jet being developed by a company called Aerion.