03 July 2011
Brian Micklethwait

This, on the other hand (see immediately below), looks like it might have its uses.

When I was a kid I used to have a lot of fun throwing rulers through the air, while imparting a massive amount of under spin, like one of those hovering slices you do in ping pong, releasing the ruler sideways on.  Hope that makes sense.  The result was a whirring tube of physics activity that used almost to hover motionless.  I’m guessing that the FanWing concept makes use of the same principle, and gets it seriously organised.  The principle seems to be that, since an aircraft gets its lift from air passing fast over its wings, the more “wing” you can contrive to get air passing fast over, and the faster it can pass (even if the aircraft itself is moving very slowly, like my rulers), the more lift you get.

On the other hand, they’ve been messing around with this thing for over a decade, and it still seems like little more than a toy.

But then again, I presume it took them quite a while to get those other contraptions based on similar principles, helicopters, working usefully.

24 June 2011
In case you thought being run over by a tram was not that bad
Michael Jennings

Prepare yourself for the full horror.

16 June 2011
Monty python train timetable murder
Rob Fisher

Once upon a time the trains were so punctual you could solve murders just by looking at the timetables.

H/T Brian who related this sketch to fellow transport bloggers this evening over a beer.

09 May 2011
Container ports and the Straits of Gibraltar
Michael Jennings

I took this photo in the port city of Algeciras in Spain last Thursday. I was looking for a nice contrast of things, and I thought that the bullring in the foreground, an in some ways fairly typical spanish city in the middle, and a long line of cranes indicating that this is indeed one of Europe’s most important ports in the background was nice.

Algeciras, like Felixstowe, is one of those ports that is not historically very important but is a very major point now due to its strategic location. The really large ships on the route through the Mediterranean and Suez Canal to Asia are not going to divert to Valencia or Barcelona, so they stop at the very bottom of Spain. Containers can then be transferred to smaller ships to head north or elsewhere, or onto trucks or trains to be taken to other points in Spain. (When container shipping arrived in UK, another reason why much of the shipping moved from London to Felixstowe was that the Port of London was very heavily unionised and Felixtowe wasn’t. I am not sure if a similar factor came into play in Spain, given that the alternative of Cadiz is also famous for its labour disputes and militant union men. in any event, Algeciras is now the key port.

With respect to the photo, having taken it I then realised that I also had the Rock of Gibraltar behind the port, and it is always delightful to get more in the photo that you intended.

Of course, “hub” seaports (in which containers are unloaded from one ship to another, or possibly other modes of transport) are like hub airports. Location is important in the sense that they need to be very conveniently on the route from A to B, but local markets are possibly less important than the strategic location and efficiency of a port. The busiest container port in the world is in Singapore, which is a significant but not very large market in a perfect location at the end of the Straits of Malacca. (The two Chinese ports of Hong Kong and Shenzhen - essentially two parts of the same urban area with a border down the middle - are each individually close to Singapore in terms of size, however. Combined they are massively busier).

Algeciras on the Straits of Gibraltar is a perfect place for such a port, but so is Tangier in Morocco. (The Indonesian island of Batam is as good a place as Singapore, too, but building a major port in Indonesia is just too hard). And as it happens, there is an enormous project to build a gigantic port in Africa, directly opposite Algeciras, the so called Tanger-Med, port, actually about 40km east of Tangier. I visited it the day before I visited Algeciras.

Well, when I say visited, I mean “went past it in a bus”, actually, so my photographs are perhaps a little lacking because of this. However:

It’s actually a lot bigger than that - I was only able to get a certain amount into the photo. In fact, when complete, it will be much bigger than the port at Alegiras on the Spanish side.

There is a lot more under construction, too. Plus there is an extensive motorway system heading south. When the port is complete, it will be the largest and hopefully busiest in Africa. To some extent it is to compete with Algeciras - in terms of transferring containers from one ship to another, Tanger-Med will be more modern and will have lower cost and (hopefully) more flexible labour. As well as that, the port is about trade between Africa and Spain, Europe, and further afield, and this is all good too.

Spanish registered truck, there.

One hopes that this is actually a sensible project, and that it will aid African development and international trade in a significant way. This of course requires efficient management, relatively free markets, the rule or law, and reasonably low levels of corruption. The port is apparently being built with government money, and run by “a private company with public sector privileges”. That sounds like an invitation for trouble, but is probably no worse than the arrangements by which many ports are run. One does also wonder from who the Moroccan government has borrowed the money. There is a reservoir of cheap capital that is used to fund Arab infrastructure (and other) projects that is ultimately based on the huge oil wealth of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Like all mispriced capital, such money can be useful if you are trying to borrow money to finance and build a sensible business, but the mispricing also tends to encourage bubbles, rentseeking, excess, and an ultimate collapse under a mountain of debt. Given the strategic location of Tanger-Med, a sizeable port is sensible, but one hopes that massive overbuilding has not occurred. The story of EU aid for infrastructure projects in Spain and Portugal was starting off with sensible projects, and ending up with absurdity, and one hopes that this is not similar.

23 March 2011
Taxpayers Alliance
Rob Fisher

The Taxpayers Alliance are complaining that Phil Hammond, the minister behind a high speed train project called HS2, is ignoring the real arguments against it in favour of calling its opponents NIMBYs.

The real arguments being that it is too expensive and won’t make any money.

22 March 2011
In 100 years, will people wonder who Boris was?
Michael Jennings

Animated map of London created from Boris bike movements during a tube strike.

27 December 2010
Getting home from Budapest and other thoughts
Michael Jennings

In January this year, I was visiting my parents on the Gold Coast, a city on the beaches approximately 100km [That’s about 60 miles, Ed] south of Brisbane. I have both friends and relatives in Brisbane, and one morning I therefore caught a train from Helensvale station on the Gold Coast to Brisbane. I purchased a ticket, and towards the end of the journey, there was a ticket inspection.

I could not immediately find my ticket. I explained this to the inspectors, but rather than giving me a moment to look for it, they assumed instantly that I was lying. I was asked where I had got on the train and where I was going, asked for identification, told that I was going to be taken off the train at Brisbane Central, etc etc. When I produced ID with a British address on it rather than an Australian address, this was received with contempt, as if I were trying to avoid complying with them rather than because I lived abroad. The same questions were asked of me over and over, presumably in the hope that I might say something inconsistent. I was given no time to actually find my ticket. It was pretty standard behaviour from law enforcement officials who think that if they harass you for long enough you will say something that will incriminate yourself in some way of something. Eventually though, I did manage to look down the side of the seat, where I found my ticket, which had fallen out of my pocket. When I thus presented my ticket, I was told curtly that “You were lucky”, with clear annoyance. No apology for accusing me of being a criminal when I was not - just clear heavyhanded arseholery and annoyance that they had not managed to catch anyone. This sort of thing is sadly common in Australia, and is one of the reasons why I do not live there. Heavyhandedness of this kind does not endear the place to foreign visitors.

I was struck by a contrast to this when I was in Budapest last week. I had made an error when checking out transport options to get to the airport, and had assumed that I could get a bus directly from Deák Ferenc Square (the centre of town) to the airport. Having got there, and failed to find any airport buses, I walked into the local metro station (where three lines come together) to try to figure out what I was doing wrong. As it happened, a group of ticket inspectors were doing a sting at that station, and were acting together to attempt to catch fare evaders. I started looking at a map of metro lines and bus routes on the platform, clearly a little confused. One of the ticket inspectors saw this, stopped the fare evasion enforcement for a moment, and came up to me and pointed out where I was on the map. I explained that I was trying to get to the airport, and she explained to me in broken English that I needed to get a metro train to the end of one of the lines, and then I could get the bus. I was then practically dragged to the correct platform. When I attempted to walk towards a ticket machine, the inspector instead pulled a book of tickets out of her bag and sold me the necessary ticket. She then presumably went back to catching fare evaders. I then made my may to the airport with little difficulty and in plenty of time for my plane. Budapest 1, Brisbane 0.

As it further happened, I was flying from Budapest to London last Sunday. There was snow on the ground and very cold temperatures in both cities. I was flying on the Hungarian based discount airline Wizzair (a company that deserves a post in its own right) to Luton airport north of London. Both Budapest and Luton had been closed the previous day, but both were open again on the 19th. I got to the airport and looked at the departure board: British Airways to Heathrow: CANCELLED. Easyjet to Gatwick: DELAYED. Wizzair to Luton: ON TIME. I went through security, and purchased an overpriced beer in the bar. I started talking to a couple of young English women at the next table. One was a PA for a financial firm. The other was a schoolteacher. Yes, Budapest is beautiful. No, they had not seen much of it because they had stayed inside in the freezing weather. Yes, they were hoping they would get home so that they could go to work the next day. This was followed up with “We are lucky to be going to Luton, as it is not run by BAA, who are a really crap company”.

I think this was probably a little harsh. It is true that Luton is always one of the last of London’s airports to close, but this likely has as much to do with the local geography of Luton as it does management. (Stansted was long controlled by BAA, and is always fairly robust to weather, for similar geographical reasons). I think BAA probably does deserves its bad reputation in other ways - they are a fairly typical opportunistic monopolist who are lazy in terms of customer service in general - but they cope with the weather about as well as do other British airport operators. However, a bad reputation filters through to all areas, even those where it may not be relevant.

As it happened, the flight home was about 45 minutes late in all. In the circumstances, not much to complain about. Well done Wizzair. Well done Budapest and Luton airports.

Once at Luton, there remained the question of how to get home. The usual way is a shuttle bus to Luton Airport Parkway railway station, a train to St Pancras or London Bridge, and then a local bus to my home in South Bermondsey. Indicator boards indicated that trains were operating, so I purchased a ticket, and headed to the railway station. Indicator boards indicated that there was a train departing for London at 2133, so I went to the platform and waited. At 2135, all indicator boards changed to state that all train for the immediate future were cancelled. I was stranded. The ticket office was suddenly closed, and there was little opportunity to figure out what was going on or to obtain a refund for being unable to use train tickets. This was annoying.

On the other hand, the good sense of random people prevailed. A group of people near me (who I later discovered did not know one another before this) were discussing sharing a taxi to London. I walked up to them and explained that I was in the same boat, and asked if I could also have a share in their taxi. They were entirely agreeable. One of them called a local minicab firm, and fifteen minutes later we were all in a cab to London. We were going to various parts of the city, but this was okay: we had heard that local public transport in London was working fine.

An hour later I was at St Pancras. It is easy enough for me to get home from Kings Cross or St Pancras by local bus, and this is what I did.

So what can I say. Good work Luton Airport, Budapest Airport, Transport for London, and Transport for Budapest (or whatever the relevant organisation is called). Praise also to the good sense of ordinary Londoners and Luton based minicab firms. Less praise to First Capital Connect. No praise at all to Queensland Railways.

22 December 2010
Are these guys kidding?
Michael Jennings

From: Transport For London
To: Michael Jennings

Dear Dr Jennings,

I am writing to let you know that the ASLEF union have called a Tube strike. If the strike goes ahead, there is likely to be significant disruption to Tube services throughout Boxing Day, Sunday 26 December.

Bus, DLR, Tramlink and River services will operate, although some of these will have a reduced service. Cycling or walking may be practical options for many.

Yours sincerely,
Mike Brown
Managing Director
London Underground

Okay, so we have the coldest winter in living memory, and our buildup to Christmas has thus been difficult. We are cold, tired, and frustrated. Those of us without cars have the usual London Christmas experience of not being able to go anywhere on Christmas Day.

And, on Boxing Day, the tube workers go on strike. Transport for London provides us with the helpful advice that we might consider walking. Obviously the sympathy of the public is going to be entirely with the workers and their grievances. The poor petals.

17 December 2010
GPS in NYC taxi
Rob Fisher

Michael Jennings spooked a taxi driver in Vietnam by using GPS on his iPad to spot that he was going the wrong way. Some taxis in New York City have GPS on a touchscreen in the back:

Touchscreen GPS

You can zoom in and out, and select various other bits of information, such as the contact details of the taxi company. It draws the route you have taken in blue dots. You can see that our driver has taken to the surface streets to avoid a nasty looking freeway junction.

30 November 2010
Michael Jennings

In Laos, you modify a motorcycle to carry icecream to the children of the village

In Singapore, you modify a Segway to carry carbonated drinks to the children of the shopping mall foodcourt.


25 November 2010
International Flights Commence from Tokyo International Airport
Michael Jennings

As cities have expanded and their populations have become richer, and as the cost of air travel has dropped, airports have in many cities become overstretched, particularly if a city’s main airport was built decades ago in an area close to the centre of town, and now surrounded by populated areas into which the airport cannot easily be expanded. (Airports of course attract economic activity, so after a few years a major airport will always be surrounded by populated areas, even if it was initially built away from them).

There are two ways a city can deal with this. It can expand the original airport, which is costly, both financially and politically, and generally requires significant compulsory purchase of land and leads to public protest. Or it can build another airport.

If another airport is built, this will almost always be built a lot further from the centre of the city than the existing airport. Passengers and airlines will thus be reluctant to use the new airport in preference to the old airport, for reasons of convenience, and due to a “critical mass” factor. Airlines like to fly to destinations where there are lots of connecting flights, as passengers do not want to have to travel from one airport to another to change planes. This is especially so for high yield business passengers. All kinds of related businesses come into being around airports, and these businesses do not wish to move either.

Therefore, if you build a new airport and allow the old airport to remain open, it is quite conceivable that the new airport will remain largely unused, most flights will continue operating from the old airport, and airlines and related industries will continue pressuring government to allow further expansion of the old airport. This is more or less what has happened in London. Stansted Airport was expanded and the late 1980s. The intention was that Stansted would be mainly for long haul international travel, and would grow to rival Heathrow in this market. This entirely failed to happen, airlines continued to use Heathrow, those few airlines that attempted to run long haul services out of Stansted generally failed due to a lack of premium traffic, Heathrow was expanded further and pressure continues for more expansion still. Stansted was massively underutilised for a long time, eventually becoming a busy airport as a base for low cost airlines, an entirely different market to that originally envisaged.

Another option is to close the old airport. This is generally effective in terms of moving traffic to the new airport, but if the point of building the new airport is to make of for massive shortages in capacity, then closing down all your existing capacity seldom makes sense. There are cases where it does - Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong had a dangerous flightpath, and its location meant that there were major restrictions of the size of building that could be constructed in a large portion of the city. In this case, the move to the new airport at Chek Lap Kok was exemplary. Superb and fast transport links to the new airport were made available the day it opened. Truly spectacular engineering works turned a small but relatively tall island into the much larger but completely flat island on which the new, very large, airport was built.

This is an exception, though. Generally, what is desired is that the old airport will remain open but will not be greatly increased in capacity going forward. Hopefully most of the economies of scale and airport related businesses will move to the new site. What is desired is that the new airport will become the city’s main hub, and the older airport will fade to being the secondary airport.The trouble is that market forces tend to prefer the reverse.

Governments tend to attempt to solve this problem by regulating the activities that may take place at the old airport. The most common way of doing this is to insist that all international flights use the new airport, and that only domestic flights will be subsequently allowed to use the old airport. The idea is that people flying domestically are likely to be making short flights, often out and back in a day. On the other hand, traveling internationally is a big deal and often takes longer, and so travelers are likely to be less concerned about the time and distance getting to and from the airport.

This type of practice can often be a cover for protection of locally owned airlines, as these tend to be the ones who fly domestic routes, and as a consequence the practice is flat illegal in the European Union. (If it is legal to fly from airport X to London it must also be legal to fly from airport X to Paris, and Lisbon, and Bucharest). However, it has been common in other parts of the world. And it can backfire.

When discussing the question of just how much money various Canadian governments lost when hosting the Montreal Olympics, an argument that was used (and still sometimes is by people not paying close attention) is that “Many of the costs were not really about the Olympics. For one thing, the city of Montreal built a new airport, and they would have done that anyway”. As it happens, the first part of this sentence is true. Mirabel International Airport was indeed opened just before the Montreal Olympics. The original intention was that all flights into Montreal would ultimately use the new airport, but initially international flights only were forced to use it. Bluntly, everyone hated this, as the airport was a long way from Montreal, transport links were poor, and the existing Dorval airport was much more convenient. Rather than going to Mirabel, passengers would instead fly domestically to Toronto, change planes, and then fly on to international destinations. Eventually, plans to close Dorval were abandoned, and in 1997 international flights were once again allowed to use it. Today, Dorval has been expanded, and there are no scheduled flights from Mirabel to anywhere. So much for the airport dividend from the 1976 Olympics.

Of course, Montreal has been a city in relative decline, and Canada has a particularly uncompetitive aviation industry. In most instances in Europe or Asia, both airports would be used for something. A more interesting tale is the story of Tokyo, which has had an interesting development in the last month.

Tokyo International Airport was founded at a place named Haneda on the edge of Tokyo Bay in 1931, and is pretty much universally known as “Haneda Airport”. Haneda airport is extremely centrally located, being a 15 minute train ride from central Tokyo. In the mid 1960s, due to increased wealth and demand for air travel, it was decided that further expansion of Haneda was going to be difficult due to its proximity to the city and the difficulties of building further into Tokyo Bay with respect to landfill and the effect on shipping. As Tokyo is such an enormous city, the nearest suitable location was at Narita in Chiba Prefecture, about 60km from central Tokyo. The idea was to build an enormous four runway airport that could cope with Tokyo’s growth.

As it happened, though, building the airport in Narita turned out to be highly problematic. The land it was to be built on was mostly owned by rice farmers, who are an extremely powerful political lobby. Japan had virtually no history of compulsory acquisition of land for such projects, so the project was on shaky grounds both legally and culturally. Before the airport could be built, there were riots, demonstrations, legal challenges, sabotage, vandalism, and all kinds of other controversies. The airport opened in 1978, but its second runway did not open until 2002. The airport today is much smaller than originally planned. None the less, all international flights were forced to use Narita (with the exception of flight to Taiwan, which were kept from Haneda until 2002 in order that they avoid political controversies from using the same airport as flights from mainland China).

In the meantime, Japanese governments discovered that they preferred to confront engineering obstacles to confronting political obstacles when building airports. (This was aided by the fact that Japanese contruction companies are another powerful political lobby, and overengineered boondoggles thus became a Japanese specialty). Therefore, Haneda airport was further expanded. (Subsequent airports were built on artificial islands and such, to avoid the Narita controversy again). As the Japanese economy grew, demand for domestic air travel in and out of Tokyo grew, and Haneda airport became by far the largest and busiest airport in Asia, and one of the largest in the world. It remains one of the largest in the world, although Beijing Capital airport is now the busiest in Asia. Haneda retained its name - “Tokyo International Airport”, although it hosted no international flights. Narita officially became “New Tokyo International Airport” although this was all so confusing that the two airports were invariably referred to as “Haneda” and “Narita”. Haneda had a very curious character, though, for one of the busiest airports in the world. Virtually nobody outside its native country had traveled through it or even heard of it. International travel into and out of Tokyo remained much less developed than domestic travel, possibly due to Japan’s rather insular character, and partly due to the inadequate infrastructure, and great inconvenience of getting from Tokyo to its main international airport.

Over the last decade and some, though, things have changed. Japan has stagnated economically, as much of the rest of Asia has flourished. Japanese public finances have reached the point that expensive boondoggles can no longer be afforded. Cheap, discount air travel has become established throughout the rest of Asia, and Japan has been largely excluded from this due to its expensive, inaccessible airports.

This has led to a slow opening up of Haneda. The most obvious short haul international routes out of Tokyo that would benefit from flying from convenient airports in order to facilitate short business trips and the like are those to Korea. As it happens, Seoul also has an old, relatively central airport (Gimpo) and a newer, bigger aiport (Incheon) which all international flights were required to use upon its completion. Both airports made an exception for one another, however. From 2003, international flights were allowed from Haneda to Gimpo, which for a time were the only international flights allowed from either airport.

With the continued economic growth of China, however, routes from Haneda to China became more important. As it happened, Shanghai also had an old, relatively central airport (Hongqiao) and a newer, bigger airport (Pudong) which all international flights were required to use upon its completion. However, in 2007, an agreement was made to start flights from Haneda to Hangqiao. Flights from Seoul Gimpo to Hangqiao were commenced at the same time. This led to a truly magnificent rule for international flights out of Haneda. International flights out of Haneda were only permitted to other airports on short haul routes that did not allow international flights (Rumours that passengers were not permitted to fly on these routes unless they had done six impossible things before breakfast have never been confirmed).

In effect, Haneda, Gimpo, and Hangqiao airports (ie the domestic airports Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai) had decided that they would allow international routes between each other. If you have some familiarity with North East Asian geopolitics, there is one major destination missing: Beijing.

As it happens, Beijing has an older airport that only hosts domestic flights: Nanyuan. In 2007, Japan and China agreed that flights would be allowed from Haneda to Nanyuan, and Korea made a similar agreement with China. You can tell where this is going, can’t you?

Actually you can’t. Nanyuan is primarily a military airfield, and although there were governmental agreements to in theory allow flights from Gimpo and Haneda to Nanyuan, getting the Chinese military to agree to Japanese and Korean airlines flying into their base was another thing entirely. Flights therefore commenced in 2008, but flying to Beijing Capital airport on a “temporary” basis. They are still there.

The prohibition on international flights into Haneda was at that point more or less broken. This may have been the point.

Unlike Narita, Haneda airport has been expanded dramatically in recent years. The Tokyo Metropolitan government has (very conveniently) used the adjacent bay area as a landfill in recent decades, which has facilitated expansion of the airport, even though the national Transport Ministry has not always been supportive. New runways were opened in 1988, 1997, 2000, and 2010, and new terminals in 2004 and 2010. Government initially announced that some of this new capacity in 2010 would be permitted for international flights up to 1947km or less (the same distance as the longest domestic flight), which was a further concession to the existing flights to Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing. Flights to and from any destination were allowed when Narita airport was closed, between 11pm and 6am.

A further concession to this was made before the new terminal opened last month, allowing flights from any destination to arrive (but not depart) between 6am and 8.30am, and to depart (but not arrive) between 8.30pm and 11pm. There is still a protectionist element in this. If a foreign long haul airline flies into Haneda at relatively civilized hour of the morning, the plane must sit on the tarmac until the evening before it may fly out again. Japanese airlines, on the other hand, can use the aircraft for domestic or short haul Asian routes during the daytime. This will not last though. Basically, Haneda airport is now a full international airport again. Long haul carriers to Europe and the US have commenced flights, as have discount and other airlines to points in South-East Asia.

There will be overwhelming pressure to finish derestricting its operating hours. Narita will become the secondary airport. It won’t go the way of Montreal Mirabel - airport capacity is still at too great a premium in Japan - but the premium traffic will all return to Haneda.

It is interesting to see how western journalists and western publications have reported the reopening of Haneda as an international airport. There is discussion of the facilities, and variability in understanding what was actually going on. This, I think is my favourite. No, Haneda is not Tokyo’s second biggest airport, it is by far the biggest, and always has been. The question is not whether Haneda is Tokyo’s second major airport, but whether Narita ever managed to gain that role itself. As was often the case, Japan was somewhat closed to the world, and opaque to foreigners, but if you are going to write about it, you need to have a proper explanation of how things reached the state they are now in.

As I hope readers of this blog now have.

11 November 2010
Flexibility and adaptation
Michael Jennings
What is this guy selling?

When I recently wrote about taxis, Brian drew attention to my observations about the utility of motorcycles in the developing world. The most obvious part of this comes from their low cost, both to buy and to operate. Another part comes from the fact that they require less surrounding infrastructure than do larger vehicles. Motorcycles can use narrow roads with relatively rough surfaces, and if you have a wide road a great many more motorcycles can use the road than can larger vehicles. The motorcycle infrastructure can have an ad-hoc quality to it, also. Disused railway bridges will be converted into bridges carrying cyclists and motorcycles. Used railway bridges will have an extra carriageway for motorcycles attached to the side. The weight and size of cars and trucks is such that they require much more dedicated infrastructure. When you take into account that the average number of passengers on a motorcycle in many developing countries is higher than in developed countries - a motorcycle somehow carries a husband, wife, and two small children is almost a cliche in some of these places - the toll in terms of congestion is much lower than for full sized cars. (There is a disgustingly congested an polluted stage that cities go through when their middle classes do become rich enough to afford cars and the infrastructure has not yet caught up. Bangkok went through this stage 15-20 years ago. Hanoi and Saigon are going to go through it soon, if they are not careful). You see people on motorcycles carrying large amounts of luggage, barrells full of live fish, panes of glass of the sort that people carry across the road in chase scenes in 1960s Bond movies. Somehow they manage it. Motorcycles are modified into all other kinds of vehicles, too. The tuk-tuk is basically the front of a motorcycle with the back of a rickshaw or sometimes a light truck. Judging by the variation in design from place to place, they were initially an ad-hoc development and many of them still are. This sort of modification would not be legal in more developed markets, but in poorer countries it still happens.

In my recent sojourn in Asia I saw all of this.

Most charming, though, was perhaps the fellow pictured at the top of this post. I was wandering down a dirt road in a village on the other side of the Mekong from Luang Prabang in Laos. This fellow rode past with a motorcycle with an odd sidecarriage. He gestured to me, clearly selling something. I nodded politely, as people attempt to sell you things a lot in such places. My guess was that he was selling food of some kind, but I wasn’t really hungry However, he gestured that I come over and look. He opened the top of one of the metal barels, to make it clear what he was selling.

The answer was ice cream. His motorcycle sidecarriage had inbuilt refrigeration and was conveying ice cream. He gave me a free taste. He didn’t really need to, as it was hot and an ice cream was quite appealing. So I bought an ice cream, as I am sure he knew I would.

Although selling ice cream to any passing western tourists was no doubt a good sideline, the bulk of his business was local people. Or, to be more specific, local children, who clearly enjoy an ice cream just as much as children do anywhere else. (Not exactly a surprise). If you want to do this in England, you have much higher costs because you have to use a van, and no doubt lots of health and safety crap. But in Laos, you buy a motorcycle and adapt.

Oddly enough, while reading Bruce Sterling’s blog today, I found this slick, rather self-congratulatory video.

VIMBY - Take on the Machine: Episode One

Although the people in it are clearly having a good time, the “hacker spaces” in it strike me as close to being something resembling native reservations. In the poor world, the whole country is the hacker space. While a bicycle that makes ice cream may be cool, the poorest countries of the world have managed it long ago, because their children like ice cream and people like making a living. Why have we lost this? How have we lost this? Losing this is going to cost us.

30 October 2010
Boris bikes
Brian Micklethwait

Boris bikes (named thus after Mayor of London Boris Johnson) have gone from non-existent to ubiquitous, seemingly in no time.


There is a clump of them (with a regular bike in the foreground) which I encountered in Lower Marsh, just beyond Waterloo Station.

Another example of vehicles as adverts.

So, okay, Boris bikes are transport, but how are they themselves transported?  After all, you can’t rely on the punters exactly balancing everything out, can you?  Excesses will accumulate here, dearths there.  How is that corrected?

Moments after taking the above snap, I found out:


Cue comment from our very own Lord of the Carbon Footprint, Michael J, about all the other such schemes there are in the world.  Like in Melbourne.

28 October 2010
The tuk-tuk
Michael Jennings
Bangkok, Thailand. October 2010

Is it a car? Is it a motorbike? Is it a truck? Is it a bus? Is it a rickshaw? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman?

Of course, the only real answer is that it is a tuk-tuk, a class of vehicle that is highly useful in many parts of Asia and Africa, but which is largely unknown in the rich countries of Europe and North America. It is interesting how cultural factors differ from country to country even in Asia and Africa, though. Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous in Thailand and Laos (although the design seems to vary depending on where in the country you are, so I am intrigued to know just how home-made these things are) but much less common in Vietnam or Indonesia.

Or are the differences regulatory rather than cultural? I need to do more research.

16 January 2009
New York Plane Crash
Rob Fisher

An incredible story has unfolded on the TV screen in the bar I have just emerged from. An A320 has landed in the Hudson and floated for long enough for everyone to be rescued.

Until now I had assumed that the life jackets and emergency-slides-that-become-life-rafts were just safety theatre, and that planes broke into small pieces on contact with water. Thankfully I was wrong.

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.

10 November 2007
No zones for swinging lovers
Mark Holland

You’d think that for people inclined to sharing that carpooling would be the obvious answer.

From the comments here.

07 November 2007
Peter Hitchens on transport
Mark Holland

Peter Hitchens has written a tremendous wide ranging blog posting on transport issues. I’m inclinded to agree with a great deal of it.

As someone who travels by car, bicycle, boat and train I don’t understand why anyone should have an extremely entrenched position about which is the “best” form of transport and every other option is worse than useless. Surely it should be horses for courses. And, from a libertarian perspective, as it’s a given that we’re against subsidy, I think there really does need to be seriously good look at the true cost of road transportation. From common carrier restrictions onwards the playing field has been anything but level.

Make sure you don’t miss Hitchens’ the follow up either.


22 October 2007
Do Segways have a future?
Brian Micklethwait

Ferrari are seriously pissing on their brand.  Read about Segway (and yes there is now a Ferrari Segway) engadgetry generally here.  Early last month, a fat cop used one to catch a bad guy, or so it says here.

Are Segways sane or merely the latest manifestation of the Sinclair C5 syndrome?  Do they perhaps have a future in a world dominated (a) by flat pedestrianised surfaces and insanely long pedestrian ramps to anywhere higher or lower, and (b) by vast herds of old people who will otherwise hardly be able to move at all?  Maybe they do.

27 September 2007
Trenhotel to Barcelona
Rob Fisher

I recently took the overnight Trenhotel train from Paris to Barcelona, a fun, if technologically inferior, alternative to a budget airline.  Booking can be a pain, but the useful Seat 61 site helps, and I found it easier to call Rail Europe than to use their clunky web site.


Obviously the journey takes longer by train: we left Waterloo at midday and arrived in Barcelona at 8am the next day—but it was easier than the return plane trip (which also involved a taxi, two coach rides each an hour long to and from the far out of town airports, and the tube).  A lot of that time was spent sleeping, so isn’t really lost time at all, and a couple of hours were spent outside a cafe in Paris drinking beer.

Another advantage over flying is the lack of luggage restrictions.  It turns out to be impossible to make two weeks’ worth of stuff weigh less than 15kg.  I don’t mind paying Ryanair 8 Euros per extra kilo, but I do wish they wouldn’t treat me like a naughty boy and make me go and stand in Yet Another Queue to pay for it.

There’s a certain romance to train travel, especially in Europe with its departure boards showing exotic destinations.  At dinner this more than made up for the food not being all that great and having to share our table.  In fact, I’m being unfair.  Our British companions were charming and interesting, and after a few glasses of wine I kept expecting Miss Marple to appear and interview me about the murder.  Dinner on the train was a wonderful experience.

Accomodation was comfortable—we had a private cabin with bunk beds and a sink.  Cabins with showers are available, but I found those tickets impossible to get.  The website has a virtual tour showing what it’s like on board.  Unlike the night train I once took from Trondheim to Bodø, I found the particular rocking motion of Trenhotel quite unsettling, but felt better after taking some pills.

Crossing the border was achieved by handing over our passports to the staff at the beginning of the journey and being handed them back the next morning.  Exactly what happened to them in the meantime I’ll never know.

Sleep came easily, but morning still came too soon.  Arriving in Barcelona at 8am meant wandering around the city in a daze, pretending to sight-see and drinking cortados just to stay awake until our hotel room was ready.

Have a look at The Man in Seat 61 for train travel ideas.

The remaining mystery is that even though we were travelling by train one way only, we had to buy return Eurostar tickets from London to Paris.  Single tickets are more than double the price.  I can only speculate as to the economic forces that contrive this situation.

06 September 2007
Why I love the M4 bus lane
Rob Fisher

The video speaks for itself.

Actually, I learnt some time ago that the M4 bus lane isn’t really a bus lane at all—it’s a cunning traffic management scheme that solves a problem caused by a bridge that can’t be widened.

Update:  The article explaining the bus lane is part of Chris’s British Road Directory, which is a fun site if you’re in the mood for geeky articles about junction design and road numbering.

09 June 2007
The Wemyss Bay Incident
David Farrer

I read about this story on the discussion site.

Wemyss Bay is a small village on the north Ayrshire coast. It serves as the terminal for ferries to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. A train service from Glasgow “connects” with the ferry.

On the day of the “incident” the ferry arrived about 10 minutes late at Wemyss Bay and the 25-or-so passengers rushed up the ramp to the rather beautiful station to make the train connection. You can probably guess what happened next. Yes, the conductor shut the doors and let the train leave a few seconds before any of the passengers were able to board. The next train is an hour later.


The station supervisor, hastily beat a retreat to his booking office and pointed to a sign ,in true jobsworth tradition ,stating that trains would not be held for late boats!
This event has generated a lot of interesting comments, but it seems likely that the conductor may well have been acting rationally - if he wanted to keep his job.

The train itself is operated by First ScotRail but the track and stations are under the control of Network Rail, essentially an arm of the government. Train operators must pay substantial fines to Network Rail should any of their trains run late. But Wemyss Bay is a tiny station with one train per hour, you may think. Yes, but a few miles down the track the line is joined by the one from Gourock with three trains per hour (each way). A little bit further and you’re at Paisley Gilmour Street where the line from Ayr and Largs comes in with four more passenger trains per hour in both directions as well as coal trains running up from Ayrshire and aviation fuel going down to Prestwick airport. Ten minutes later you’ll be approaching Glasgow Central, the busiest UK station outside London. So a couple of minutes’ delay at Wemyss Bay could have led to a series of hold ups, literally down the line, that could have inconvenienced thousands of people, costing goodness knows how much in money terms.

Many of the commenters on the thread work in the railway industry and make it clear that the “jobsworth” conductor had no choice but to signal the train off on time, with or without the passengers.

Needless-to-say, some folk blamed all this on privatisation and the “bean counter” mentality. Forgetting for the moment that it’s the quasi-government entity Network Rail that levies the fines, I’d like to defend the “bean counters”, partly because I am one myself.

Accountants are there to tell management this:

If you want to do “X”

It’ll cost you “Y”

And - this is the most important bit - you can’t therefore use the same resources to do “Z”.

Or, putting it colloquially, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

That’s true whether the system is capitalist or socialist, but capitalism provides the incentives that guide us to use resources in the most efficient manner, as judged by consumers.

In the ideal world there’d be a train waiting for us at the station no matter when we turned up. In fact I’d like my own personal train to be kept ready at Haymarket, steam fully primed, dining car fully stocked, and ready to take me wherever I want to go at no charge. But the world isn’t made like that and folk who think it is - let’s call them socialists - are deluded. I’ll try and remember that next time I’m at Wemyss Bay.

12 May 2007
Transport Blog quote of the day
Michael Jennings

I put my complete trust in the satnav and it led me right into the path of a speeding train.

- Paula Ceely of Worcestershire, narrowly avoiding both death and a near certain Darwin award. There isn’t really a lot more that needs to be said.

29 March 2007
I've been slow to comment on Transport 2000's* overcrowding survey but I will now even if all I've got to say is:
  • I do not believe that the worst overcrowding is away from London
  • If the 10th worst service (as they claim) really is only 45% over capacity then to all intents and purposes we've got overcrowding licked.
At this point I usually say something about fare control but you've heard it all before, so I won't bother.

*Yes, I know. There was a time when the 2000 bit sounded terribly futuristic. No, really.

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (0)Default
22 February 2007
Croziervision is down
Patrick Crozier

Croziervision is down.  It has been down for a couple of days now and I haven’t a clue why.  It is hosted from exactly the same place as Transport Blog, and shares a database and a control panel.  But Transport Blog is just fine.  To the best of my knowledge there are no bills outstanding and I haven’t changed anything.  I can think of nothing to have caused it to go down other than sabotage or perhaps someone installing a new version of PHP on the server.

Anyway, in the meantime, here is an emergency version.  Not all links are working.

Update Croziervision is back up.  In the end it came down to de-assigning and re-assigning the add-on domain.  Weird.

23 January 2007
Speaking of car crashes…
Andy Wood


From here, via Patri Friedman.

28 November 2006
Open comments thread
Patrick Crozier

Following on from the last posting perhaps it’s time we had an open comments thread.

You can say what you like here.  I guess you can say whatever you like on any other posting but it just wouldn’t seem right.  Anyway, you can say anything you like here.  Preferably about transport or the blog - we’re more likely to pay attention to it that way. 

What would be really cool would be if people could flag up stories that we haven’t covered or their own experiences.  You can, of course, e-mail us if you prefer but you might find this easier with the added advantage that whatever you have to say is, at least, out there somewhere in cyberspace.

Just to make the point that things said here do matter, whenever a comment is left here both an e-mail is sent to the author ie, me and a note is left on our top secret behind-the-scenes notice board.

25 November 2006
These make the modern world possible
Michael Jennings


On the right is Emma Maersk, the world’s largest container ship (and the world’s largest ship of any kind that is still in operation), at the A P Moller terminal in Aarhus harbour in Denmark on November 11, a few minutes after completing her maiden voyage to Asia and back (Aarhus, Gothenburg, Bremerhaven, Rotterdam, Algeciras, the Suez Canal, Singapore, Yantian (Shenzhen), Kobe, Nagoya, Yokohama, Yantian, Hong Kong, Tanjung Pelepas, the Suez Canal, Felixtowe, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Gothenburg, Aarhus). On the left is her identically sized sister ship, Estelle Maersk, in port in Aarhus, waiting for a few technical difficulties to be resolved prior to her maiden voyage on a similar route. I went to Aarhus because I knew that Emma Maersk was coming into port. The presence of Estelle Maersk was a bonus.

Now on her second voyage, Emma Maersk sailed through the Suez Canal yesterday, and next docks in Singapore. Estelle Maersk left Rotterdam they day before yesterday, and next docks in Algeciras.