UK Transport

As its title suggests UK Transport covers all aspects of transport in the UK. It is written from a libertarian perspective, in other words, that the less the State involves itself in the running, regulation or funding of roads, railways or anything else - the better.
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Saturday, July 06, 2002

Congestion Charging: Good for the rich and bad for the poor?

This is actually a rather good article from the "wrong" side of the congestion charging debate (and, indeed, from some time ago). The central charge is that congestion charging is good for the rich and bad for the poor.

In making my reply I have to make one important caveat - I am not defending Ken's scheme but the principle of private Central London roads and the expectation that these would include some form of charging.

But is charging good for the rich and bad for the poor? Well, it is certainly good for the rich. Your average magnate is likely to be completely unfazed by charging and be delighted that he now get around London in his Rolls that much more easily.

But what of the less well off? After all, if charging is to work, it does have to remove some people from the road, at least at peak time. Or rather, it has to remove their cars. And these people are likely to be the less well off drivers.

[Actually, I am far from sure that less well-off drivers can really be described as part of the less well-off. The mere fact that you earn less than the average driver does not mean that you earn less than the average person. In fact the really less well-off travel by bus which I will come to. But I digress]

So, certainly in the first instance the less well-off driver will suffer.

But what of the bus passenger? This could be very interesting. Buses will almost certainly pay the charge. After all, they are taking a lot of money in via fares. An immediate advantage to bus companies is that with less congestion and more importantly, a predictable level of congestion, buses not only become faster but more punctual. So more people will want to hop on the bus. And because more people want to use them, that means that the fare need not necessarily increase.

If you notice there is a complement between those people who are forced off the road and the new desirability of buses. In the short-term there is likely to be a capacity restraint ie not enough buses, so fares will rise, at least in the peak. But in the long term more buses will be bought leading to a decline in fares. At least on ordinary buses. But there is also likely to be a market for higher class buses: ones that are more comfortable, more secure and ones which you can plug your laptop into.

Sadly, all this is of very little use to white-van man. The bus in no use to him as he needs the storage capacity of his van whether he works as a deliveryman or as some form of builder. He has a choice: either put up his charges or leave the city.

But even here I suspect there will be a complementary change. After all, who is he charging if not homeowners and shops? Increased charges for having kitchens redone will lead some to decide that it just isn't worth living in the central zone and move out. Which is good because that is exactly where their tradesmen will now be.

But what would happen to shops? Sure their costs have gone up but look at their customers. Buses can move far more people around than cars. So there are likely to be more customers. So more revenue. So shops may find that the effect is broadly-speaking neutral.

Having said all this, it is important to remember that there will be time lags while people get used to the new system, for that matter, while road owners work out how to charge. And while there are time lags there will be a certain amount of pain. But in the long run just about everyone (and not just the rich) will be better off.

Potters Bar

Yesterday, I wrote a nice long piece on the HSE's Interim Report posted it up and deleted the original. But Blogger managed to lose it. Drat. Anyway, my main point was the the HSE do not seem to know what happened and that it is far too early to start speculating on the systemic cause far less the political/economic cause.

Is your journey really necessary - a response

Brian's piece on whether moving around is all it's cracked up to be certainly raises some interesting points. Having said that personal experiences and anecdotal evidence suggests to me that travel will be with us for some time to come.

On more than one occasion now I have worked on IT projects abroad. Now, if any outfit was well-placed to explore the potential of tele-working then it would be a software house. They tend to have people who want to see what they can do with the technology and users who are able to learn how to use it. And yet what did I find? That personal contact was vital. Why, I don't know, but as soon as I or part of the team moved out of physical contact with the rest of the team, chaos ensued. Suddenly, checking the most minor fact or asking the simplest question took ages as e-mail or telephone communication ground to a halt under the weight of delays and minor misunderstandings.

I once asked someone who did tele-work (this would have been in the mid-1990s) how he found it. He seemed to think he was about 80% there but he still wanted to get into the office at least once a week.

For what it is worth I think meet space will be with us for a while yet.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Potters Bar Report

Yesterday, the HSE published its interim report into the Potters Bar Crash. I haven't yet had the chance to read the reports but I hope to get something up today (Henman-Hewitt) willing.

Thursday, July 04, 2002


This is just the sort of thing that happens on state-run anythings. And the guy thinks it's just a plain, old, ordinary mistake.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

"New" rail crash investigator, eh?

The headline says: "New rail crash investigator". The text says:
Mr Darling said the body would be an independent railway investigator whose sole focus would be to establish the causes of accidents and to "learn lessons".
I say: what is the difference between this and Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate (HMRI) which has been investigating accidents and "learning lessons" for well over a century?

In the news

RMT has history on its side - Anthony Howard tries to turn back the clock
Network Rail will take over legal bills
New rail crash investigator

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Stuff from the Ludwig von Mises Institute and elsewhere

After I'd posted that piece on Walter Block's views on roads I decided to have a further hunt around the Ludvig von Mises Institute to see what I could find. Rather a lot as it happened. A brief search unearthed two more papers by Block and a couple by Gregory Bresiger. Here's the list:

Financial Train Wrecks Ahead, Gregory Bresiger, The Free Market, Volume 20, Number 3, March 2002 - the scandal that is Amtrak

Sell The Subways, Gregory Bresiger, The Free Market, Volume 16, Number 9, August 1998 - on how big government and the unions wrecked New York's subway

Supercar, Superscam, Eric Peters, The Free Market, Volume 15, Number 8, August 1997 - Why attempts at producing fuel-efficient cars are costing tax payers a fortune

Free Market Transportation: Denationalizing the roads, Walter Block, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol 3, No.2 - Excellent article on how a free market in roads would actually work. Not sure I'm so optimistic about road safety though.

Public Goods and Externalities: the case of roads, Walter Block, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol 7, No.3, Spring 1983 - Another excellent article from Block. Especially good is his examination of the externalities of infrastructure projects - something that has exercised my mind from time to time. His solution? Let the developer buy up the surrounding land.

Management versus Ownership: The Road-Privatization Debate, Carnis, Laurent ; The Quarterly Journal Of Austrian Economics Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 2001)

The Characteristic Features of Monopoly Prices, Ludwig von Mises, The Quarterly Journal Of Austrian Economics Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer 1998) - not sure if this will prove relevant or not but monopoly prices are a feature of railways.

In my surfing I also came across Public Purpose which is run by a chap called Wendell Cox who sits on the Amtrak Reform Council. He has plenty of sensible things to say especially on how the lower density of US cities makes trams and commuter railways redundant.

In the news

Police bus patrols launched
Engineers start train salvage
Crash driver escapes as freight train hits lorry cab
Trains "cannot solve roads crisis" - Christopher Foster of the RAC Foundation
No Minister, PPP won't save the Tube - Christian Wolmar on just how expensive this is going to be

Monday, July 01, 2002

Walter Block on road pricing

Many libertarians will be familiar with Walter Block's work and especially the trenchant "Defending the Undefendable". What they may be less familiar with is his work on road pricing called remarkably enough "Congestion and Road Pricing" published by the Journal of Libertarian Studies. This is an excellent theoretical paper especially since it nails the myth that congestion is not a problem.

UK Transport Extra

For some time a couple of things have been bothering me. The first is I have a number of frequently updated pages (eg the Index, Cuttings File etc) that are getting difficult to keep up to date because they are buried in the archives. The second is that I want to publish some longer articles but they don't really fit into the one paragraph or less ethos of standard blogging.

So, I've decided to set up UK Transport Extra which will provide a home for these types of post.

Lycra louts

So they're going to crack down on people who cycle on the pavement are they? Fat chance. The report itself admits that they've tried in the past and failed. What I found really galling was a quote from the London Cycling Campaign:
"We would never support anyone cycling recklessly on pavements, but in London it is almost impossible to avoid cycling on pavements at times because of obstructive and inconsiderate car drivers who clog up the roads and block the paths of cyclists."
i.e cyclists should obey the law unless they can't be arsed. This particularly annoys me because when I was a keen cyclist I was always very careful to avoid cycling on the pavement. More fool me.

Sunday, June 30, 2002

Is your journey really necessary?

Brian Micklethwait of Libertarian Samizdata extols the virtues of a neglected form of alternative transport

Because of my enthusiasm for road pricing I have found myself taking part in the occasional round table media discussion over the years about the rights and wrongs of traffic jams, subsidies for public transport, and of the various "needs" of people to get from A to be B and to travel this way and that way. There's usually an environmentalist, who wants public transport to be subsidised into perfection before road pricing is introduced, or instead of road pricing being introduced (because then no one will want to travel by car – fat chance!). And there's a bloke from something like the AA or the RAC, saying that motorists already pay far too much for their motoring. And there's generally a transport academic arguing for an rational, national and totally integrated transport policy organised along lines ordained by his noble and all-knowing self. And then there's me, trying as best I can to apply the principles of the economic calculation debate (which our side won long ago) to the matter of transport instead of just to the making of washing machines and DVDs.

One point of view tends consistently to be ignored in all such discussions (even by me because I don't have time to include it). I'm not thinking of the point of view associated with arcane forms of transport not normally talked about in such circumstances, such as horsedrawn carriages, hovercrafts or privately owned helicopters, or (a more recent idea) privately owned slimmed down Harrier Jump Jets. I refer to the option of simply not travelling at all.

Too many transport talking heads (including me) talk as if the plain fact of and necessity of travel, of some kind, is a given that can't be queried. Yet all discussions of transport must surely include the option of staying at home and doing the thing in question by phone or by email or by some modern contrivance such as teleconferencing, or doing it one minute's walk away from home rather than an hour away by car or bus or train. Above all there is the most basic alternative of all: not doing it.

Britain's transport system recently, after one of those crashes (Hatfield I think it was), went through a period of extreme confusion unique in our collective experience. The railways became a shambles, and the roads followed suit as millions desperately looked for alternatives. It was a scary episode, but it may have done Britain some serious good, in among all the serious confusion.

It may have concentrated minds on the thought that when you are deciding, for example, where to put schools and how big to make them, you might consider more seriously the transport problems associated with getting to school. Should not schools, especially for younger children, be smaller, more numerous, and hence nearer to the homes of the children involved, and perhaps only a short walk away? Instead of going for economies of educational scale, should we not instead be thinking of using electronic communication to distribute educational expertise, and be going for transport economies instead?

Parents stuck in vans in jams for an hour and a half each day, driving their children to school and themselves completely mad, may now instead be thinking of educating at least their younger children at home, and maybe supplying a similar service to their neighbours, not because of any grand vision concerning the educational superiority of home schooling, but simply because the transport side of things would become so much easier. I believe that a completely free market in education would mean more, smaller, and nearer schools for small children everywhere, simply for transport reasons.

Similar considerations apply to the number, size and location of hospitals, and of workplaces generally.

Entertainment has long been an electronically dispersed industry. There, the idea of travelling huge distances every day for one's daily amusement never caught on the first place. Occasional big trips, once a week at the weekend say, to a cinema or a sports stadium, yes. Daily amusement trips, forget it. As soon as regular people had the time to be amused every day, entertainment boxes of all kinds (radios, TVs, Scrabble and Monopoly sets, sports kits) started to be made to enable the daily entertainment job to be done in people's homes.

Why was entertainment done so much more sensibly? Perhaps because politicians considered mere amusement to be beneath their consideration. But that's another argument.

Government vetoes pay offer

Well, that's the headline. When you look closer you find that this is a power that the SRA because if it didn't TOCs would be able to award huge pay rises just before the end of the franchise with the bill having to be picked up by the next franchisee and therefore the taxpayer. Just another example of the Alice in Wonderland economics induced by state interference.