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, August 03, 2002

Friday, August 02, 2002

How not to control pollution

Suddenly the number of houses that will have to be demolished to make way for the third runway at Heathrow has leapt from 260 to 10,000. Read on and soon enough you discover that this is not because the airport planners got their sums wrong on the grand scale but that the plans fall foul of EU pollution laws.

It seems that if pollution reaches a certain level then all properties affected must be bought up and demolished. So, here are some thoughts:
  • I really find it difficult to believe that any institution other than Brussels could come up with such a stupid and inflexible scheme.
  • I find it difficult to believe that there aren't thousands of houses already which suffer from pollution levels in excess of EU limits. Bet they won't be torn down.
  • Lots of people already live near airports and many others spend large parts of their lives in and around them. They're hardly dropping like flies. Airport air pollution (unlike airport noise pollution) is not a big problem and is not about to get a whole load bigger.
  • There are far better ways to control pollution.
  • There is an astonishing arrogance about the whole process. It doesn't matter if the pollution doesn't bother you. It doesn't matter that it does but you are prepared to trade that off against lower housing costs. No, big government is just going to deny you the choice.

Do you feel lucky?

Over on, Tim Hall asks "do you believe in the total privatisation of the road network?"

Gulp. It's so rare to be asked straight out like that. Most of the time one is simply attempting to get noticed so one takes the most radical line possible. I am certainly never expecting to be taken seriously, so it's a bit of a shock when people do just that.

So, if there were a button right in front of me right now which if I pressed it would, in an instant, privatise the whole of the UK road network; would I press it? I have to say I would hesitate. What would the access rules be? Who would the roads be sold to? Would they be sold at all or just given away? Is there something I've missed which would prove catastrophic? Couldn't we do it slowly, firstly privatising the motorways, then the A-roads, then all the small ones?

Ah, but think about the upside. In an instant you could bring congestion-free motoring to the masses. No more potholes, no more roadworks, no more holes in the road (OK, they'd still be all of these things just fewer). No more stupid rules and even stupider taxation. No more "Do you think that's a safe speed, sir?"

That's funny. Why does my thumb hurt?

What's new

I must give a mention to regular correspondent Tim Hall and his site and his blog. It seems to be mostly about trains and heavy metal (I hope that that's an acceptable term). I wonder if he is aware of Dodgeblog. He has been kind enough to add me to his permalinks though he does add that: " particular, I am not a Libertarian!" I think Tim views my blog in much the same way that most of us regard car crashes: it's ugly but you have to look. I get the feeling that there's at least a part of him that wonders if I really exist. "He holds those opinions!"
The Tube makes Iain Murray smile
The man who likes London too much - profile of Bob Kiley
To the lady who berated me, I say: on your bike - Boris Johnson makes the implausible claim that he can ride a bike. Stertorously, by the way, means marked by heavy snoring - not that that adds a lot to the meaning
Livingstone will stand or fall by gamble - Tony Travers
Cost cuts drive BA profit
Heathrow plan 'threatens homes'
Drug driving figures 'shocking'
Is flying really more risky now? - Christian Wolmar

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

In the news

Boeing tries to defy gravity - there's no harm in dreaming
Hypersonic jet launch raises hopes - alas, it's being developed by some university scientists and as we all know universities are where old ideas go to die
Failed Tube legal case to be investigated
New Tube pay strike threat
Hurrah for easyJet heroes - Melanie McDonagh

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

In defence of low-cost airlines

The BBC's wingeathon on low-cost airlines is a tour de force of wrong thinking.

I knew there was going to be trouble when I read:
It seems that passengers on budget airlines are starting to stand up for their rights.
Yes, rights. Only one problem. They don't have any. Other than whatever the contract with the airline stipulates. You want more rights you pay for it. You want more space, better meals and an Executive Lounge, you pay for it. Otherwise, tough.

Of course, what this line is trying to imply is that we, as passengers, have some sort of rights over and above the contract into which we have freely entered. And, of course, as these rights are not going to materialize in a free market therefore we need government to impose them. To hell with freedom of choice. No matter that it will put up the prices and deny many the opportunity to fly. Never mind that it will stifle competition and hence invention.

It also appears that there is no lack of passengers who seem to want something for nothing and kick up no end of a fuss when they don't get it.

The article goes on:
However, some of those involved in the sit-in [of EasyJet passengers in Nice on the aircraft having been asked to leave to make way for passengers on another flight] had paid hundreds of pounds to fly from Nice to Luton, a fare many holidaymakers will match this summer when booking with the budget carriers.
Which just goes to show that the term "low cost" is not entirely accurate. Actually, there are two aspects to the business. One, is no frills. The other is what is known as "yield management", the practice of altering prices to match demand. In this case there was obviously great demand for seats on this flight - hence the high prices. What is forgotten is that high prices mean that those people who really need to travel can.

We then come to:
Pietrasik [Guardian Travel Editor] expects the low-cost carriers will eventually agree to a passenger charter to offer customers a better service, especially as this sector of the market is booming.
Well, this is truly bizarre. If a sector is "booming" doesn't that imply that that is because it is offering a service that people want and therefore there is very little reason to change?

I can't help feeling that underlying all of this is a tremendous resentment of these low-cost, sorry no frills, flexible fares (NFFF anybody?) airlines and the buccaneering, entrepreneurial spirit that they embody.

Then we get:
BBC News Online reader Paolo complains that now Ryanair has a monopoly on direct flights to Turin, a weekend return ticket has tripled in price.
Ah yes, scary monopoly time. It is simply impossible for me to comment on this with any accuracy. Have all flight trebled in price or just some? What was the position before Ryanair got going? Is it seasonal or all-year round? The point is that if Ryanair are indeed fleecing their customers they had better watch out. They may well find themselves victim of their own medicine.

And finally:
And Lawrence, a British expat living in Frankfurt, says not only have the no-frills airlines ratcheted up their prices as routes get more popular, passengers are stung for extra charges for overweight bags or checking in late.
Another one in the eye for the something-for-nothing brigade. Good.

Road pricing and job flexibility

The story "Toll could end nine-to-five day" in the Evening Standard causes me to make a number of observations:

Firstly, isn't it good that employers are considering greater flexibility and at least thinking about ridding themselves of the 9 to 5 fixation?

Secondly, didn't I say something similar in my piece about greater rail fare flexibility? Er...actually no. I said it in the press release (see the LA web site)

Thirdly, it is a shame that the full potential of congestion charging will not be realised. There is no reduction after 10am. Does the rush hour really start a 7am? Is £5 really such a deterrent to driving?

Fourthly, if people are flexible about when they travel we could actually see more people working in Central London not fewer.

Fifthly, our ancestors were well aware of this. Before 1952, there were such things as Workman's Fares on the railways: earlier travel at a cheaper rate.

Sixthly, apparently the Japanese are well aware of this. The rush hour there lasts three hours though how you decide exactly when you are going to travel I don't know.

Seventhly, do I really believe this? As I said earlier, £5 is not much of a deterrent. Only 30% of firms are considering a change, which means that 70% aren't. And how many of those considering change actually will. I suspect that there are all sorts of advantages in having all members of staff working the same hours.

In the news

New Rail team's salaries kept secret - also has info on the new board and confirmation that Network Rail will be kept out of the state's books.
Poor signal from Network Rail - commentary on non-disclosure of executive salaries
Heavy metal - the Times gets philosophical about jams
'I lost my leg to DVT'
Blair in new Formula One row - well, that's one in the eye to all those who say that this government is anti-car. Hell, our road system is so good we even have some money left over to spend on a highway just for one man - Bernie Ecclestone.
John Humphrys: They're too frightened to pass the laws we need - he wants to ban droning and driving.
The passengers are revolting
Alternatives to expansion of airports - from some nimbyist LibDem
Toll could end nine-to-five day
Roadworks threaten to halt capital

Monday, July 29, 2002

What's New

I have added an addendum to my piece on Libertarian Pollution Control in which I outline some of the advantages of the compensation-through-the-courts approach.

There's a new kid on the Blog. Peter Cuthbertson of Conservative Commentary. He's certainly very conservative but he's well worth a read.

News Stories

Easyjet passengers stage sit-in
Nats deal in further scrutiny
Police want roadside eye tests

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Eurotunnel - an addendum

A couple of weeks ago I wrote: "the [Channel] tunnel has cost the (British) taxpayer next to nothing. All those who have lost money have been volunteers."

This did not please one correspondent who wrote in to tick me off. Surely, billions had been spent on it? This forced me to go and do some research. Strictly speaking I was right. The Channel Tunnel was built without a penny of taxpayers money. Indeed, that was a condition written into the treaty that made the tunnel possible in the first place.

But that is not the full story. Although the tunnel didn't cost the taxpayer, everything else did. There is a high-speed rail link in France and soon to be one in England. The Eurostars (including the Regional Eurostars and Night Stock) cost a fortune. So, it's not quite the great victory for private enterprise that I would like to claim. I wonder to what extent the building of the Tunnel depended on the knowledge that these other goodies would become available.

My correspondent also objects to my use of the term "volunteers" to describe those who have lost money. After all, most of us have bank accounts and pension funds and it is not that easy to avoid one that has some exposure to Eurotunnel's debts.

When I used the term I meant volunteer in the sense "no force applied" as opposed to "was specifically given the option". It's a bit like soldiers who volunteer for the army but are then "forced" to make good on the contract when a war breaks out. Having said that, investors did have the option to bail out. It may have been inconvenient but nevertheless it did exist. Even so, it strikes me as far better to have this sort of arrangement than taxation where if you don't pay the state threatens to send the boys round.

Misuses of the English Language #2: the Environment

As in "Governments are charged with a difficult responsibility of balancing economic development against environmental damage." Evening Standard 26 July 2002

My objection to the use of the word "environment" is not so much that it is inaccurate, but that it is used to mean so many different things that perhaps ought to be considered separately.

For instance, if I build a new airport runway then I impose a cost on all sorts of different people in all sorts of different ways. A scenic view might be lost. The runway means more flights which means more noise pollution. More flights might also mean greater damage to the ozone layer and the emission of more greenhouse gases [Warning: I am extremely sceptical about both these scares]. More flights means more passengers which means greater strain on road and rail facilities. If the runway has been built with compulsory purchase powers then that (probably) means that owners have lost out. These losses are known to economists as "negative externalities".

My other general objection to the use of the term is the implied absolutism: that any damage is a bad thing and must be stopped. London has expanded vastly over the last two centuries. As I understand it, not so long ago, Oxford Street marked its northern boundary. Since then vast tracts of fields and woodlands have disappeared to make way for housing and other development. Do we really miss them? Would we really miss a whole new tract of countryside disappearing? Sure, it would be a bad thing if all fields and woods disappeared but somewhere there is a balance to be struck.

New Today

Telegraph Money - now it's not the actual page that has grabbed my attention but that ad at the top right. - oh. It's a bleeding job ad
Stalled train causes travel chaos