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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Friday, August 09, 2002

In the news

Tube hit by flooding
Crippling rail delays on West Coast - Excellent article in the Telegraph on how the disaster unfolded
EasyJet: Our staff can't cope with demand
Bidding war could raise flight prices - the IPPR want the government to auction off slots rather than build new aiports. You can, of course, do both.
Travel agony after London 'monsoon'
'Fine companies for road chaos' - this does seem to come up an awful lot.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Compulsory Purchase - oh no, not again

It is a dreadful thing to find oneself disagreeing with Natalie Solent - especially when she is on the side of the angels and I am on the side of filthy lucre - and, let's face it, when she's in a bad mood. But I fear I am going to have to ramble anyway:

Any form of pollution, accompanied by compensation or otherwise is a violation of property rights. Indeed, the same could be said for any (truly) criminal act. Could building an airport simply be dealt with as part of the normal criminal law?

Actually, I don't think development will move away from the South East. In a truly free market I could imagine London becoming a city of 40m or more. If a city 5 times the size of the present one sounds frightening bear in mind that London was once a fifth the size it is now. We survived. By the way I don't think that demand is about speed but about volume.

Andy Wood has written to me enclosing a link to an article from Dr Bruce Benson of Florida State University. The article, "The Mythology of Eminent Doman and Public Provision of Roads" asks the question of whether Eminent Domain (American for Compulsory Purchase) is necessary. This is certainly an issue that pre-occupies a lot of libertarians. Usually, it all boils down to the "holdout" problem (or what I call the Granny Greenteeth problem) the one person who simply will not sell. And usually libertarians will devise various schemes for getting round it e.g. buying in secret, building bridges.

My problem is that all this is theoretical. I am constantly looking for concrete examples of this happening in practice. But there aren't any. With all but a few minor exceptions every canal, every railway and for all I know every road and every airport built in the UK was built with compulsory purchase powers. Even those ardent capitalists at Central Railway have accepted that they can't avoid it.

Dr Benson does give the example of pipelines that have been built without compulsory purchase. Which is interesting. But I am forced to wonder if the only reason they succeeded is that pipelines can go from A to B via just about any route you like while roads etc have to go from A to B via C, D and E.

What I think this debate boils down to is this: I believe that railways, roads and airports are essential and if that means riding roughshod over a few libertarian principles then too bad. I did not enjoy writing that one little bit.

By the way, I do agree with 99% of what Natalie writes.

Higher fares are good for you - an update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that railway companies should be allowed the freedom to set fares as they like. Readers may remember that I used the example of the man on the 0822. I also posted the post to the uk.railway newsgroup. I received some interesting and some tough replies. Lawrence H, who admits to being a railway economist wrote:
The problem with this line of arguement is the timescale required for passengers to react to the higher fares. Moving house takes time. It may become hard to attract professional staff for companies in central London. This will force companies to consider relocation outside of the city and will harm competitiveness and damage the urban economy.

What is really required is a complete reassessment of the pricing of all transport modes to reflect the costs imposed.

Even so, peak rail fares are probably too low and off-peak fares too expensive. A careful realignment could help to spread the peak and reduce over-crowding, forcing companies into more flexible working practices to make more productive use of the transport nfrastructure.
Gitfinger (I suspect it is his real name) wrote:
He won't see it because he would of probably thrown himself under the 0822 by then due to being divorced because he lost his house because couldn't pay the mortgage because he had no money because he lost his job because he couldn't get to work because he couldn't afford a season ticket.
To which Mark Townend replied:
Ah, but in the economists' eyes, merely an unfortunate tragic side effect in acheiving the worthwhile greater benefits overall; just the short term pain whilst the market 'readjusts itself'.
All these writers are making exactly the same point (if in differing degrees of niceness) namely, that there is some pain involved while things adjust to a new status quo. I make the following observations:
  • Had the state never intervened in the first place we wouldn't be talking about pain. I don't seem to remember widespread suicides in the 1980s because BR (which had greater fare freedom than TOCs do now) put up the prices as demand increased.
  • We have plenty of pain right now - and it's going to get worse as too-low fares draw more and more people onto overcrowded trains. It's also going to get worse because of fragmentation and franchising.
  • There is a political question about how fast fares ought to be allowed to rise. If you have a big bang people get hurt. If you phase it in there is a danger it will be reversed. Having said that I would have thought that in a period of about 2 years most people could either move house or change jobs.
  • Should suicides or the threat of suicides prevent a policy being implemented? How many people right now are changing careers or being made miserable by the daily scrum?
  • There are two sides to the commuting coin. The first is the commuter. The second is the employer. If some commuters cannot get in then some employers will find themselves short-staffed. They will have a number of options: increase wages, change working hours (assuming that rail companies offer cheaper off-peak travel), or move to the suburbs.
  • Ah, but mightn't they go bust instead? Some, of course, will. But then again how many businesses are going bust right now because they can't get the right people because they can't face the commute?

In the news

Planes' vapour trails affect weather
Tour firm starts budget airline - surely they've missed the (Air)bus?
Hats off to driver's fine challenge - you don't have to pay if the warden isn't wearing a hat. That's just the sort of pettyfogging rule this country needs more of.
Car drivers warned of DVT risk

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

In the news

Ryanair profits take off
Ryanair chief blasts 'Nimby' Brits
Chilled-out Ryanair surfing ahead - no corporate exec who can describe Newquay (or anywhere else) as the "the surf and dope capital of England" can be all bad
Consequences of proposed airport expansion in South East
Russian answer to road congestion - priceless!

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Have rail fares gone up since privatisation?

It is a common claim by statist groups like Transport 2000 (now, there's an organisation in need of a name change) that rail fares have gone up. They love to point out how a Standard Open Single fare from London to Manchester has gone up from £50 in 1995 to £97 now. But that is only one fare. What about all the others?

The only way we can work it out is by referring to global statistics, specifically annual fare revenue and annual personal travel.

In 1994/5 passenger kilometres totalled 28.7bn and fare revenue totalled £2.494bn (2001 prices), which gives us an average cost per kilometre travelled of 8.7p.

In 2000/1 passenger kilometres totalled 39.2bn and fare revenue totalled £3.354bn, which gives us an average cost per kilometre travelled of 8.6p.

In other words the average cost for travelling one kilometre (or one mile for that matter) is more or less the same as it was pre-privatisation.

It ought to be pointed out that calculating passenger kilometres is an inexact science. How many journeys does a season ticket holder actually take? How far does a Travelcard holder actuall travel. But one assumes that the inaccuracies are more or less the same in both cases and so cancel one another out.

So, how do we account for near 100% fare increases like London to Manchester? The answer is simple: though many fares have gone up many others have come down. If you are prepared to book ahead you can get all sorts of deals (I did London to Manchester for £19 return). Furthermore, London commuter fares are held to inflation minus 1%. Incidentally, this is one of the main reasons for the current state of overcrowding in London and the South East.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Does congestion charging work?

I was not entirely surprised to hear Ken Livingstone say that if Congestion Charging in London failed he would scrap it. First of all, it's a Ken thing to say and secondly, what do we mean by success? There is bound to be some sort of reduction in traffic even if it is just through the inconvenience of having to go through the barriers - so there will be something that Ken can point to in order to claim success.

But it did get me thinking. Surely, we know the answer already? After all, similar schemes have been tried out in Trondheim and Singapore. What's been the outcome there? I decided to do a little search. This is what I came up with:General observations about the Trondheim scheme are that:
  • the intention was to raise revenue, not to reduce congestion
  • it seems to have gained a reasonable degree of support
  • few before and after statistics are available
  • it seems to have reduced congestion a bit
  • it seems to have increased bus use a bit
Most of these concern the Norwegian experience - I will look into the Singaporean case when I get the time.

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Congestion charging - just do it!

In the report on the extension of congestion charging to towns and cities across the country one paragraph in particular made me groan:
In Bristol the council proposes to charge £1 a day - but not before 2007. A spokesman said: "We want to make sure that public transport is improved first."
First of all, there's that vague and confusing term "public transport". Does it mean a)state transport, or b)transport available for use by the public, or c)mass transport? I feel Misuse of the English Language #3 coming on. In this case, unless I am very much mistaken, they mean buses which are definitely b), sometimes c) and theoretically never, though in practice almost always a).

Secondly, is it really necessary to wait? If the state is managing the expansion of buses then there is, indeed, likely to be a wait. But if it were left to a genuinely free market ie not just privatised, then bus operators would intervene pretty quickly to satisfy the gap in the market. Surely, they can. If the NFFF airlines can fill a gap in the market in a matter of a few years I am sure bus operators can do it far faster.

Thirdly, should this term mean buses? Couldn't jitneys supply a better and cheaper alternative?

Fourthly, isn't it depressing how complicated everything is? We have rules banning jitneys. We have rules on where buses can an can't stop. We have reserved bus lanes. All this adds up to no end of bureaucracy and delay.

What's new

London Underground: Comparison with New York Subway - interesting piece if you like that sort of thing - which I do!
Paying for parking by text
'Real risk' to air safety warns union
Cities follow London on congestion charge
Letters to the Editor: Give way to Lycra louts - worth reading. Quite ferocious. This is what you get when the state owns the road.