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 24, 2002

Don't part 20/7834

The news that the government is thinking of banning (ie will ban) the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving does not fill me with joy. I hate laws like this. It's just another low-lying property swept away by the tidal wave of rules, regulations and restrictions engulfing a once free country.

But you try telling that to a "normal" person. Normal people don't operate on the metaphysical plane. They work on a far more down to earth level. To them it seems obvious: if something is dangerous then ban it.

What are the assumptions that such people make?
  • That if something nasty is happening then the government should do something about it
  • That that something is new legislation
  • That legislation will be enforced
  • That enforcement will be effective
  • That legislation will have no adverse side effects.
Let's start in the middle with the idea that enforcement will be effective. How would you know? To the best of my knowledge there are no statistics at present on the number of dead and injured caused by the use of mobile phones. OK, so maybe there are other ways of looking at it. Tests have shown (and I tend to believe them) that people using mobile phones are less attentive. So, that would tend to suggest that if fewer people were using mobile phones there would be fewer accidents. So, you could measure success on the basis of the total number of accidents or on the basis of the number of people using mobile phones. But neither number is going to be easy to generate. Sure, you can get stats on the number of accidents but this statistic tends to bounce around and in any given year, half a dozen other factors could make a difference. Factoring out all these other factors is more or less impossible. Generating a figure for moblile phone use would be similarly difficult. After all, who is going to admit to a criminal offence?

And as we all know there are plenty of other laws which the police try to enforce but fail to.

Of course, the government is already doing things about mobile phone use. If you use a mobile phone and you crash your car (or drive without due care and attention) you are likely to be prosecuted. You will not be prosecuted for the use of the mobile phone but for the damage you cause - which seems a rather fairer arrangement. What about all those people who are capable of driving and chatting at the same time?

But such arguments don't really get to the heart of things. All I have suggested is that legislation might not be effective. What I need to suggest is that its effects will in fact be negative. And that's where the side effects come in.

I believe that laws like this cause untold damage. I mean damage that really is untold. The effects of regulations such as these are both unpredictable and unmeasurable. I believe that they undermine respect for authority and lead to a decline in personal responsibility: if you treat people like idiots that's how they'll act. I believe that there is a definite correlation in the number of petty regulations that have been introduced over the last 30 years and the general decline in our society. I just wish I could prove it.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Oh no, he doesn't

See here.

Actually, the point I was making was one about architecture and not about convenience.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

More on stations

Following yesterday's article Tim Hall finds himself largely in agreement.

Monday, August 19, 2002

What's wrong with stations?

I find almost all stations disappointing. And it's not just the graffiti, the vandalism, the tatty appearance of many of them or the fact that so many have been rebuilt by modern architects - modernity's answer to the Luftwaffe. Even if none of those things applied I would still be disappointed.

Frankly, stations do not seem to be part of the modern world.

Take a "normal" shop or place you spend your money. MacDonalds, or a bar or an airport. In each case there is a system. MacDonalds's system is brilliant. You go in, you walk to the back, you pick up your food, you look for a seat and if you can't find one - no worries - there's probably one upstairs (or in some cases downstairs)

Or take the airport. OK, so arriving there by road is a pain but once you've entered the terminal building it's a piece of cake. You check in, go through passport control, go through security, do some shopping, go to the departure gate, board your plane. Easy peasy.

But with stations the system is far from clear. Where is the booking office? How do I queue? Where does my train depart from? How do I get there? What time does it leave? All these questions are answered in different ways by different stations. It is tremendously confusing and it adds to the impression of chaos.

The worst stations are non-terminii. They have one huge fundamental problem: how to get passengers from one side of the tracks to the other. The options are: a bridge, a tunnel or a level crossing. In most cases a level crossing is a non-starter - they are simply too dangerous. So that leaves bridges or tunnels. Aside from the inconvenience of having to ascend a set of stairs I have yet to encounter a bridge that wasn't flimsy or a tunnel that wasn't dingy.

And what happens when you get to your platform? You wait, that's what you do. When you wait in the departure lounge at an airport you at least get a comfy chair. When you wait at the dentist's they at least provide you with something to read. But on a station platform it's just you, your thoughts and whatever the weather's dreamt up for you.

Could stations be better? The omens are not good. Everywhere I've gone the problems seem to be the same. No one seems to have cracked it. Is there something inherent about stations that leads to them inevitably lagging behind? Is it the number of people involved? Is it the variety of train services? Is it the gap between the biggest and smallest?

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Network Rail gears up

Interview with Network Rail Chairman, Ian McAllister, in the Times. A few things caught my attention:
The public interest company created by the Government to replace Railtrack is to review the current system of performance penalties which suck millions of pounds out of the network while causing punctuality to deteriorate.
Network Rail can review the system as much as it likes. The problem is that it can't do anything about it - that's Tom Winsor, the Regulator's prerogative. Of course, now that both the infrastructure and the regulation are effectively part of the state it will be interesting to see how the Chinese walls work. My guess is that that particular metaphorical office is going to look very open plan indeed with McAllister sitting at a big desk in the middle barking out orders to Winsor the office boy. Maybe, the Times is more right than it knows.

Commenting on the need for high punctuality targets, Ian Coucher, Deputy Chief Executive said:
"The Japanese may achieve that level but the cost is very, very high. There is a price to pay in terms of capacity and the amount of maintenance you have to do and I don’t know whether that makes sense..."
The cost may indeed be high in Japan but it's all paid for and not by the Japanese government. I am sure that the fact that the main Japanese railways are integrated, privately-owned and unsubsidised is a complete red herring and has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the situation in this country.

And finally there was this:
It [Network Rail] will advertise for 60 "public interest members" of Network Rail, drawn from passenger groups, unions and the public. They will join 40 "industry members". The 100 members will meet at least twice a year to scrutinise Network Rail’s performance.
Try not to laugh. Or weep.

In the news

Britain moves to end 'open skies' deadlock - good background article on why there are only 4 carriers on the Heathrow-US route
Airlines nosedive as passengers put price first - interesting article by Irwin Stelzer. Seems that a minor revolution is going on in the airline business.
Rail venture sets off on the track to better service