Friday, November 22, 2002
Right diagnosis - wrong treatment
This guy gets it almost completely right until he starts talking about solutions. And he mentions Barbara Castle.
In fact Barbara Castle is the author of many of our current problems. For it was she who ended the closures of the branch lines. Had these unprofitable (and still unprofitable) lines been closed then British Rail would have been capable of making a profit and would have been privatised in much the same way as British Telecom, Rolls Royce and British Airways. But it wasn't profitable so politicians had to design a bizarre Heath Robinson scheme to keep the subsidy flowing.
And we all know what that led to.
Excellent article in the Telegraph. I really can't think of anything to add except that on the main line railways similar formulas were introduced last year - and no one understood them either.
Oh, and there's another article here on the same subject by the same people.
Thursday, November 21, 2002
There's been a call for women-only carriages on London's Underground. It would not be a new idea - they were around for about a 100 years and were only abolished in the 1960s. Why I wonder? Strangely enough they have also recently been introduced on some lines in Tokyo.
Although they would probably be a good idea I can't help feeling that it's a case of running away from the problem which makes me feel uneasy.
David Farrer comments on the need for enforced competition. Which is something I don't like. But in the next paragraph he points out why it is needed: because the politicians won't allow the building of a new airport.
This is just so absolutely typical. Another example of government action being needed to clear up the mess created by previous government action.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
A passenger - manager exchange
Recently the BBC appointed a commuters' champion, Jon Yuill and last week they published the result of an e-mail exchange between him and Dave Kaye, Managing Director of First Great Eastern which is one of the better train operators.
There are many aspects of this exchange which I found galling but the thing that really got me was that attitude of Kaye, the railwayman. It would appear that at some point in the past the contents of his brain were scooped out and replaced with mangagement consultant-speak - you know the sort of thing that is so wonderfully mocked by the BT adverts.
This (from Kaye in response to a question about late-night security) got right up my nose:
I will look at additional security staff, particularly in the evenings and on late night trains where more disruption and anti-social behaviour is likely to occur.Why haven't you looked at it before? Is anti-social behaviour a new thing? I doubt it. Why don't you arrest these people? Why don't you ban them from the railway? Why don't you offer passengers rewards for catching vandals and other criminals? After all, if you are a criminal a train is really bad place to commit a crime. All it requires is one person to pull the communication cord and you are trapped. There is nowhere to go.
If it is the fact that you (the train operator) cannot do something because the government won't allow you then say so.
Right now, what the industry desperately needs is some straight-talking especially from the people on the ground who know what's going on. It needs people who are prepared to take responsibility - people who say "I am going to solve this problem and this is how I am going to do it." If they can't solve the problem then they should state why not. If it's the government's fault they should say so. And loudly.
There is perhaps a mitigating factor in all this. Train operators owe their existence to the Government. A train operator who constantly (rightly or wrongly) shifts the blame on to the government can probably kiss its franchise goodbye. But right now, the whole franchising system is in a state of flux, with shorter terms, greater restrictions and smaller profits. Frankly, many of the operators have little to lose by saying it the way it is. If you are going to go down you may as well enjoy yourself.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Buses, passengers and privatisation
State bus bars "too wet" boy. Story from Freedom and Whisky. David Farrer reckons that it would have been a different story had it been a private bus. I must admit I'm not so sure. For starters we don't know the full story - the "wet" excuse could have been just that.
But private buses might choose to turn away all sorts of passengers for all sorts of reasons. CrozierBus, for instance, will turn away anyone wearing shell suits, hoods, Nike trainers or bad hairuts. I wouldn't want to be a man with a pierced ear, lip, eyebrow or tongue either. Personal stereos and mobile phones, if used, will be smashed. And anyone engaging in vandalism will be keel-hauled with the bus in motion.
Wet passengers may be asked to stand. Why am I so soft?
Tolls in Sydney
Tim Blair has the lowdown so I guess the whole world heard of this one before it appeared here. The interesting thing is that tolls have been introduced, highways have been built, more cars are on the road and they move faster. So much for the "more roads means more congestion" argument. By the way, many of the tolls are electronic.
This brings me (surprisingly I must admit) to an opinion I don't think I've ever fully expressed. I believe that the future lies with roads. Sure I talk about trains and I like trains (or at least I like the idea of trains) but in Britain as in most of the English-speaking world they account for a miniscule proportion of the transport market.
Roads and cars are where people want to be. They are door to door. Almost all cars are compatible with almost all roads. They are private. You can escape the thugs and other louts who loiter on trains and buses. They can be extraordinarily efficient. You can listen to the radio. For many long journeys they are faster. I believe that roads are cheaper to build and maintain (but I'm not sure on that one).
Sure, there are some things that trains are very good at. They are very good at moving large numbers of people from point A to point B quickly. Electric trains don't pollute. You can read on them. It is for these reasons that they are likely to have a role in transport in high-density urban areas for some time.
However, we shouldn't get hung up on trains no matter how hard that sometimes might be. All forms of transport ultimately owe their existence to how useful they are to people and for the forseeable future roads and cars will hold sway.
Change of topic
Earlier this month I announced that I would be doing a talk on Japanese Railways. After a chat with the host, Brian Micklethwait, we decided to make it "Aspects of Japan" instead. Otherwise, the details are the same.
One of the good things about having proper comments is that in the future people will just be able to bung things up there. Anyway, the discussion about Metra was before then so I got e-mails and then didn't put them up.
Tom Otteson wrote:
I read you blog occasionaly as I am interested in transportation issues. I am very glad that you mentioned the metra, which is actually a very excellent transportation system. I rode the metra every day for 2 years making a daily 30 mile commute.And then he further wrote:
I just had another thought about Metra in regards to the multiple ownership of the lines and how that works. Because the centralization of the lines means that they all end in the 9x9 block square area of downtown chicago, basically each of the four systems has their own terminal that are located 1 or 2 blocks from each other, so the end result is that all the lines have totally separated infrastructure and only have to coordinate together in areas very close in to downtown. It seems that the Metra was set up in a very similar fashion to how the Chicago El [Elevated Railway? - Ed] was made and the end results of the system layouts are very similar.Ah, loop lines. Except very close to the centre eg London's Circle Line, I fear they're doomed. Railways need density and while that exists for radial journeys it rarely does so for tangental journeys.
Monday, November 18, 2002
UK Transport has comments. It can now march on into the second half of the Blog revolution. Seriously, I had grave doubts about their usefulness. I had a lot of experience with newsgroups and the appalling anti-social behaviour that goes on there and thought the same would apply to blogs. But having looked at many it would appear that this is not the case. Mind you that doesn't mean that UK Transport won't prove to be the exception that proves the rule.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
As promised, this is what my Malaysian correspondent had to say about transport in Malaysia:
I was a student in Manchester for about 6 years before I came back in 1998. While I was there, I found the train service to be quite good, except a few times when there were delays. The bus services during peak hours are also quite punctual. And there was not much traffic jams. Compared to many cities in South East Asia, I think the British are really lucky to such good and reliable transport systems [what!]. Hence, I think the current criticisms on the British Rail are partly politically motivated.So, as my grandma used to say "Quit your complaining!"