Monday 17 March 2014

Transport Policies Via The Medium Of Comedy

If you happened to wander past Puddlecote Inc this afternoon, you'd have been treated to the sound of gales of laughter as I was reading out some hilarious jokes to my fellow transport professionals. Well, they weren't intended as jokes but were just as funny nonetheless.

You see, because the French government has announced that it is banning vehicles on alternate days in Paris, the Guardian has floated the idea of the same being imposed here. Their readership has predictably lapped it up with a poll showing 76% approval - they get mighty excited about the chance to ban something over there, so they do.

The 'jokes' I read out were merely suggestions posted in the comments by people who seem to have no clue about transport, money, or even life in general for that matter.
If we said that all black cabs, buses and licensed minicabs have to be electric by 2017 (or whenever), what difference would that make to air quality in the long term? What if we extend the congestion charge system? What if we ban the same of diesel vehicles in the UK by 2020 (or whenever)? These are more serious policies, because they are less random and capricious.
That's the one which started off the chuckling, it's something you'd expect from a 13 year old before you sit them down and explain that it's a nice idea and all that, but hopelessly naive. Firstly, there isn't yet an electric vehicle which is economic enough for widespread use amongst domestic drivers with low mileage, nor will there likely be for probably another decade at least. The chances of there being an electric motor capable of operating at consistently high mileage is even more into the future, and one capable of reliably running a rig with the power to carry 150 passengers for continuous day-in-day-out periods is probably two decades away at least.

And even if it were available now, its cost would be massive as Puddlecote Inc knows very well having looked into alternatives ourselves on a regular basis. LPG, electric and hybrid are still novelties and come with a huge price tag. The replacement and running cost of such a huge shift in transport over three different industries would be so immense - because, contrary to what many believe, fossil fuel is way down the list of factors in pricing transport services - that fares would be unaffordable to all but the wealthy.

Isn't it odd how so many 'progressive' hobby horses seem almost exclusively designed to impoverish the poor?

Of course, the same can be said of the article's main premise of banning vehicles on alternate days. Those rich enough to run two cars will simply buy another, the less well off won't be able to. The proposal has a cost in itself because if it was an efficient and cost-effective way of running a city, it would be in operation already without the need for government intervention. Increased costs to businesses and public services are all passed on somewhere, either through taxation, reduced services or higher prices. It's a zero sum game.

But in the world of the Guardian reader, you just wave a magic wand and all your utopian dreams become cost-free reality ... it just takes someone with the appropriate form of madness imagination to commit to it.
Introduce fare-free public transport and there would be even fewer reasons to bring a car to London.
Yes, great idea, that won't cost anything at all. Simply tap up the government money tree and the problem is solved!

OK, so tube fares only account for 50% of the cost of running the underground and the state already has to chuck in £3bn per year - but what's another three billion per annum, eh? It's not like the public have to make up the monumental shortfall with increased taxes/reduced benefits/services, is it?
Eventually, all the country will be blessed with high speed internet access, all south facing roofs will have solar panels/water heaters on them, sewage farms will produce methane gas to be pumped into the gas grid and wind power, tidal turbines, wave power and energy efficiency will be the norm. 
Yes, that one had us in stitches too.
You are right about Athens, this system still continues. It had a huge impact on pollution levels and congestion, positive impact.
This is in reference to Greece sometime ago also having instituted the same ban as France. Because, of course, Greece has been a tower of economic strength ever since.
Unfortunately this positive impact on the environment is somewhat counteracted by the fact that the country is suffering from an epidemic of illegal logging, and, therefore, wood burning as people can no longer afford to buy heating oil nor the taxes associated with everything and so are turning to any other means. Mount Olympus, for example is being decimated, Athens is often clouded in smog, from wood burning. 
Wait for the punchline ...
Still, there are fewer cars on the road and that's jolly good.
By this time, tears were rolling down cheeks at Puddlecote HQ and questions were being asked as to where I was getting this top drawer material. Viz 'Top Tips'?
We need to get properly radical if we are to maintain an anthropofriendly climate. Commuting itself must be banned. People are going to have to live where they work and work where they live. We are subsidising a practise that is destroying our environment.
Err, "anthropofriendly"? And spoken like a truly myopic office worker who obviously wants his plumbing fixed remotely.
Why not something that celebrates diversity, multiculturalism or multi-ethnicity; driving days could be based on identity; gender, race, nationality, etc. So if you needed a ride you'd have to integrate, which would be good for a liberal city like London which is still very much separated by neighbourhood and choice of transportation.
Banned from driving into work today? Simple. Just stand at the side of the road and wait for a black or asian person to drive past and thumb a lift. Brilliant!
What should be banned in London is single driver vehicle drivers. It should be mandatory that vehicles in London have high occupancy of at least 75% of all available seating in a car filled as a prerequisite requirement to commute to outer and inner London.This will give incentive for drivers to seek out and advertise for and acquire fellow travelers or give up and use public transportation.
Seriously, I'm not making this up, they're all there under the line if you feel like fact-checking.

Anyhow, the suggestion is that - to be able to drive to work and contribute to the economy - you must have to expend your time and money first to find at least three other people to share your vehicle with. That's going to help to achieve full employment no end!

That's not all, this particular contributor is just warming to their task.
Also taxis should not be permitted to cruise for fares but park and be radio dispatched and only for multiple fares that fill available seating to at least 50% of available cab seating.We all have cell phones now.
Because tourists all have plenty of numbers to ring and anyone using cabs always, but always, knows another three people who want to go the same way. And also because sole trader black cab drivers won't demand their union push for increased fares by being forced to subscribe to radio control services. Oh no.

But he/she still isn't finished. The bright ideas just keep on coming.
Vans and commercial vehicles should be higher taxed or even ticketed and fined for "dead heading" on return deliveries from inner London.
Higher taxes which will be passed on in prices; fines - and 'ticketed' suggests licence endorsements - on deliveries for which there is no return package can only be performed by big businesses, who will massively increase charges to compensate or simply not deliver.
How about requiring that all the unoccupied/unused buildings in inner London be made into accommodation and rented out to anybody who works locally at an amount of, say, 20% of whatever their income is. 
That way people won't have the need to travel as much.
Are we talking about buying this property from the legal owners, or stealing it?

Someone else sees a charge he/she doesn't have to pay, so wants it expanded.
London is extremely well-served by public transport. It's largely flat, and it's quite compact. My suggestion would be to extend congestion charging to the M25.
That's right, charge everyone in the home counties to drive any kind of vehicle and give their already taxed cash to the state. That won't result in higher prices through increased demand on wages at all. Of course, charging everyone for using the roads could work, but I can imagine quite a lot of Guardian readers being up in arms about that considering it was proposed by the IEA last year.

But my personal stand-out fave was this.
Some don't have a 'choice' of transportation. Some disabled people either have to drive, be driven or take a cab because public transport is inaccessible to us. As long as anyone who physically could not use public transport was exempt from the ban I'm all for it.
In other words, as long as other people suffer and not me, that's fine. Which is what all the others were saying, really, just without the honesty. Oh yeah, and without even a basic understanding of transport realities and the consequential costs which offset every benefit known to mankind.

Still, terrifying as such ignorance can be if you take it seriously, it brightened up our day so can't be all bad.


Andy said...

Stunning levels of idiocy. I'm dehydrated through tears of laughter...

Smoking Non Driver said...

At least the barmy Gauls have accepted the possibility of choking to death
OUTSIDE a bar as there is of lingering death INSIDE a smoky bar.

brossen99 said...

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Our coffee tasted so much better with a smiley face, too :)

nisakiman said...

LPG, electric and hybrid are still novelties and come with a huge price tag....

Actually, DP, when I was in Thailand recently, I saw quite a few semi-trailers with banks of LPG tanks mounted behind the cab. And just about all the cabs in Bangkok run on LPG. But of course, you have to have the infrastructure, ie plenty of refueling points, to make it viable.

This is in reference to Greece sometime ago also having instituted the same ban as France.

Years ago, Athens introduced a system whereby if your car had plates ending in an odd number, you could only drive in central Athens on odd numbered days, and likewise even numbers. This ruling was partly designed to ease congestion, and partly to combat the pollution, which was admittedly bad. However, what happened in reality was that people bought a second car (with the number plates to complement their current vehicle) or the more enterprising (read broke) would chance it and just get some dodgy plates made which they would swap over according to the date. So the end result was no reduction in congestion, no reduction in pollution, but a huge reduction in available parking space. Another of those great ideas which didn't quite pan out as expected.

Why not something that celebrates diversity, multiculturalism or multi-ethnicity...

Words fail me on that one, DP. It's a parody of a parody. I honestly didn't realise that people actually said stuff like that.

Are we talking about buying this property from the legal owners, or stealing it?

Ah, but property is theft! Innit?

brossen99 said...

EU 10% transport bio-fuel directive destroying the rainforests see links …

Sam Duncan said...

“Banned” ... “have to” ... “banned” ... “mandatory” ... “should not be permitted” ... “higher taxed” ... “ticketed and fined” ... “requiring”

Remember, folks: it's the “right” that's authoritarian. The BBC said so.

But you don't know the half of it, Dick. The alternate days plan really was originally proposed as a joke. It first appeared in print as an idea of JB Morton's creation, Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht, in a famous Beachcomber column. It's long been held to be an example of Morton at his very silliest.

Farce repeats itself, first as comedy then as tragedy.

“Introduce fare-free public transport and there would be even fewer reasons to bring a car to London.”

Why stop there? Let's give everyone ponies!

SadButMadLad said...

Its for similar reasons that I laugh my head off at the anti fracker's attempts to ban gas. They only want renewables, but like your vehicles, how will all the gas boilers powering central heating systems be replaced? By grants from the government using whose money? By the force? Or just ban gas boilers like the LibDems wanting to ban hydrocarbon powered cars.

#GreeniesAreStupid is definitely very true.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

"when I was in Thailand recently, I saw quite a few semi-trailers with banks of LPG tanks mounted behind the cab. And just about all the cabs in Bangkok run on LPG. But of course, you have to have the infrastructure, ie plenty of refueling points, to make it viable."

Viable is a well-selected word, nisakiman, as is infrastructure. I'd certainly not argue against alternative fuels being desirable, but ideology doesn't beat plain realities.

We've looked into LPG and it was -and continues to be - simply not an option. We could go for it unilaterally but it would cost so much as to put us at a massive disadvantage when competing for work from competitors, we'd effectively be throwing away all our current business. The only way it could work is if ALL transport suppliers are compelled to adopt LPG at pain of not being awarded contracts. And that will bring added costs to public and private sector alike as it is not viable at the moment or else it would be an industry standard ... if not a necessity.

I had this same conversation with a guy in December who was a real enviro-booster. He seemed astounded that cleaner fuels were more expensive to transport businesses (the fuel as huge cost burden myth is probably a big contributor) and said he could put me in touch with his influential Lib Dem politician friend so that I could give some input. He did that, but the politician backed off sharpish and said they weren't interested hearing about reality - I think they know that it's unachievable in the next 5 years at least, so don't want reality interfering with their ideological vote-chasing dreams.

Cleaner fuels will come in time, but only when they are viable through a free market. If they are enforced, it can only ever have the effect of costing the public more of the money that, according to Labour, they can't afford due to the "cost of living crisis".

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ponies are cool, but would struggle with pallet-loads of TVs, I reckon. ;)

I'm off to Google JB Morton.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Costs are easily ignored by idealists. See my reply to nisakiman about Lib Dems (who I don't think believe their own rhetoric themselves).

moonrakin said...

As somebody who now is involved in running 3 LPG vehicles - I'm converted (groan) - some planning has to go into journeys to the peripheries of the UK and I'm contemplating fitting some extended range tanks. One thing I have noticed - the dishonesty + banditry that is "Green"

This is some text!

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Hey, don't get me wrong, I'd love to run the things but can only do so once they're an option by being competitive on cost. I have no doubt whatsoever that they will be one day, but enforcing it through legislative coercion is the surest way to kill innovation by making lessening prices unnecessary and ensuring it is an expensive option.

If you had a business which was handed money via government fiat, would you bother trying to make it more affordable?

If those Guardian commenters truly want a cleaner environment, they're far better served encouraging a race for profits from providing it at an affordable choice in a free market But like most things we discuss here, that would just get in the way of their underlying ideological hatred of profitable business.

It's fine if they want to take that view but - just to turn this one back on them - why the hell should we all have to pay for their selfish indulgences? ;)

moonrakin said...

why the hell should we all have to pay for their selfish indulgences? - with bells on it - I think you are being overly generous towards these gits calling them idealists - fantasist would be a more accurate tag to what's left of my mind after reading some of the comments :-)

nisakiman said...

The problem in UK is of course the avariciousness of the government. In Thailand they took the pragmatic approach, and made the tax on LPG much lower than that on conventional fuels, thus providing the incentive to switch to LPG, as the cost of conversion was soon offset by the fuel savings, and this in turn encouraged more fuel outlets to install LPG fuelling points. Nowadays the majority of service stations there have LPG pumps, so the system works. Mind you, the air pollution in Bangkok was (and still is, actually, although marginally improved) appalling, so there was considerable pressure to try to address the situation.

But you just know that in UK the government wouldn't be able to resist getting their grubby little fingers on all that loverly fuel tax, particularly from the transport sector, so LPG is unlikely to get off the ground. That is amply illustrated by the fact that Diesel is more expensive than petrol in UK, despite the lower refining costs. In Greece, the price of diesel is 25 - 30 cents less per litre than unleaded petrol.

truckerlyn said...

Last year I emailed the DoT asking why it is that the rich, who can afford new, fuel efficient vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles then pay £0 to £50 in vehicle tax per year?

My point being that this meant the poorer people would never be able to afford new or almost new, fuel efficient or alternative fuel vehicles because, out of necessity we have to run older vehicles with lower fuel efficiency and pay through the nose for road tax!

This way we will never clean up the air that we breath because those (the majority) on modest to low incomes will always be castigated by tax just because they cannot afford to run new/newer vehicles.

As you can imagine, the response was the usual inane drivel.

Just goes to show, it is not only smoking that has never had anything to do with health!

moonrakin said...

Related in a round-about fashion:

Jevon's Paradox

SadButMadLad said...

I think I'm right in saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, but the UK is the only country where diesel is more expensive than petrol and all because of the tax.

John M said...

And there's the Highways Agency, who today proposed converting both the M3 and M4 into dual carriageways with 60mph limits because (obviously) if you slow the flow of vehicles through a route that will fix congestion (as opposed to freeing it up because traffic is actually moving faster...)

Another Government department staffed with tax leeching retards.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

You're shitting me, surely? :(

nisakiman said...


Like DP says....

truckerlyn said...

Plus traffic bunches up consequently produces a higher concentration of pollution.
Yet another example of nothing to do with health!
By the way this was suggested a while ago for some stretches of the M6 due to pollution.

truckerlyn said...

Nope. See reply.

Barman said...

Sadly you are wrong...

Here in Cyprus diesel used to be almost free - people even heated their homes with it (and many still do).

Now is is more expensive than petrol €1.46 compared to €1.40.

SadButMadLad said...

Thanks for correcting me. Sounds like a recent change. UK is about £1.38/l for diesel and £1.25/l for petrol.

James Pickett said...

Glad you know about Beachcomber. He'd be right at home in this world...