What if the future is Cars?

20
3697

From our Swindon Correspondent:

A personal story. I’ve been working for a while with a company in Reading and before Covid, I was only doing about 1 day a week. Rather than spend eye-watering sums on the rail, I thought I could drive to Theale station on the outskirts of Reading, park and take a short local train to work.

I realised that, in around a decade, traffic going into Reading had changed. It had declined to the point that the peak was quite tolerable until right near the centre.

What are the benefits of rail travel? Well, you can have a few beers, you can do a long journey without it being as tiring as driving. But for commuting, it’s that you go past the cars queueing up. If you lose the thing of avoiding congestion, you just have an expensive, unreliable service that you have to share with various lowlifes at times.

We could also consider that if a company only needs people to physically meet occasionally, that adding more time doesn’t matter. Rail networks are about getting people in from the suburbs because they have to be in every day. If you only need to go to work every fortnight, do you mind if the office is in Devizes or Chipping Norton? At which point, rail doesn’t work because no-one is going to build a Staines to Devizes train line. By the time you do all the changes, you could be there in half the time by car.

What is all of this going to do to trains? If there’s less focus towards travelling into a city, and more distribution of jobs and people, more of a balanced network, that means less people paying for those peak time journeys. That’s not only 55% of all journeys, but also a big part of the revenue of railways. I’m guessing a large fall in those people makes it unviable, that it’s the commuters that bankroll the thing, and everyone else is a bit of a bonus.

This really isn’t the vision of the political class that see us as riding bikes like the Dutch and having high speed like the French. But they aren’t going to have much choice in the matter. Politicians

20
Leave a Reply

avatar
5 Comment threads
15 Thread replies
7 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
9 Comment authors
Michael van der RietSpikerhoda klappJohn GaltBloke on M4 Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
jgh
Guest
jgh

Dutchland is flat and has the benefit of having all the pesky buildings being moved out of the way by their neighbours 80 years ago.

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

It goes back even than that. Because it’s so flat, cycling was more popular in the late 19th century in the Netherlands and they had cycle paths before WW1. You get those paths in place, you get paths as the norm, as cities expand, you have the space for them as you build up towns. We might become a nation of cyclists, but it’s going to take an extremely long time. No-one wants to address the pesky problem that we don’t have space for a cycle path on many roads, and the only answer is knocking down buildings to make… Read more »

John Galt
Guest

Plus, you aren’t going to get many grannies and women with children cycling around most of the West or North Ridings of Yorkshire (i.e. excluding York and the flatter parts of the East Riding).

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

I’m not even sure how much you get them in the Netherlands.It’s still only 27% of all journeys.

asiaseen
Guest
asiaseen

Calling Dr Beeching…

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

Beeching is one of the most unfairly derided people to have been involved in government, mostly hated by the people who never have to pay for any of it. He did his job and did it well, analysing traffic volumes and recommending closures and replacement with buses.

What failed was for local government to put buses in place to replace the trains.

BTW the other possible here is a rise in bus travel. Buses also suffer from being in congestion, but without that, they won’t be much slower than a train, and riding the National Express is far cheaper than a train.

John Galt
Guest

He did his job and did it well, analysing traffic volumes and recommending closures and replacement with buses. Nope. He absolutely failed to consider the network effects of what would happen to the network if you closed the branch lines and all of the local freight traffic shift to the road network. Why do you think congestion sky rocketed after the Beeching cuts? It wasn’t just the “newly empowered motorist”, it was the fact that a lot of that local traffic suddenly had no alternative but to hit the road network which was not planned for. I’m sure Beeching and… Read more »

Boganboy
Guest
Boganboy

I of course feel the real error was to nationalise the railways. Had it been left to their owners to decide when to shut them down, the cutbacks would have happened slowly over a period, allowing the overall transport system time to adapt. One might also note that the taxpayer was paying for the cost of the nationalised railways and the cost of the roads and the buses. Thus the costs were merely transferred from one line of the overall government accounts to another. I’ve never heard that any analysis was ever made as to which approach was the most… Read more »

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

well, yes. Government doesn’t adapt quickly. They respond when the situation is really out of hand, and then it’s huge cuts.

Like HS2 should have been put under review before Covid. The data coming out for a few years were running against the predicted growth pattern. Maybe it was a blip, but why not pause and observe. As we had 3 years of reverse growth, it’s not like we can’t delay it for a couple of years. See what year 4 and 5 do.

John Galt
Guest

Not really. The benefits case for HS2 might have made sense in the 1990’s but even then it would have been marginal. Spaffing billions up the wall to save “business managers” 20 minutes on a rail journey? That’s last century thinking. I’m not just saying that HS2 should be cancelled, it certainly should, but it should never have been approved in the first place. Far better to spend the money reversing the Beeching cuts where that makes genuine economic sense.

Addolff
Guest
Addolff

In my old Train Operating Company (TOC) we were told that season tickets paid the bills and the off peak / leisure sales provided the profits.

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

That makes sense, thanks.

The problem there is that a lot of costs have to be fixed and spread across all services. Off-peak can probably be done as cheaply as it is because the rails, trains, signalling have already been paid for to run the peak service.

Spike
Guest
Spike

So Covid-19 has us (and our employers) reevaluating our work schedule. Whether “the future is Cars” or trains or buses or bikes will depend on how individuals weigh the available options according to their own values. The wisest or most popular MP cannot know the answer. What we need, then, is politicians who don’t have “a vision” that may be against our interests and will be imposed at our expense and with the implied use of state force.

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

Absolutely. I’m not saying cars are the future, some of this projects from a personal perspective.

But you need people who take data seriously. What actually works. Like buses and bikes work really well in Oxford, but it’s somewhere with lots of students.

Boris has this “companies must get back to the cities” and well, off you fuck, matey. Companies are going to decide this for themselves. You’re their servant, not their master.

Spike
Guest
Spike

That was true ever since we were told to suspend our lives in order to save our institutions!

Yes, people’s values will be different in different places. They will also vary over time; the knifing in Birmingham might slightly shift willingness to commute downtown and thus the choice of travel options. If urban violence increased to NYC levels, then rail into town, and in fact town, might go out of fashion.

Bloke on M4
Guest
Bloke on M4

If you only have to go in once a week, why live near the knifings and general vibrancy? And if your staff are only coming in once a week, do you need the office there? Could you move out of Birmingham to Solihull or Sutton Coldfield?

I think this will take years to evolve, but if I was starting a software startup today, I wouldn’t waste my money on London or Bristol. Pick somewhere near a train station and a good road.

jgh
Guest
jgh

As the only work I’ve been able to persuade people to pay me to do is Field Engineer, I’m driving 90% of the day, so it’s almost irrelevant where I live, I’m driving to where-ever I’m going where-ever I start from, so moving from Sheffield back home to Whitby was a no-brainer.

rhoda klapp
Guest
rhoda klapp

Oxford. Council hates cars. Biggest employer (probably) is a car factory. Some serious dichotomy going on there.

Spike
Guest
Spike

However, for Oxford to go car-friendly on the basis of its factory would be the same fallacious thinking as Boris trying to get everyone back to London because the pubs need business.

Michael van der Riet
Guest
Michael van der Riet

AFAIK rail makes money from freight. If there’s no freight, rail has to lose money. Amtrak knows that. A pure commuter service is on a hiding to nothing. The only question is the amount of the subsidy.