Recently in Transport Category

Bridge over troubled voters.

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Thumbnail image for elephantbridge.jpgLast year we commissioned polling that showed 57% of Scots wanted to repair the existing Forth Road Bridge, not build a new one, with just 34% in favour of the SNP plans. 

Leaving aside the environmental issues, the costs are simply incomparable. For an absolute maximum of £122m the cables on the existing bridge could be fixed, and this would allow us to save billions.

But congestion, they say, what about the congestion? And it's true, recabling would require some partial closures. But now we know what extraordinary congestion would come from building the new bridge: there would be contraflows for a "substantial part" of the three and a half years it would take to redo the crucial Ferrytoll roundabout where the A90 approaches the bridges at the north end.

That's just one part of the associated work, if perhaps the most complicated, and it's yet another nail in the coffin of this absurd and deeply unpopular project.

The conservative case for trams.

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bluetram.jpgIn October Matt Lewis reviewed "Moving Minds; Conservatives and Public Transportation", a book co-authored by Weyrich and Lind, two very senior American conservatives, one of whom cut his political teeth on a public transport campaign.

Typically, as the review says, the case for better public transport is made by us tofu-eating "liberals", not hawks and military strategists. 

But they note that transport in America has been anything but a free market. Socialised freeways (note to Democrats and American Greens: this phrase may come in handy) have competed with overtaxed mass transit schemes.

Furthermore, the blue case for trams goes,* this car-based economy has spawned burbs, a lifestyle which weakens communities, and made us (like them) dependent on foreign oil. Rail, tram and subway lines, conversely, provide certainty to businesses to grow near stops, something a new bus route can't do.

Just because they're probably wrong on so many other things doesn't make these arguments any less persuasive, even though the review doesn't even mention climate change or other traditional environmental issues. There's a film interview with Lind here which does, though. His view, expressed in it, is that even mentioning those issues presses conservatives' "campaign against" button. The graph of public support shown in the film is also particularly striking.

I'm with Kenny Macaskill. A well-implemented tram network "will be the basis upon which Edinburgh can grow and flourish. It is after all the physical arteries that are the lifeblood of the community. Better therefore to take our time to get it right than progress at pace and repent at leisure. Moreover in transport like most other things in life you get what you pay for. Do it on the cheap and you'll get the quality it merits."

Nationalists, Greens, Lib Dems, Labour folk, conservatives, everyone gets it. Well, apart from those whose party in local government have undermined the work they're supposed to be delivering. Callum: get on board.

* yes, I know Americans have gotten their red and blue mixed up, but there's no need to get dragged down by them.
elephantbridge.jpgIt's satisfying, commissioning opinion polls, especially on topics where the other side is rich and powerful but hasn't published any poll results. That always makes me suspect our position is popular as well as right.

The one we released today (thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland and the ForthRight Alliance for co-commissioning it) covered Ministers' plans for a new Forth Road Bridge. 

But is that the real choice that Ministers face? Could they definitely repair the existing bridge? There are two ways it could be delivered. First, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority are highly confident that the dehumidification of the cables will work. It's underway, and it's costing £10.3m, which is pocket change in bridge terms. 

To give the SNP the maximum benefit of the doubt, though, let's assume that that dehumidification fails. We'd then have to go to recabling or cable augmentation. There are three variants of this approach: replacement above, augmentation above, and augmentation to the side. Any of these would simply work, guaranteed: it's a standard operation, with lots of international expertise available. 

A report from FETA in February 2008 showed that this would cost between £91m and £122m, depending on the option chosen. Perhaps by coincidence, FETA just got a shiny new website and the report is no longer available. I'm not saying it's a deliberate whitewashing, mind: as I've recently been reminded, sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. You can see the Google cache of the report here.

In case there's still any doubt about the potential to fix the existing bridge, the proof is, ironically, in the spin deployed by Ministers in response to the story in today's Scotland on Sunday. They say "we are building a replacement crossing as well as utilising the existing bridge". I can imagine more accurate words than "replacement" to use there. Perhaps "additional"?

So £122m is the top end for fixing the bridge, and that's what YouGov offered as one option. The other, again giving the SNP's spin machine the benefit of the doubt, is their current upper estimate for an entirely new bridge - £2,300m.

Despite the constant deluge of spin, by almost two to one the public just don't think that's a sensible choice. To sum up, the new bridge would be:

Unaffordable. Scottish Ministers don't have the money. They begged Westminster for it, and sensibly, got knocked back. John Swinney and colleagues ceaselessly complain about "£500m of Labour cuts", yet they're planning to blow more than four times that on this structure.

Unsustainable. It's just more road capacity. Labour argued for a "multimodal" bridge, with rail or light rapid transit built in as well as a road route, but the SNP didn't listen. The existing bridge, magically repaired despite all the Ministerial bluster, will supposedly be reserved for buses and taxis, but no-one believes that. As drivers sit in jams on the new bridge and look downstream to the probably empty old bridge, they'll understandably get a bit miffed. If there's one constant since 1999, it's Ministers doing whatever the motoring lobby want, and that reservation for public transport will melt like snow off a dyke.

As a result, there'll be four lanes of traffic feeding into Edinburgh, and congestion levels will inevitably worsen alongside carbon emissions. This ignores the opportunity cost, too - if the same money were spent on public transport, the SNP could be cutting emissions and congestion rather than worsening them.

Unnecessary. There's no argument against simply fixing the existing bridge, apart from the unsubstantiated handwaving about economic impact. The real reason it's being pushed for so hard is two-fold. First, there's a misconception that people in Fife vote for whoever promises them more bridges. Second, Alex Salmond loves his hard hat openings, and who knows, the bridge may even end up being named after him. I look forward to watching the Labour leader's face if that happens.

Unpopular. Our poll had crossbreaks by voting intention, and every party's voters are against it. The closest you come to sympathetic is amongst SNP voters, but even they aren't convinced by John Swinney's arguments. In these times of budget pressure, Tory and Labour voters are the most sceptical, as you might expect, but there's not much in it.  

Going by the constituency vote, here's the specific extent to which all the other parties are out of touch with their supporters:
Conservative » Repair: 64%, Replace: 30%, Don't Know: 6%
Labour » Repair: 59%, Replace: 32%, Don't Know: 9%
Lib Dem » Repair: 56%, Replace: 37%, Don't Know: 7%
SNP » Repair: 51%, Replace: 41%, Don't Know: 9%

Bad politics. Public transport projects across the country are getting put on hold, with GARL just the most obvious example. When the budget and the timescale get blown, and when Fife and the Lothians are snarled up in congestion, the new bridge will plumb depths of unpopularity that will make my time on the Parliament building project look like a walk in Holyrood Park.

Right now there are four opposition parties, and just one, the Greens, arguing against this scheme. I keep expecting one of the other parties to get the arguments against and join us to campaign for repair instead of replacement. Whoever does so can clearly reap a massive political reward, a reputation for prudence, and some pretty substantial environmental credentials.

The alternative is for it to be just us holding the SNP to account while the others go down with them, and while we have to watch the bridge eating a decade's worth of discretionary capital spend. Who's with us?

Heathrow: this cat folds.

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thiscatfolds.jpgThis is becoming Climate Victory Week. Following the end of plans for new coal at Kingsnorth, BAA have folded over the third runway at Heathrow. Credit where it's due: the main reason is that Theresa Villiers held her nerve

Shame we couldn't have some similar Scottish wins over, say, Hunterston and the Additional Gold-plated Forth Bridge. That would require a majority of MSPs to understand the environment, though.


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nottinghamtrams.jpgAs Edinburgh's spectacularly inept Liberal/SNP Council does its simultaneous best to build and block the trams, the anti-tram hysteria is approaching the levels seen in Nimbyist campaigns against wind turbines.

The latest incident to get the tramophobes frothing is an accident in Dublin where a tram and a bus collided. Sixteen people were injured, three seriously. It's clearly bad news, although it's not yet clear whether the tram or the bus was at fault, or even a third party. 

My dear deluded friend Calum knows already. He simply checked his ideology-o-meter, which is stuck on "Blame the Trams for Everything". Let's assume he's right in this case, though, simply for comparison.

How do the risks from tram accidents of this sort compare to the risks associated with the SNP's overwhelmingly preferred form of transport, the car?

They're curiously reluctant to tell us. SNP Ministers are so quiet about it that their summer press release on road safety managed not even to include the headline figure, just a percentage change. I wonder if this reticence can survive today's debate in the Chamber on road safety. I got the numbers, though, by turning to the Record.

And they're pretty shocking. In an average week, Scotland's roads see five deaths and close to three hundred injuries. Every nine hours, year-round, more people are injured on Scotland's roads than were injured in this accident in Dublin.

But is this incident unusual for the Luas, the Dublin trams, or are they a regular deathtrap as Calum would have us believe? They've been running since 2004 and Wikipedia reports just one fatality over those five and a half years. If there had been any more I'm sure Calum would have edited the page accordingly.

Let's look at another cost the tram-haters seem oblivious too. Pollution from road traffic kills even more each year than the accidents. The UK figures from last year are roughly 2,600 from accidents and 4,000 from pollution. And don't even start me on the climate consequences of their love affair with the motorway.

Every time I see the shocking chaos the Liberal/SNP administration have visited on Edinburgh it makes me furious. The Nats are mismanaging this scheme, then campaigning against their own chaos, and all the while frantically denying any responsibility on the doorsteps.

Their incompetence is putting people off public transport, while their Ministers allocate billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to support various unsustainable roads schemes. I've always assumed all the other parties here were equally out of touch on transport, but I'm not sure that stands up any more.

Poll tax on wheels.

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bikeprotest.jpgSo, cycling: are we generally in favour? Personally I'm more into walking - I don't feel safe listening to music on a bike, and I like not having to lock up when I get there. 

I'm passionately in favour of folk being helped to do it, though, and the provision of cycle lanes in Scotland is dire. Look elsewhere in Europe and see how dangerous it feels here, and how marginal cycling is to the planning process.

Scottish Ministers agree. Their Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) includes the following warm words from Stewart Stevenson:

"CAPS is about everyone in Scotland who is able to, having the choice to cycle in their everyday life by creating safe, welcoming and inclusive communities."

Lovely. It's like we live in Holland already. I particularly like the fact that SNP Ministers won't be forcing cycling upon those who can't. But let's not sneer. There are plenty of good ideas in this document, in amongst the vague "promote x, promote y" stuff. There's even a long section on Encouragement and Incentives.

But check out question 10 on p48, right at the end.

"Should all road users pay road tax? If so, how much should it be for cyclists and how could it be enforced?"

Tax discs on bikes? Seriously? I know times are hard for Finance Ministers, but this is sub-Thick Of It material. The paper's subtitled "More People Cycling More Often", after all, not "How We Could Force Folk Off Their Bikes".

You might also say it's just one option, but is this something Ministers should even be considering? The front page of today's Scotland on Sunday shows that some consideration has been given to implementation, but the Government's spokesman's backpedalling hard. Incidentally, that's a curious metaphor: as I remember it, backpedalling does nothing at all.

The SoS editorial against it talks about a tax on smugness. I don't think it's cyclists who'd get the worst of that. The fact that they're even considering this is entirely symptomatic of the SNP's complacent attitude to transport, where all that matters is the car. 

They came into government with a list of tolls to remove and of bridges and motorways to build. The civil servants nodded, the building companies rubbed their hands, and the environment came last as usual.

It's enough to make one despair, it really is. And I doubt they'll ever do it. But think how much fun the protests would be. 

The elephant in the hold.

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madplane.jpgUK Ministers' Climate Change Committee, also the Scottish Government's advisors, have today published some maths which should make both lots of Ministers think again.

Both are committed to 80% emissions reductions by 2050, yet both support unsustainable increases in aviation. Both were told today that all other sectors must make 90% reductions if aviation is to be allowed to grow.

Apologists for limitless flying (typically former "lefties" of one sort or another) always say it's just 1% of UK emissions, even as they lobby for massive increases. The Committee says that, at this rate it is likely to become 15-20% of all emissions by 2050.

These same people also claim that saving the world is an attack on the poor, as if budget airlines are actually full of folk on the breadline. One study showed that the richest 24% of the population took 40% of budget flights, while the poorest 32% took less than 8% (nef, pdf, p.5).

The first thing that needs to happen is that both UK and Scottish Governments must abandon their plans for airport expansion. Heathrow's Runway 3 is the most totemic example, but the second National Planning Framework, nodded through by dozy opposition parties here, includes expansion plans for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Prestwick and Aberdeen airports. It also mentions scope to expand the airports in Dundee and Inverness.

Check out page 109 of that NPF2 document. At least it admits that there'll be a carbon impact. Normally when Scottish Ministers propose something spectacularly unsustainable, they jig the figures to claim it'll reduce emissions.

I'd settle for some honesty here, though, from Ministers. If they said "look, we don't care about emissions and climate change and we're going to continue flying", that'd be fine: we could contest the issue directly with them. Right now green-minded members of the public hear Ministers saying they care and they may assume they mean it. It's the raging, gargantuan hypocrisy in Victoria Quay and Whitehall that bugs me most.

Lying about flying.

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futureairship.jpgA group called Future Heathrow recently put out ads claiming that "A third runway won't make Heathrow any noisier or dirtier" and that "... it won't get the green light unless local air quality meets stringent EU standards on concentrations of nitrogen dioxide". 

When this nonsense was challenged by a complainant to the ASA, it turns out Future Heathrow is actually BAA, or at least that BAA replied on their behalf from an address at Heathrow itself. Both claims were duly rejected as likely to mislead, and the advert mustn't appear again.

It's tired and dishonest astroturfing, which is hardly surprising when that their environment page only mentions climate change in passing, and then only in pretty curious terms. I'm surprised they didn't just get the former Marxists behind Modern Movement to put the ads out. Then again, they haven't posted anything since March, so their quixotic crusade for us all to emit as much CO2 as possible in the name of class equality may be over.

I have a vision for a future Heathrow too. One where clean, green and efficient airships take people on somewhat more leisurely foreign holidays. An older blog post has more on the time it would take. Helium is entirely safe, and lighter-than-air craft don't have to waste fuel on lift. Meanwhile, domestic travellers whizz past on high-speed electric trains, and local residents get shot of the noise and pollution. 

The local campaigners against the Runway Three expansion have been rightly lauded, and it remains one of the signature issues Labour's profoundly wrong about. If you want to help, here's the HACAN website.
toytrain.jpgWhen ultra-Blairite Lord Adonis says Labour is finally going to take one of the train operating companies into public ownership, you know what follows. Reprivatisation. Having fixed something, why not break it again? It's very New Labour.

But is there another interpretation? Is he leaving an opportunity for the next Labour leader as he or she struggles with opposition?

After all, Adonis says the plan is to keep the East Coast mainline in public ownership for at least a year, by which time Gordon will be history. The Tories will no doubt wish to rush it back into private hands, and Johnson or whoever could build a populist argument for going further and renationalising and reintegrating the whole thing. 

Perhaps not, but would you rule out Labour being devious enough to leave the Tories some awkward issues on a timer? The test will be if Labour try to run it well: that would build evidence for continuing public ownership. But are they even capable of doing that now?
bridgetonowhere.jpgAlso on a additional Forth crossing theme, while watching some BBC coverage of the SNP conference I heard a couple of very bizarre comments.

First, the BBC appear oblivious to the fact that there's any opposition to the scheme. Their reporter said (about a sixth through that long clip):

".. that would have a big impact on projects like the new Forth Road Bridge. Everyone agrees it's key to Scotland's economic prosperity, but Westminster and Holyrood have locked horns over how it should be paid for."

Er, no. They don't all agree. Here are just some of those opposed to the scheme. And even the City of Edinburgh Council, led by the SNP and the Liberals, has come out against.

Next, more disingenuously, the clip includes this section from Shirley-Anne Somerville's speech to SNP conference, discussing borrowing powers:

"It's about building Scotland's future, and that includes the Forth Crossing. It is of strategic importance to the Scottish economy, not just of Fife and the Lothians, not just to the east of Scotland, but to our whole country. No other country would have a debate about whether this bridge should be built or not, it is so important."

So, let me get this straight. A democratic politician doesn't think there should be a public debate about £2,300m - £4,200m of public spending? Even though it's supposedly to replace a bridge which is still operational and which is currently estimated to cost £122m, absolute tops, to fix? That's logic which would appeal to Kim Jong-Il.

Unfortunately for the likes of Shirley-Anne and other regular opponents of public transport, there is a debate, and it's not going away. 

On one side of it is a cynical attempt by the SNP and the other parties here at Holyrood to fish for votes in Fife, cynical because they've misled local people into believing that the new bridge is necessary and won't cause massive cuts in public transport expenditure, that it won't cause massive disruption during construction, and that it won't blow carbon reductions out of the water. 

On the other side are the local residents, radical environmentalists like the National Trust and RSPB, SERA (Labour's environmental ginger group), the transport campaigners, and the Scottish Green Party.

If this bridge does get built, which I doubt, it's not going to be plain sailing for its unquestioning supporters. It's going to be a hard battle, and it's one we'll fight all the way.

New nuts please.

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One of the things I missed while on holiday last week was this excellent Boyling Point cartoon. The tide would truly turn if the Evening News joins the City of Edinburgh Council's opposition. Thanks to Lawrence for the spot.


The money-go-round.

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Monbiot returns to form today with a scathing piece about Labour's PFI scheme to widen the M25. The way this £5bn-sized slice of insanity works appears to be as follows: as usual, the Government pretends to externalise the risk to a consortium, but in this case it then lends them £400m of the £1,300m required to build the project. 

£500m more comes from European taxpayers via the European Investment Bank, and the remainder is being loaned by the Royal Bank of Scotland (i.e. us) and then underwritten by the Treasury (i.e. us again).

The contracts are also so long and so perverse that if some future government actually tried to reduce our dependence on oil, we taxpayers would then have to compensate the PFI consortium for the reduced traffic. It's hard to imagine a more incompetent and venal financial scheme, and all for a project which is as useless as the second Forth Road Bridge itself.

Remember this next time Labour complain that the SNP have abandoned PFI. And also remember that John Swinney has admitted that the Scottish Futures Trust is from the same family.

Nate Silver from 538 has an interesting and related piece on General Motors, their pension plans and their relationship with the unions. Between the 1950s and the 1980s they made some very generous retirement benefit deals with their employees, deals which weren't even on their balance sheets until 1992. Now those deals are paying out, and the company is on the verge of bankruptcy.

"This issue is wrongly portrayed by both the liberal and the conservative media as one of management versus labor, when really it is a battle between General Motors past and General Motors present. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, everyone benefited: GM and its shareholders got the benefit of higher profit margins, and meanwhile, its employees benefited from GM's willingness to cut a bad deal -- for every dollar they were giving up in salary, those employees were getting a dollar and change back in retirement benefits. But now, everyone is hurting." (thanks, Aaron)

PFI and the SFT work on a similar basis. The Labour and SNP approaches to public spending are not about making savings, they're a battle between current Ministers on one side, keen to deliver shiny photo-ops transport projects but not to pay for them, and on the other side, future taxpayers, who neither government seems to give a monkey's about. Future Ministers are, to a lesser extent, losing out: they will have less money to spend on public services while having to tax harder to get there. 

In 2030 those taxpayers will find themselves still paying for shabby hospitals long pulled down and roads schemes which sit unloved and barely used as we (hopefully) make that transition to a low carbon economy. Meanwhile the architects of their problems - Brown, Swinney, Major and the like - will all be retired and writing volume four of their memoirs. 

Perhaps we can surcharge them and reclaim a bit of our money from their advances. It won't cover the bills they're leaving behind, but it'll make us feel a lot better about it all.

Delusional and pathological.

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alternativeroute.jpgThe Sunday Herald had an advance on today's landmark report from the Sustainable Development Commission (press release), which describes Ministers' attempts to rebuild the same failed economic system, built on growth at all costs, as "delusional" and "pathological". 

These are delusions and pathologies the SNP share with Westminster. The Nats describe their central purpose as "sustainable economic growth". Sustainable should mean "designed to work within our long-term ecological capacity", but here it's a proper weasel word, meaning something they would like to sustain.

In particular, they suffer from the delusion that they can engage on the biggest road-building and airport expansion programme Scotland has seen since the 1960s and still meet any kind of carbon emissions targets. New roads plus new public transport does not reduce emissions, and to think so displays a pathological misunderstanding of some pretty basic science and economics.

Although they're government-funded, the SDC have clearly had enough of being polite about abject government failures of this sort, both north and south of the border. In a quote that would fit well on the cover of a Green manifesto, Professor Jackson, the report's author, says:

"Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society."

They're so on the same page as us that I even lifted their perfect image (above).

By coincidence, Holyrood debated the economy last Thursday. The patchy and limited understanding of sustainability across the chamber makes it pretty depressing fare - the usual exceptions apply. I fear we'll wait a long time before we have a Scottish Government which even understands the problems we face, let alone capable of pursuing constructive answers to them.

Doomsday averted?

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mistyforth.jpgYesterday's SoS covered some deft Swinney spin over spending levels. Although it had a new title - a "doomsday budget" - it was essentially a rehash of the usual SNP point-at-Westminster approach to spending matters. 

The prospect of Scottish budget cuts totalling £2.3bn was floated, a shortfall blamed on the recession, presumably spun as the Downing Street Downturn. The paper explains:

"After inflation, the freeze would be equivalent to a 10% cut in spending on education, health and transport in Scotland, threatening every school, hospital and road project in the country."

Yikes! If only there was a massive, dirty, flaweddisruptive and pointless project currently valued at an eye-catchingly similar sum that could be cancelled instead, which would enable the Scottish Government to provide the actual services they were elected to deliver. 

But what does this story mean? Are the two numbers really coincidental? John Swinney's too smart for that. It's just possible he's preparing an announcement that this white elephant will be cancelled, albeit one that will have to be billed as postponement or similar, and, obviously, blamed on London. Unlikely, perhaps, but it can't be ruled out.

The future of low-cost flying.

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I wouldn't normally repost from B3TA, but this is rather special, apropos of the pay-to-pee idea.


A good Green win.

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My old friend and stalwart Green councillor Steve Burgess just persuaded the City of Edinburgh Council to back his proposals on residents' parking permits. On average, his scheme will reduce the cost of parking in the city, which neatly undermines the usual Clarkson-lite frothing against this kind of measure, while providing real financial incentives to Edinburgh residents to cut their pollution.

The so-called Association of British Drivers, who are presumably as representative as the Taxpayers' Alliance (click that link!), argued that the Council should abide by the results of the consultation. They presumably were not expecting that respondents would be three to one in favour of the Green proposals, and the Council has now indeed honoured that result.

Some residents will pay just £15 a year, those with the least polluting vehicles and who live in the outer areas, while the worst offenders will pay £320 a year to park their behemoths in the town centre. In the grand scheme of things, it's a very moderate measure, I reckon.

Anyway, other than being delighted about a Green win, this is an opportunity to post a pic of the current electric vehicle I've got my eye on. It's the 100% electric and 100% eccentric Aptera: the thinking man's Sinclair C5..

I take this headline from one of the latest crop of Nat bloggers, all identifiable by their Scotsman cybernat identities. Wardog gets very excited about the fact that this would be the only "long span cable-stay bridge in the world to have central crossed cables". To translate, this is the only big bridge announced by the SNP, making it the world's best bridge by definition for this crowd.

Here's the pic the SNP bloggers are afraid to print:

What's a worse waste of money than a white elephant? Three white elephants!

Getting about in the future.

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airship.jpgSome people ask me if they're allowed to go on flights, because I work for the Greens. I think it's weird, but it does happen. 

Other people ask what will happen when oil runs out: will we all be stuck in northwestern Europe, eating only potatoes and drinking only whisky? What happens when cars become simply too expensive to run?

Whether you're more worried by climate change or by peak oil, these are all good questions, apart from the first one. You can heat your home 100% sustainably if you put the effort in. The power can stay on, if we make a proper commitment to renewables. But transport is harder.

So here's the good news. Flying will not only still be possible, if we get back into airship technologies, but it could also be more fun and less like being exported in a veal crate. Admittedly, this same prediction has been made for decades and hasn't proved to be true yet. My father once rang me up (I inherited my airship obsession) to tell me that regular airship flights between Cape Town and New York - did I want to go? Of course I did, but that was just another Branson project that never happened.

The downside with the technology for today's short attention span, limited-holiday-allowance lifestyle is that it'll take longer to get from A to B. In the 1930s it took 75 hours to get from Rio to Frankfurt - at even that speed Marseilles is just 11 hours from Edinburgh, and Melbourne just five days away. Personally, I'm fine with that. The world is still accessible, it's just takes a bit more commitment to get to. The views will be better, you won't need to be buckled in, and there'll be space for a cocktail bar, a games room and the like. 

The reputation of the airship is low, for two reasons. First, the Nazis used them, and that's never good PR. They also invented the Volkswagen Beetle, though, and the hippies still bought those. Secondly, the Hindenburg blew up. While a lot more than 35 people tend to die when aeroplanes come down, leaving aside the almost 3,000 people who die on Britain's roads each year, that hasn't stopped the negative associations.

The secret and the problem are both in the buoyancy. The Germans were denied helium by the Americans during the 1930s, which was understandable. Modern semi-rigids use helium, just as the Germans did before the ban, and helium is both perfectly inert and only 8% less lifty (technical term) than hydrogen, a price well worth paying to avoid dying in a massive fireball. One thing's for sure, even if it still used hydrogen in the envelope and had a cigar smoking room on board it'd feel more safe than the "flying bomb" proposed earlier this year.

The buoyancy is also what makes airships energy-efficient - you're not generating lift by endlessly forcing air over a plane, and the engines are just used for altitude alterations and propulsion. I've seen figures which suggest that an airship can deliver the same payload over the same distance as a 747 for one seventh the energy, assuming we stick with fossil fuels. Another way of looking at that is that they can cruise for a week on the fuel a 747 uses to taxi to the end of the runway, enough to get you to Tokyo and back.

Other plans include augmenting traditional sources of fuel with solar power during the day - there's obviously a large surface area for that - or even going 100% electric. Either way, it's a lot closer to sustainability than a plane.

Another substantial advantage is the ability to put people and goods down almost anywhere, reducing the need for those awkward runways and enabling even the most remote parts of the world to trade, or to receive aid or even tourists. They're just as stable as aeroplanes in extreme weather, and are less likely to be hampered by ice formation.

Predictions of the rebirth of the airship have been endless, and so far it's all come to nothing. However, the next time we get an oil price spike (I foolishly predict November next year) it'll start to look more attractive. I'll be at the bar, looking at the view.

Facing in both directions.

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The SNP have a tendency, like the Liberals, to try and be all things to all people. The First Minister and the Liberal leader accused each other of this exact sin on Thursday at FMQs, like two men stuck down a sewer, each accusing the other of having a bad smell.

The last ten days have shown the SNP's inconsistencies on the environment up in the most graphic manner.

First, they published the Climate Change Bill, which, for the avoidance of doubt is intended to reduce climate change. It's weak in some key places, and even the Tories have pledged to fix some of the loopholes, but I've seen worse Government proposals as a starting point.

However, this week they launched the Strategic Transport Projects Review, which has no hint of a strategy in it, covers public transport ideas so vague they can hardly be called projects, and which failed to demonstrate any actual review of the various roads schemes supposedly under consideration. New bypasses, dualling the A9 all the way to the moon (copyright Alex Johnstone MSP), you name it.

Next they published the National Planning Framework 2, which is full to bursting with warm words about sustainability, but which is designed to remove local planning oversight from demented schemes like the Second Additional Replacement Whatever Forth Road Cars Only Bridge. Public transport and renewables largely take a back seat, although there's some worthwhile grid stuff in it.

Overall, these latter documents could have been designed as an experiment to see how much CO2 can Scotland can feasibly emit. The inconsistencies are glaring and painful.

The roots of the problem are two systematic SNP failures of understanding. First, they think that reducing transport emissions can be done by simply building railway lines, even while boosting road capacity. 

Second, the word "sustainable" confuses them. It appears in the phrase "sustainable economic growth", which is their official Purpose. Purpose, in this usage, is a term so pompous it must always be capitalised, like Historic, as in the Historic Concordat. However often they say sustainable, though, they've misunderstood the meaning completely. They love economic growth, and wish to sustain it. This, for the SNP administration, is the entirety of what "sustainable growth" means. 

For the avoidance of doubt, here's the proper definition of sustainable development, from the Brundtland Commission. It's development which:

"meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"

Relying on the private car and coal-fired power stations, whether "CCS-ready" or not, lets those future generations down. It's time to choose, and I fear it's the climate and the future which will lose out.

Lone auditor of the apocalypse.

| | Comments (2)
forthsmalls.jpgThe additional Forth Road Bridge is, I believe, the clearest way yet visible that the SNP government may be brought down. 

To start with, it's totally unnecessary. They swear blind it's a replacement bridge, despite the evidence that the existing bridge will last another 80 years with either dehumidification (cost: £7.8m - £10.3m) or recabling (cost: £91m - £122m).

Ministers are taking a serious audit risk by pretending that these solutions don't work and pressing on with the myth of bridge replacement, rather telling the truth. The truth is that this is an additional bridge, a pointless boondoggle to allow the SNP to claim they're investing in Fife's vital marginal seats economic interests. 

Furthermore, there's no funding arrangement in place for it. John Swinney is due to make a further announcement about this on Wednesday - apparently it'll cost a billion less, down to a mere £3220m, because contractors will work for peanuts in an economic downturn. That sounds worth relying on.

This absurd project is meant to be a flagship for the Scottish Futures Trust, one of the SNP's least well-considered policies. Like us, they disapprove of the PFI/PPP money drain, so their manifesto proposed the SFT as a bond-issuing mechanism - "With better value bonds we can release more money to invest in the frontline."

Then it turns out that bond issues aren't permitted in the Scotland Act, so it was back to the drawing board. The new version is a so-called non-profit distribution mechanism. Sounds reassuring, except that it means only that there's no ongoing profit-taking, and to "compensate" them, the private sector partners take a much larger fee. That leaves them with the exact same profit at our expense, but it's OK, because it's not "distributing" profits. All happy with that?

What it really is was made clear by the Cabinet Secretary to the Finance Committee in May

"The NPD models are part of the family of public-private partnerships, but PPP is a generic family term for all such approaches."

Same swill, different bottle, in other words.

This project will threaten the SNP in a number of ways. The cost will do anything but come down - there's a small prize for anyone who can find an example of postwar infrastructure which has come in under budget. This will mean the local authority cost cutting which is already getting Labour excited will have to become so savage that SNP councils start to fall out with their Ministers.

The unnecessary nature of the project, the economy with the truth about its purpose, and the shamelessly gargantuan amounts of misspent money are likely to attract the attention of the Auditor General for Scotland (pictured). His role includes "investigating whether public spending bodies achieve the best possible value for money and adhere to the highest standards of financial management." There'll be plenty for him to go on with this project, no doubt about it.

The disruption to road transport, ironically, is likely to cause a decade's worth of congestion north and south of the Firth on a scale never yet seen in Scotland. The tailbacks will spread like a bruise across the east coast, leaving the public begging for proper public transport, many of which could have been built for the same money but which never came up the SNP's priority list. A single party administration which freezes up about a third of the country is unlikely to win re-election in my book.

When it's over, if it does indeed get built, $500 a barrel for oil will make the bridge one massive monument to politicians' vanity and to the SNP's dependence on an outdated fossil fuel economy. I doubt it will ever be finished, though. Edinburgh's folly on Calton Hill will seem like pure prudence in comparison, when four vast and trunkless legs of steel stand in the river..

As a trivial footnote, when Liberal MSP Jeremy Purvis was faced with all this waste, he seemed concerned primarily about the small change:

"The trust is an extremely expensive empty vessel. Its cost of £23m is a scandalous waste of money when all that it now appears to be is a lobby arm."

I'm more worried about the 140 to 180 times more money that's being wasted on the bridge project as a whole. Talk about missing the big picture. But then the other opposition parties haven't worked out that there's a political opportunity here. They'd rather hitch themselves to the SNP and be complicit in their failure, it seems, than oppose this nonsense on stilts and be ready to pick up the pieces.

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Transport category.

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