Monthly Archives: November 2013

Omnibus Society – new web site

‘The Omnibus Society is delighted to announce that its new web-site, produced by Paligap in Ayr, is now live. You can access it at Our target date of 1st November has been met in most areas except two. The Photo Sales part of the site is still under construction and we are not rushing this to ensure we are able to cope with demand and to ensure the security of the photos is robust. This should be available within the next few months.

‘Many members will have renewed already using the forms sent out, however if you have not, you can renew using the link to our secure payment part of the site using your username (membership number with no spurious letters) and password.’


Ten-lorry convoys could save lives and protect the planet

Philip Pank, The Times, 7 October 2013.

Automated “platoons” of up to ten lorries in a row, all controlled by computer, could be heading for British roads under a plan to revolutionise freight transport.

The Department for Transport is sending a fact-finding mission led by Bernie Frost, its chief engineer, to Sweden to assess tests of the technology on the main Swedish motorway.

The convoys of lorries are designed to cut emissions because of reduced drag and to save lives by removing the capacity for human error.

The department will publish a feasibility study for a possible trial on British trunk roads in December, despite early fears that the technology may be vulnerable to computer hackers and is likely to spread fear and confusion among British drivers.

A computerised convoy took to the E4 motorway south of Stockholm last week. Despite the initial shock at watching a driver hand control of his brakes and accelerator to a wi-fi box mounted on the dashboard of his 40-tonne truck, the system appeared to work well.

Other drivers were unfazed by passing a 120-tonne, 30-wheel road train.

Scientists from Scania, the lorry manufacturer, claim that fuel bills and emissions will be cut by 10 per cent and that the reduced gaps between vehicles will mean that more traffic can be squeezed on to congested motorways.

They are lobbying governments to change the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which sets international driving standards, to allow automated driving across Europe.

“We can do this if society gives us the green light. Technology is safer than drivers, particularly in bad weather,” said Gunnar Tornmalm, head of materials technology at Scania.

However, safety campaigners are wary of relaxing the rules governing the haulage fleet, which is responsible for 10 per cent of the 35,000 people killed on European roads each year.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “While HGV platoons might work in the Outback of Australia, freeways of Nevada or deserted highways of Sweden, I don’t think they would work on the congested motorways of Britain. We have a smaller landmass, fewer roads and more motorway entries and exits.” He added: “There would be obvious dangers of long platoons blocking road signs, obstructing cars getting on and off motorways and intimidating some drivers.”

A DfT document acknowledged many of those concerns, but it concluded that “this type of transport system could have huge benefits if it could be safely implemented on UK roads”.

The main benefits are derived from technology that allows trucks to travel far closer together than at present, cutting the distance between lorries from an average two or three seconds to just one, or even half a second — less than ten metres at 50mph. This reduces drag and cuts fuel consumption and emissions by up to 10 per cent.

The lorries communicate via wi-fi so that each is instantly aware of changes in acceleration or braking of the lead vehicle and automatically follows suit.

So far, 38 trucks and 130 drivers have been used in road tests. The drivers are divided on the system’s merits.


We Must Drive Down Bus Fares

Will Straw (Associate Director for Climate Change, Energy and Transport, Institute for Public Policy Research), The Times, 9 October 2013.

Commuters reading their morning paper could be excused for thinking that energy prices are the main cause of the cost of living crisis.

The truth is that getting to and from work costs about three times as much as keeping the lights on and homes warm. Average households spend £65.70 a week on transport but just £20.20 on gas and electricity.

All political parties aimed to address transport during their party conferences but it was overshadowed by announcements on energy prices. George Osborne announced a further fuel duty freeze for motorists and Labour announced a slew of measures to address rising rail fares.

Bus policy got left in the manifesto depot. Although they make up a small proportion of overall family spending, buses are the most popular form of public transport: 5.2 billion passenger journeys were made on local buses in 2012 compared to 1.5 billion rail journeys. These users — particularly the young, old and those from poorer families — have been subject to the fastest price rises. From 1997 to 2012 bus fares rose 28 per cent above inflation compared to a 21 per cent rise in rail fares. Meanwhile, motoring costs have fallen by 6 per cent.

So how should politicians address the “cost of buses” crisis? Lessons must be learnt from the failed free market experiment of the 1980s. The 1985 Transport Act privatised and deregulated most bus markets with catastrophic consequences. Bus usage outside London is now a third lower now than it was at the time of the 1985 Transport Act.

Meanwhile in London, which was never deregulated, bus use has doubled over the same period. Public bodies were given powers to set fares, routes and service levels. London bus usage exploded after the decision by Ken Livingstone to use public funding from Transport for London to increase provision. Because London’s market is functioning, subsidy levels per passenger are lower in the capital than in the rest of Britain.

Outside London, the powers currently available to local authorities to intervene in bus markets have never been used properly, because bus operators use their market dominance (five companies have two thirds of the market) to threaten the withdrawal of key services. Creating new bodies with the scale to challenge operators and the powers to regulate prices would be the best way to increase quality and reduce prices.

For too long trains and automobiles have dominated political thinking on transport. It’s time for politicians to get on the bus.