Monthly Archives: July 2014

Bids to take over Victorian tram shed in Cardiff

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-28440730, 31 July 2014

Tramsheds The building has been up for sale for 18 months

Historic tram and trolley bus sheds could become a new cultural centre for the Welsh capital.

The Grade II listed buildings in the Grangetown area of Cardiff were put on the market 18 months ago.

The council has confirmed its received offers for the Victorian buildings, and is looking for a “viable and sustainable solution” for the site.

Local politicians say arts and culture must play a part in any new development.

A deadline for interest parties has now ended and the council has confirmed bids have been received.

A spokesman said the council was now looking to “see the building fully refurbished in line with its listed status, including potential community uses”.

It is understood one of the bids involves a mix of business and living space.

The building at Pendyris Street, which is on the edge of Grangetown, is across the river from a new enterprise zone which is seen as key to the city centre’s regeneration.

Artist impression of how the sheds might be developed Artist impression of how the sheds might be developed
Inside the tram sheds The building was a venue for three exhibitions as part of the Diffusion festival

Conditions of the sale for business use have been to include a community room, with hopes also of potentially developing arts and dance studios, an auditorium or cinema, alongside small businesses and work units.

The building was formerly earmarked as a contemporary art gallery as part of the city’s failed European City of Culture bid more than a decade ago.

Over the last year, pop-up photographic exhibitions have been held as part of a city-wide festival, as well as a dance and animation event to showcase the building’s potential.

The depot was used to house trams, which ran in the area from the early 1880s, and then trolley buses until they stopped running 60 years ago.

The building had been used for repairing council vehicles over recent years but its redbrick facade with arches is listed.

David Drake, director of Ffotogallery – which is looking for a new Cardiff home – has met with universities, arts organisations and innovations group Nesta, about a partnership to develop the building.

He said it was good news a credible developer had come forward and he was keen to speak to them once negotiations with the council were complete.

“We think it’s a fantastic space and we’d love to do something again there with the Diffusion festival next year,” he said.

“With the BBC’s plans for the front of the station, that whole area will be changing in character and it would bring the Tramsheds back towards what’s going on in the city centre.

“It’s also a very interesting building with a lively residential community in Grangetown and Riverside nearby and it would be fantastic to develop community and cultural provision for that area.”

Local councillor Ashley Govier said he was encouraged there had been interest.

“I still want to see a cultural centre, similar to what you see at Chapter but reflecting the different cultures in this area.”

Related Stories

Dundee bus driver shamed on TV unfairly dismissed

The Courier, 28 July 2014. Contributed by Philip Kirk, who knows about these things – “I don’t know who has more to learn from all of this: the company, the driver or the omnibologist!”

A Dundee bus driver whose rude gesture at a bus spotter was seen on BBC’s Have I Got News For You was unfairly dismissed.

An employment tribunal has ruled that National Express Dundee was wrong to sack Scott McDonald for raising his middle finger at the enthusiast who was photographing his vehicle.

The incident should have been treated as a “one off” and although the driver’s behaviour was stupid he should not have been sacked.

Mr McDonald, 29, was driving one of the company’s new hybrid buses in Commercial Street in August last year when the omnibologist took the picture. The driver gave him the “bird” sign by raising his middle finger.

The spotter reported the episode to the company, whose acting assistant operations manager Philip Bowen called Mr McDonald to a “fact-finding” meeting.

Mr McDonald said he had made the gesture because he didn’t like his photograph being taken by strangers. He admitted his conduct was not befitting that of a professional PCV driver and he had tarnished the company’s image.

He said he would not repeat the incident. Mr Bowen told him he was being suspended on full pay and that the matter was being referred to the disciplinary procedure.

At a meeting on August 23, Mr McDonald said he was suffering from issues outside work, had been feeling edgy and the incident was a stupid mistake.

With the company’s assistance he had attended a counselling session but felt he needed more.

He apologised for the incident, was remorseful and pledged there would be no repeat, and said he would apologise to the complainant if necessary.

Mr Bowen decided to escalate the case to a level where it would be considered by a manager with the authority to dismiss.

He was later told by a friend the photograph had appeared on the BBC’s satirical quiz show featuring Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.

At the higher level hearing on August 29 conducted by Paul Clark, then operations manager, Mr McDonald referred to his personal issues and said he was “pushed over the edge”.

Unite branch chairman Robert McKelvie, who accompanied Mr McDonald, referred to a similar case in which a driver who had given a passenger a V-sign was sacked but later reinstated after an appeal.

Mr Clark adjourned the meeting to check McDonald’s employment file and learned that he had not attended further counselling, although there was a doubt about him having received a letter about such sessions.

He reconvened the meeting and said Mr McDonald had brought the company into disrepute and was being dismissed. Mr McDonald appealed on grounds of excessive severity but managing director Phil Smith ruled that the dismissal would stand.

Tribunal judge Ian McFatridge said Mr McDonald’s behaviour had been unacceptable but the company’s disciplinary policy did not specify that making hand signals at drivers or pedestrians would be viewed as serious or gross misconduct leading to dismissal.

Mr Smith was incorrect when he stated Mr McDonald’s gesture could be categorised as “violence towards another person during the course of their duties or while attending work”.

Mr McFatridge said the fact that Mr Smith had given evidence to this effect indicated “he had to some extent lost any sense of proportion over the incident”.

The gesture was unacceptable and stupid but not at the most serious end of the spectrum.

Mr McDonald should have been subject to some disciplinary penalty but dismissal was outwith the band of reasonable responses.

Mr McDonald has since gained another job and the tribunal ruled that his compensation should be reduced to £5,516.47 because of his contributory actions.

He said at the weekend: “I am happy that I won my case and that I’ve got back everything I lost in the last year.”

A spokeswoman for National Express Dundee said the company were aware of the judgment.

http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/local/dundee/have-i-got-news-for-you-dundee-bus-driver-shamed-on-tv-unfairly-dismissed-1.494366

Surprising Things You Never Knew About Transport – Short Films …

Why do most Park and Ride schemes cause an increase in overall traffic? Why do people living in high density housing make fewer journeys than people in suburbs but still cause more traffic congestion? How does our use of travel time impact on travel choice? Is time spent travelling wasted or can it be a ‘welcome gift’? Does an increase in traffic inevitably equal an increase in accident rates?

These are some of the questions posed by Researchers from the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in a series of short films, ‘Surprising Things You Never Knew About Transport’ which challenge received wisdom amongst the general public and, in some cases, politicians.

Link to press release: http://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=2891

Link to short films: http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/et/research/cts/transportfilms.aspx

 

Dr Steve Melia
Senior Lecturer
Centre for Transport & Society
Department of Geography and Environmental Management University of the West of England
Coldharbour Lane
Bristol
S16 1QY

0117 328 3267

 

Ray the robot solves parking problems

The Times, David Charter, 25 June 2014.

The days of driving around to find an elusive multistorey car parking space may be numbered — thanks to a German robot called Ray.

A machine carries a white Audi saloon in an underground car park

Motorists at Düsseldorf airport can leave their cars at drop-off zones and summon the laser-guided robotic forklift to scoop it up and store it away.

Without the need for manoeuvring or for car doors to open, the mechanical parking attendant claims to fit 60 per cent more vehicles into the same space than human drivers would manage.

“This technology is especially handy during peak times,” said Christian Jahncke, the managing director of SITA Airport IT, which oversees parking at the airport. “Instead of spending millions of euros to extend our garages, we could simply make better use of the space we already have.”

Ray has four wheels that can turn through 360 degrees to negotiate tight turns; calculates the position of vehicle wheels, and assesses other factors such as weight and protruding wing mirrors and bumpers. It even takes photos so there can be no arguing about scratches or bumps.

Ray approaches from the side and picks up the car by sliding its forks under the wheels. The car is carried to a space selected by the system’s software and automatically returned when the driver pays the ticket.

 

AA gets a puncture as shares fall below offer price on debut

The Times, Patrick Hosking and Susan Thompson, 24 June 2014.

The AA made a disappointing share market debut yesterday as its stock, spluttered, coughed and promptly went into reverse.

Investors who bought £1.385 billion worth of shares in the roadside recovery group were nursing immediate paper losses of £97 million as the shares ended the first day of conditional dealings at 232p, 7 per cent below the 250p purchase price.

However, demand for the shares was described by the company as “strong” and enabled the previous owner, the private equity-backed Acromas, to offload its entire holding in the company.

Acromas suffered a setback last month when it was unable to sell its shares in Saga, the over-50s insurer, because of weak institutional investor appetite for the initial public offering.

Bob Mackenzie, the former Green Flag chief and newly installed executive chairman of AA, put a brave face on events. “We’re more interested in what happens when unconditional trading begins on Thursday,” he said.

Advisers to the AA suggested that the falling price could be down to short-sellers betting that it would suffer the same fate as so many other recent flotations and drop to a discount

In an unusual two-step buy-in and float process, £930 million of AA shares were sold this month to a handful of cornerstone investors backing a new management team led by Mr Mackenzie, with the balance placed subsequently with other investors. Neil Woodford, the fund manager who recently left Invesco to set up his own business, emerged as a leading investor, buying 6.4 per cent of the company, and joining other cornerstone shareholders such as Aviva, Blackrock and L&G. The AA, which operates the BSM driving school and a motor insurance division as well as its 3,000-strong fleet of breakdown vehicles, raised £185 million by selling 85 million of newly issued shares.

The cash will be used to reduce some of the most expensive borrowings in its debt mountain, cutting it from £3.1 billion to £2.9 billion.

Cenkos, the sole co-ordinator, scooped up to £33.2 million in placing fees, £10 million of it paid in AA shares.

 

Black cab protest backfires by promoting app for rivals

The Times, Phillip Pank (Transport Correspondent), 13 June 2014.

Organisers of a black cab protest against the Uber mini-cab app are planning further action even though a go-slow demonstration on Wednesday appeared to have backfired by generating publicity worth tens of millions of pounds for the rival service.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, was due to meet Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, last night to discuss the dispute over the app which is undercutting traditional taxi operators.

The app surged from No 26 in the iTunes most popular chart on the eve of the protest to No 3 yesterday, surpassed only by Fifa’s World Cup app and Facebook’s Messenger service. The company claimed that it enjoyed an 850 per cent increase in business.

However, it refused to reveal how many passengers used its service or the number of drivers it had in London and Manchester.

Marketing executives claimed that the protest, which brought central London to a standstill, had been a spectacular miscalculation. Analysis of social media showed that many more people were opposed to the demonstration than supported it.

Ian Stephens, head of Saffron Brand Consultants, said: “I think it is a massive own goal. Uber have come across as the consumer champion, saying ‘We are just trying to do the best for the consumer’.”

He estimated that the exposure on television, radio and in newspapers was worth up to £100 million for the brand in terms of advertising. ”

Mr McNamara said they were aware of the risks of publicising Uber but “took the decision that there are a set number of people who use mini-cab apps in London and the vast majority of those would be aware of Uber”.

He said that the Mayor had joined those voicing concerns over Uber’s decision to channel all payments from the UK through the Netherlands. Critics claim that the company is seeking to avoid UK taxes and take advantage of lower tax rates in the Netherlands.

Mr McNamara said: “We will be having more protests. Quite a lot of cabbies enjoyed themselves yesterday.”

Jo Bertram, general manager for Uber London, declined to say how many new users subscribed to the service. “We do not typically share that but it was in the thousands,” she said. Ms Bertram insisted that the company was compliant with tax laws.

Taxi drivers in Paris, Berlin and Madrid staged protests on the same day as the London demonstration. Transport for London has asked the High Court to decide whether the app, which uses GPS tracking to measure distance traveled and time to calculate fares, should be classed as a taximeter. Only black cabs are allowed by law to use one.

 

Cabbies bring London to halt in anti-Uber protest

The Times, Phillip Pank (Transport Correspondent), 12 June 2014.

Thousands of taxi drivers brought central London to a standstill today during a “go-slow” protest against a mobile phone app that is undercutting their business.

A giant snake of black cabs choked Whitehall, the Mall, Victoria Embankment, Victoria Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street and countless other roads.

The cab drivers claimed to be acting in defence of their livelihoods, but for the organisers of a protest estimated to have cost the capital more than £100 million, it was also the opening salvo in a political war against Boris Johnson, the London mayor.

The Metropolitan police imposed an hour-long limit on the stoppage and set geographical boundaries. A spokesman said no arrests were made even though neither condition appeared to have been met.

At the heart of the dispute was a preliminary ruling by the mayor’s transport team that the Uber mobile phone app, which uses GPS tracking to measure time and distance to calculate fares, was different from a “taximeter”, which can only be carried by black cabs.

Uber claims that its passengers pay up to 50 per cent less than black taxi fares. Payments are made through a Dutch company, leading to claims that Uber is trying to avoid UK taxes, but the company insists that it pays everything it owes to the taxman.

Key roads were blocked by two lanes of black cabs in both directions as drivers congregated around Trafalgar Square. Bemused tourists looked on as taxi drivers stood in groups chatting next to their stationary vehicles.

Hundreds of would-be cabbies taking the “Knowledge” sounded the horns of their scooters as organisers from the RMT and GMB unions led chants of “Boris, Boris, Boris, out, out, out”.

Lewis Norton, of the RMT taxi drivers’ branch, said: “This is an ideological attack on public transport to give more power to the private sector and big business from America.”

Mr Johnson said: “Black cab drivers are the face of London. There must, however, be a place for new technology to work in harmony with the black cab, and we shouldn’t unnecessarily restrict new ideas that are of genuine benefit to Londoners.”

The protest organisers believe that Mr Johnson is failing to implement laws designed to safeguard their trade. They also accused him of calling in the police to disrupt their lawful protest.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, clutching a public order notice served by officers before the protest had even begun, claimed that Mr Johnson was unfairly siding with Uber’s “pick-up service” and its backers, including Google and Goldman Sachs.

Jo Bertram, of Uber London, said: “Unsurprisingly, the LTDA, which is stuck in the dark ages, is intent on holding London to ransom and causing significant economic impact to Londoners today, estimated to be £125 million.”

 

The US is finally falling out of love with cars

The Times, Justin Webb, 24 June 2014.

Fewer Americans are inclined to drive, which means a shift from suburbs to city centres

‘Saturday night in the suburbs, that’s when you really want blow to your brains out.” Ah yes: the American suburbs, Don Draper in Mad Men was playing on a well-established theme: the white picket fences enclose some of the profoundest American angst: think The Ice Storm, The Stepford Wives, American Beauty.

For a generation Americans have loved their suburbs and hated themselves for loving them.

But for all the fuss created by arty types the direction of travel was still one way: out of the cities and into the burbs. Hollywood could scoff but it could never kill the dream of the silent majority. America has been, since the 1950s brought new cars and new roads into ordinary lives, an increasingly suburban nation. The suburbs have dominated the psyche of the United States and also its social values and its politics.

It all ended on Tuesday, January 27 this year (I shall argue for the sake of brevity) when the people of Atlanta fell out of love with their cars. On that day Atlanta came to a halt. There had been a warning of a snowstorm and workers had been told to get home early. A million cars took to the roads at almost the same moment. The rest of the nation giggled at the sight of southerners trying to drive in snow, then looked on increasingly perturbed as a disaster unfolded that had very little to do with snow (only two inches actually fell) but a great deal to do with gridlock and a clapped out infrastructure. And — the more thoughtful observed — a way of life that no longer works.

People were trapped in their cars for 12, 16, 20 hours. Children slept in schools. Atlanta historian Rebecca Burns wrote a few days later: “This snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it.”

Months after the snowstorm Americans are about to embark on the summer “driving season” with those words ringing in their ears. Are they taking any notice? Well, yes actually.

After rising almost continuously since the Second World War, driving by American households has declined nearly 10 per cent since 2004. At first people assumed it was the effect of the recession. But now they are not so sure. Car ownership, car driving, just isn’t sexy any more. Young Americans in particular prefer a cool app to a Mustang, a screen to a windscreen: this year under 70 per cent of American 19-year-olds have driving licences, down from 87 per cent two decades ago.

This disinclination to drive, and even to own a car, will change America. Combine it with the impact of technology on cars — driverless motoring and easy ride-sharing — and the picture is one of a nation about to reverse decades of sprawl and all that goes with it. You cannot live in the American suburbs without a car. You wouldn’t want to. So what will happen?

You are seeing the future already in San Francisco. On a visit there a few weeks ago I was told that the real action now in the tech world is in the city itself; Palo Alto and Mountain View still host the suburban headquarters of Google and the other vintage tech names; but the cool kids prefer the city. In fact Google is reported to have given in, planning a new building in the centre of San Francisco. It’s the coffee bars, stupid. And what occurs in them: the friendships, the chance encounters, the hook-ups of all varieties. That doesn’t happen in a drive-in Waffle House.

The big question of course is whether the re-urbanisation of America would change its politics. You have already ditched the car but do you need the gun if your neighbours are just across the landing? Perhaps you worry less about crime when the neighbourhood is mixed and fear of bogeymen reduced by actually living among them?

Another thought: do you continue to live life online and in the mall when you live in the city or do you meet people face to face more often? Does the hunger for live events in the internet age — concerts, exhibitions, demonstrations — encourage people to meet and talk again?

No one knows yet what the effects will be but it’s difficult to believe that America’s view of itself can remain unchanged in the face of what many left-wing Americans believe is a mighty revolution. America is only in the beginning stages of a historic urban reordering, according to the New York-based architect and academic Vishaan Chakrabarti, who wrote in The New York Times recently: “Given these demographic shifts, we have an unsurpassed opportunity to transform the United States into a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable country by encouraging a more urban America.”

No wonder so many Republicans equate public transport with socialism. They might be right.

 

Black cab blues

Letter to The Times, 9 June 2014.

Portable digital technology is a challenge to the old-fashioned organisation of taxis and hire cars

Sir, This week London is going to halt when angry cabbies protest about the Uber car service. They say Uber is taking their work but does not have to respect the same regulations.

Since Uber and Hailo appeared people have begun to realise that the private hire and taxi industry has enormous potential. As a trade, we should embrace these changes and accept that global taxi brands are coming. I think Uber is wrong in seeking to eliminate the taxi operator altogether, rather than working with existing networks. Private operators already have two thirds of the market and providing an excellent service.

Uber may be the Goliath of the taxi industry but the market is gearing up to meet the challenge head on. We live in dynamic times.

Chris Jordan

Cabfind.com