Monthly Archives: August 2015

All aboard to beat the Tube strike …

They’re not always known for their sunny disposition and helpful manner, but London’s bus drivers won the praise of passengers yesterday for keeping the capital moving in the face of a Tube strike that had threatened to bring chaos.

Commuters took to social media to salute some of the 8,200 drivers who were behind the wheel at the height of the industrial action.

Despite earning less than half that of their peers on the Underground, many drivers came in on their days off to work additional shifts, with 250 extra buses put into service.

This included about 60 drivers taking control of a fleet of vintage buses — some dating from 1946 — that was drafted in to ease overcrowding on routes in central London and the East End.

One over-eager driver was pictured cutting his bus in front of an ambulance and jumping a red light in an attempt to beat the traffic. Others were lauded for their calm amid the chaos.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, condemned the “bone-headed” strike and accused unions of holding a gun to Londoners’ heads with the action — the second walkout in a month.

The 24-hour strike, which ended last night, was called as part of a long-running protest over the introduction of an all-night Tube service. Unions want guarantees on working hours, more pay and extra staff. Other strikes are expected within weeks.

It emerged yesterday that the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), one of four involved in the dispute, was calling for pay rises in line with increases in the capital’s house prices, which are predicted to rise by 25 per cent over five years.

The walkout led to lengthy queues for buses and cramped conditions on vehicles. Some passengers complained of sweltering conditions on the mayor’s new generation of Routemasters.

One private bus company, Travel Masters, began an investigation after a driver was filmed swearing and racially abusing a passenger.

At the peak of the morning rush-hour, almost 200 miles of queueing traffic and 428 jams were recorded by the satellite navigation company TomTom. There was double the congestion on a normal Thursday in the capital.

Many passengers found reasons to be cheerful, however. “Today is a momentous day: the bus driver let us stand on the top deck,” one wrote on Twitter.

Another passenger said: “My bus driver was on another level this morning. He deserves a raise.” A third said: “After this morning’s save by an epic bus driver, I think we should halve Tube staff pay and double bus drivers’.” Other comments included a passenger who said: “Totally impressed with my calm bus driver amongst the chaos and impatient commuters.”

Another added: “Yay! Friendly Geordie bus driver got me to my bucket collection early. Winning on Tube strike day.”

Some drivers were a little too eager to get their passengers to their destination on time, however. One London Ambulance worker posted a picture online of the back of a bus, adding: “This bus pulled out in front of my ambulance in Euston then jumped a red light!”

Natasha Lambert, 42, a driver for Go-Ahead London, the biggest bus operator in the capital, was behind the wheel of the 77 between Tooting and Waterloo yesterday. Part of the route was a nightmare, she said, explaining how she used her PA system to warn passengers of jams ahead, allowing them to get off early and walk. In another incident, she left her cab at Waterloo to escort a passenger to the correct stop.

“Sometimes bus drivers do get a raw deal but there are quite a few people like myself who will go the extra mile to help passengers out,” she said. “Talking politely tends to neutralise every situation; that’s what I find. I have a calm nature.”

Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said: “Our dispute is not with the travelling public, it is with those who have botched the introduction of Night Tube and who are trying to plug staffing gaps by wrecking any chance of a decent work/life balance for our members. It really is as simple as that.”

How the jobs compare

Bus driver
Pay Typical pay ranges from £17,000 to £25,000, depending on which of the 18 companies in the capital a driver works for, according to the unions. In some cases salaries can reach just under £30,000
Hours Bus drivers typically work a 38-hour week on one of 670 routes, with some working night shifts
Holiday One of the biggest companies in the capital says that staff are given 20 days’ holiday a year, rising to 23 days after five years

Tube driver
Pay Drivers start on £49,673 a year, well above the £41,500 average London salary, according to Transport for London. After five years, salaries can rise to between £50,000 and £60,000
Hours Underground drivers work a standard 36-hour week. Some Tube unions have been campaigning for drivers to be put on a 32-hour, four-day week
Holiday Drivers are entitled to 43 days of leave every year


London omnibus (Times letter) …

The Times letters, 10 August 2015

Sir, The help given once again by buses in keeping London moving during a Tube strike (report, August 7 and letter, August 8) should serve as a reminder to our politicians not to neglect this mode of transport in formulating policy. For a fraction of what they spend on rail and road building they could do much to speed up bus journeys, for instance by installing more reserved lanes and giving buses priority at traffic lights wherever possible. In London, the mayor needs to ensure that his commendable cycling initiatives are not bought at the cost of extra delay to buses and their passengers.

Barry Goodchild
Carshalton, Surrey

Green light for roads that power your car …

Trials of Scalextric-style roads will start within weeks as part of a multimillion-pound plan to encourage motorists to drive electric cars.

Tests on practice tracks will begin in the autumn to develop technology that allows electric and hybrid cars to be charged as they are driven. The wireless system involves transferring power from an electric cable buried in the road to a passing car, dramatically boosting the vehicle’s range.

Highways England plans to test the “dynamic wireless power transfer” system for 18 months before progressing to full on-road trials. The government-owned company said the off-road trial would cost £4.1 million.

Motorists would be charged to use the system, which could be installed on motorways and major A-roads. A high-voltage line would be placed alongside the road, feeding coils buried beneath the highway. An electromagnetic field would be generated when a secondary coil in the car passed overhead, transferring energy to the vehicle.

A feasibility study commissioned by the agency admitted that the technology would be expensive to install and may not trigger a huge increase in the take-up of environmentally friendly cars. The report estimated that it would cost £17 million a kilometre to adapt a motorway and as much as £425,000 to connect it to the electricity grid.

The study also found that the network could interfere with the car’s electric technology. Motorists did not find that the system “was the breakthrough technology they were waiting for” but it could be an influencing factor in promoting green vehicles, the report said.

Similar technology has already been adapted to power buses in Milton Keynes, charging stationary vehicles at key points.

Highways England says no cars are being built with wireless charging systems but “several are in advanced trials and demonstration systems exist in a number of countries”.

The trial is being funded through a £500 million government fund to encourage drivers to shift to environmentally friendly cars. Other schemes include the installation of charging points every 20 miles on motorways.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that more than 35,000 electric cars had been registered in Britain since 2001.

Andrew Jones, the roads minister, said: “The potential to recharge low emission vehicles on the move offers exciting possibilities.”

Mike Wilson, Highways England’s chief engineer, said the new technology would help “to create a more sustainable road network and open up new opportunities for businesses that transport goods across the country”.


Online shopping fuels rise of the mega-lorry …

The popularity of internet shopping is thought to be driving a large rise in the number of small vans and “mega-trucks” on British roads.

Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency show that almost 3.5 million small delivery vehicles were registered in the UK last year, up by a quarter in ten years.

There was also a five-fold increase in the number of the very biggest lorries — 44 tonnes — on the road last year compared with a decade earlier.

Experts said the rise in “little and large” vehicles reflected Britain’s increasing shift towards online shopping, with huge trucks needed to feed vast distribution centres, while the “white van man” made home deliveries.

Separate figures from the Department for Transport showed that traffic levels in towns and cities were up by 2.3 per cent in the past year. The average speed on major roads during the morning rush hour is now less than 24mph and only 15mph in London.

BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, which carried out the analysis, said the boom in online shopping was being driven by the likes of Amazon, Asos, John Lewis and Tesco, which have all built huge distribution centres to manage the process.

Clothing retailers in particular are sending dozen of items from warehouses to customers’ homes, even though the majority of items are sent back after being tried on, the experts claimed.

Tristan Watkins, BNP Paribas’s UK manager, said: “At one end of the supply chain, retailers and haulage companies are investing more in larger vehicles.

“At the distribution end there is much more demand for fleets of smaller vans capable of delivering orders to strict schedules and the kind of tight delivery windows that consumers are increasingly coming to expect.”

According to official figures, there were 3.45 million vans registered in the UK last year, compared with 2.79 million in the year before. In addition, 921 of the very heaviest HGVs were registered with the DVLA, compared with only 179 a decade earlier.


Tax concessions urged to help commuters go the extra mile …

Workers should be given tax breaks to share cars as part of reforms to encourage more people to commute long distances, ministers have been told.

Employers should be able to issue pre-tax travel vouchers to staff taking part in ride-sharing schemes under proposals to ease the cost of commuting, according to the proposals.

Policy Exchange, the right-of-centre think tank, said that ministers should also consider giving workers access to pay-as-you-travel car hire schemes, cut-price part-time rail season tickets and hail-and-ride minibus services.

The recommendations came as figures showed that large numbers of people were struggling to find jobs because of the expense of commuting long distances, particularly outside southeast England.

Over the past decade 12 jobs have been created in cities in the south for every one created in cities across the rest of Britain, researchers found.

The study analysed employment opportunities around seven “city regions” outside the southeast — Bristol, Nottingham, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands, and Tyneside.

It found that people living in a third of local authorities within these regions had no “major employment” sites — such as large city centres — within a 20-minute commute. These included towns such as Oldham, Rochdale, Mansfield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

The report said adults needed greater access to cut-price travel to enable them to commute for longer distances.

Damian Hind, who wrote the report, said: “Commuting can be expensive and tiring, but longer commutes can hugely increase people’s job prospects. The government needs to make transport cheaper so people can commute further and more efficiently so that they can get to work faster. Reducing the costs associated with longer commutes is one of the best ways to boost employment and wages.”

The report recommended setting up tax breaks for ride-sharing schemes similar to those established for childcare — when the cost of vouchers worth a fixed value are taken from an employee’s salary before income tax and national insurance are deducted.

Employers could issue staff with a pre-paid credit card to be used for fuel and vehicle maintenance if they agreed to share vehicles with other workers, “potentially saving people hundreds of pounds a year”, the study said.

It also proposed the extension of schemes such as the one run by Croydon council, in south London, which allows staff to hire a pay-as-you-go Zipcar to get to work at a reduced rate. The vehicles are given over exclusively to council employees during traditional working hours before becoming available to the public at other times.

Other ideas included the introduction of part-time season tickets, which would allow commuters to buy a cheap annual rail card if they only planned to use it for two or three days a week. Currently, rail cards cost the same irrespective of the number of journeys actually taken — making them largely pointless for part-time workers.


Revealed: Britain’s cycling blackspots …

The Times, 20 August 2015, Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent

Britain’s most dangerous road junctions have been identified in a new analysis that shows the accident blackspots where cyclists are being injured every few weeks.

Interactive maps show the junctions in London, Cambridge and rural Devon that had the largest number of crashes last year.

The worst area was a junction close to the site of the London Olympics in east London where cycling was given a huge boost by the achievements of Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott in 2012. Eight cyclists were injured close to the junction of Stratford High Street and Warton Road, east London, with another two recorded only yards away.

These occurred despite the fact that a clearly marked blue cycle lane has already been installed by Transport for London along the main road into the centre of the city as part of the “cycle superhighway” programme introduced by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London.

Cycling groups pointed out that a raised kerb used to segregate cyclists from traffic stopped at the junction — leaving riders at the mercy of turning vehicles.

The interactive maps, produced by Esri UK and The Times digital team, are published today as part of the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign. They show that 75 per cent of all cycling injuries recorded last year happened within 30 metres of a junction or roundabout.

The analysis follows the publication of statistics from the Department for Transport showing that 21,287 cyclists were injured on Britain’s roads last year. It was up by 9.5 per cent in 12 months and represented the highest number of cycling casualties since 1999. A total of 113 people were killed.

Cyclists are the only road users for whom injury rates have risen since the mid-2000s, partly on account of a big increase in the number of people taking to their bikes. Ministers are spending £318 million to boost cycling infrastructure, including more designated cycle lanes and safety lessons for schoolchildren.

Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at CTC, the national cycling charity, insisted that it was wrong to restrict improvements to those junctions with recorded accidents.

“These maps highlight the crying need to give cyclists greater safety and priority, particularly at junctions,” he said. “However, junctions with large numbers of cycling injuries aren’t the most ‘dangerous’, they may simply be well used by cyclists. Equally, a lethal edge-of-town junction with a motorway might have no cycling injuries because nobody dreams of cycling there. Still, both types will need safety improvements if cycling is to become a safe activity for everyone.”

The analysis shows that six of the top eight junctions with the highest accident rates were in London — in Deptford, Clapham, Peckham, Shoreditch and Stepney Green.

The roundabout between Trumpington Street and Lensfield Road in Cambridge was the second worst blackspot with seven accidents last year. The only rural blackspot was on the A3072 near Beaworthy in Devon where cyclists were injured in six accidents last year.


‘Dirty’ diesel engine was a brilliant invention that’s been unfairly demonised …

The Times, 20 August 2015, George Trefgarne

The green lobby may not be happy but for many businesses and individuals, the best economic news for ages was the drop in the price of diesel

For many businesses and individuals, the best economic news for ages is the huge drop in the price of diesel. It is now under 113p a litre and, according to the AA, cheaper than petrol for the first time since 2001.

The green lobby is not so happy, however. You may have noticed that a curious diesel scare story is abroad, with the media reporting that diesel cars “cause” or are “linked to” 29,000 deaths a year. Islington council in London is forcing owners to pay a £96 surcharge for a parking permit and what starts there will likely catch on in other go-ahead boroughs like Brighton, Camden and Bath. Having spent 20 years encouraging us into diesel cars, it seems the authorities now want to get us out of them.

What are we to make of all this? As usual when it comes to energy, the answer is a fascinating cocktail of international politics, innovation and disinformation. Let us start by clearing up a common misconception, that a barrel of oil can be refined either into petrol or diesel. This is incorrect. They are both produced simultaneously in a fairly fixed ratio during the process. Gasoline is a lighter distillate, produced at a lower temperature and diesel is a middle distillate, which emerges at a higher one. According to the US Energy Information Administration, a typical barrel of oil is refined into 13 gallons of diesel and 19 gallons of gasoline.

Attempts to force drivers to adopt one fuel or the other are nonsense. Making everybody buy gasoline will cause the market to be flooded with another by-product of the refining process, diesel, and vice versa.

So, why is diesel suddenly so cheap? Oil traders say that the causes are threefold. First, the Saudis have moved into refining in the past year and two massive new refineries at Yanbu on the Red Sea and Jubail on the Persian Gulf are sending tankers full of diesel to Europe. Second, the US economy is going like the clappers and as Americans prefer petrol in their pick-up trucks and SUVs, the world is awash with unwanted US diesel. Third, the oil price is anyway very weak, Brent crude is below $50 a barrel, due to surplus production combined with speculation that the possible lifting of sanctions against Iran by the US will allow Iranian exports to surge. The Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has said Iran could boost exports by 500,000 barrels a day almost immediately, rising to one million barrels a day within a month.

Is it true that diesel causes 29,000 deaths a year? This is a second bit of nonsense. The number originates from a report in 2010 from a quango called the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. It estimated that if all man-made particulates were removed from the atmosphere, we would live an average of six months longer, or 29,000 fewer of us would have died in 2008.

Summarising or criticising a report of this nature is a dangerous business, so I am grateful to the attempt made by a blog called Transport Watch UK. It is impossible to isolate accurately the effect of particulates on individuals from other factors, such as lifestyle choices, genetic predispositions and so on. For instance, anybody with a respiratory condition living near a pollution blackspot should surely move house or give up smoking. It is, anyway, the case that only about one tenth of particulates are caused by road traffic.

In a separate report, the committee indicated that removing particulates caused by local road traffic would increase average life expectancy by 16 days in England and Wales and 41 days in Inner London. The committee rightly concedes that uncertainties in its numbers “need to be recognised”.

From September, the new Euro 6 standard for diesel engines will become mandatory in new vehicles, introducing better filters and catalytic converters in exhausts. Whatever the impact of particulates and nitrous oxide emitted by diesel engines is on our health, and there surely is some, especially from traffic jams in towns, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claims it has already been reduced and will be substantially improved by Euro 6 and new ultra low emission zones in city centres.

None of this should detract from the fact that the diesel engine was a brilliant development. Its German inventor, Rudolf Diesel, worked out that the trouble with gasoline is that it is volatile and detonates suddenly at too low a temperature.

The consequence is that a petrol engine is not terribly efficient. Far better to use a fuel based on another molecule produced during the refining process, which only detonates under high pressure, at a higher temperature, but which is more efficient.

Diesel’s engine burns this fuel. The air in the cylinder is already so highly pressurised that when the fuel is introduced, it detonates instantly, though slower than gasoline. You get a bigger thump and, literally, more bang for your buck.

The disadvantage is that some tiny particles are not burned and need to be filtered out later. But among the many benefits is that it uses less fuel and emits about 20 per cent less carbon than a petrol engine. Its high torque, or pulling power, makes it ideal for the heavy work done by boats, lorries or tractors, or hauling my family on holiday to Norfolk.

One suspects that poor old Herr Diesel would not be the least bit surprised at this topsy turvy debate, could he observe it from the great laboratory in the sky. In 1913 he tragically disappeared from a ship in the North Sea. The evidence suggests he was mired in debt and committed suicide, but conspiracy theorists ever since have believed he was done in by German secret agents eager to stop him attending a business meeting with the Royal Navy. The uncertainties, as they say, do need to be recognised.

George Trefgarne is a former partner at Maitland Consultancy


Global Perspectives on Road Safety History …

This special issue of Technology and Culture explores the ways in which road use and road safety have changed since the 1880s, including how different road users interacted with each other, technology, regulation, engineering, design, and the built environment. Together the articles provide a look at a variety of approaches across North America, Europe, and Africa and at different road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. While most of the papers individually consider a single national example, the picture that is built up across the issue allows comparisons between countries to demonstrate how road safety and automobility technologies are historically and culturally contingent. The issue concludes with a commentary from a prominent policymaker in the hope that better understanding of how accidents, safety, and risks are co-constructed and co-produced can offer insights into how we might reduce deaths and injuries in the future.

It features articles looking at Britain, Belgium, Italy, the USA, Kenya and South Africa, as well as a comment from a policy-maker on the implications for practice of historical case studies.


Bulgaria: Sofia goes green with grass tram lines …

BBC Web Site, 18/8/15

Bulgaria’s capital is grassing over some of its tram lines as part of a programme to make the city greener.

An initial 60m (197ft) stretch of the “green rails” has already opened in Sofia’s Ruski Pametnik Square. Architects hope the new turf will muffle traffic noise, improve air quality and cool the often torrid Sofia summer heat, Nova TV reports. A drainage system has been installed to divert rain water off the rails into the soil beneath the grass.

Although other vehicles will use the square for the time being, the authorities want to include it in a car-free zone which will cover three blocks in the city centre by 2020. Other tramways elsewhere in the zone will be grassed over too, according to the plan.

Many social media users like the idea, thinking it will give Sofia a “more European” eco-friendly feel, although some see it as no more than an election stunt by the city’s governing Gerb party. “The rails will stay green only until after the election,” says one person on the Dnevnik newspaper website. Plenty of others worry that the grass will be left to dry out and turn yellow, with one reader on the Vesti website warning: “Nice dry grass needs only one cigarette butt, then we’ll see the spectacle of trams passing through flames.”




Thermal cameras to turn lights green for cyclists …

The Times, 6 June 2015

Cyclists on busy cycle routes are to be given longer green phases at traffic lights, using new technology designed to link signal time to the number of waiting bikes.

The technology, which relies on thermal imaging cameras, is a new element in a system called Scoot, which is used to speed up and smooth the flow of vehicles through London. A trial began yesterday on one of the capital’s cycle superhighways near the East London crossroads where Mary Bowers, a Times reporter, was seriously injured as she cycled to work in 2011.

A thermal camera, mounted on top of the traffic lights, detects the number of cyclists approaching the junction, logging only those shapes moving along the cycle route towards the traffic lights, to eliminate pedestrians and riders travelling in the opposite direction. If the system proves reliable at recognising cyclists during the trial, it will be used to extend the green light phase if there are a large enough number of cyclists waiting at the crossroads, extending the red light phase for traffic in other directions.

Details on the number of bikes needed to change the timings or the amount of time they will be given will be decided later in the trial.

It means that the red light phase for other traffic will be shorter when there are fewer cyclists waiting, as the signals respond to demand. The trial also includes the installation of a radar detector in the cycle superhighway, which is being tested as an alternative. It is planned that the system will be fully operational by next year.

Transport for London has also been given permission by the government to use miniature eye-level traffic lights at junctions to aid cyclists. The capital currently has the highest level of commuter cycling since records began, it was announced this week, with 610,000 journeys a day and a record low number of casualties last year.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said: “With record numbers taking to two wheels, we are doing everything we can to make our roads more inviting places to be.”

British Cycling, the sport’s organising body, said yesterday that 254,000 more women had taken up regular cycling since 2013 — a 50 per cent increase — through a project to get one million more women on bikes by 2020.

Dame Sarah Storey, the paralympic champion, criticised David Cameron, who pledged a “cycling revolution” in 2013, after news that £23 million is to be cut from the £114 million pledged to cycle safety in eight British cities last year.

“[He should be] using cycling as a way of saving money in other areas of his budget,” she said, adding that there is “a huge amount of waste” in the NHS budget due to people who are unfit and that there is “so much congestion” through cars on the road, which also costs the economy money.

“So don’t take money away from the place that can help solve some of these other ills,” she added. “I would personally like to see him change his mind.”