Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ignorant transport policy "advocates"

Stuff has posted a story by Bevan Woodword who is cited as: the project director for SkyPath and spokesperson for Movement, an alliance of national organisations seeking safe journeys for active transport users.

It's typical of what passes for "analysis" in transport policy among many advocates, and those who are part of the "green" central planning school of transport thinking.   It's shoddy and full of errors, which I'll outline below.  He outlines "six interventions that would make our transport system safer, more efficient and sustainable"...

1. Let's tax fossil fuels:  Hang on.  Existing taxes on petrol, excluding GST are over 69c/l (including the Emissions Trading Levy).   The Government is already planning to increase it.  Yes there is only a small 3.33c/l on diesel, but that's because Road User Charges recover the costs of maintaining and improving roads from diesel powered vehicles.   There ARE taxes on fossil fuels (except fuel oil for shipping and aviation fuel for international flights, but I don't think he thinks about modes off the land).  Taxes on petrol have been increasing by inflation for some years now.  

However, he argues that the taxes should be punitive, not for a purpose other than to make it more expensive to own a car that burns fossil fuels, so that those who can afford it can buy electric cars.  He says "the air we breathe will be healthier", yet there is little evidence New Zealand has a serious air quality issue due to pollution from road vehicles (although there are localised problems in parts of Auckland).  So it's just a guess.  He says the "tax money can fund better alternatives to driving".  Yet, over 15% of the revenue collected from road users is spent on public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure.   

It's as if he is completely unaware of the current government transport revenue and funding system.  No doubt he thinks making it more and more expensive for everyone to drive, including the poor, the elderly and in particular people in regional and rural areas, is good for them because it will "fund alternatives".   So if you're in Kaitaia, Kaitangata, Karori or Katikati, you'll pay more, even though the odds are that in only one of those cases you might have an alternative that Bevan "approves".

2. We need to reward those who use public transport:  Of course many urban public transport users are already rewarded, because on average about half of the cost of their travel is subsidised by road users and ratepayers.  It is nonsense to say "Every person using public transport is helping to relieve traffic congestion and reduce the need for expensive new roads". A fair proportion of those using it either have no reasonable alternative or would share a car trip with another, not everyone on public transport can hop into a car (or would) if it wasn't there.  Yes, airlines (which do provide public transport). reward frequent flyers, but that is a market, it is commercial and it appeared spontaneously.  Long distance public transport (coaches, trains, ferries and airlines) is not subsidised in New Zealand, but that isn't what Bevan thinks of.

3. Put safety experts in charge of our country's road safety:  Um, who does he think works for NZ Transport Agency (which incorporated the Land Transport Safety Authority). NZ's road death rate is twice the rate of the UK because the UK had 15x the population, and most of its major highways are equivalent to a motorway standard in New Zealand (so no head on collisions and few loss of control accidents).  Norway and Switzerland also have low accident rates because the road network in those countries is so superior.   He says:  In New Zealand, politicians are required to approve road safety decisions - such as whether to implement pedestrian crossings, protected cycle lanes, safer speed limits, road safety improvements, compulsory third party insurance, and mandatory professional driver licence training. Most politicians have no expertise in road safety.

No, you wont fund a Minister approving a pedestrian crossing, or even a cycle lane or road safety improvements. Yes Councillors have some role in this for local roads, but state highways are managed by professionals.  Compulsory third party insurance is largely irrelevant in New Zealand because of ACC (which is compulsory socialised "insurance").  Yes, most politicians have no expertise in road safety, but you don't either.  

4. We need to replace the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) approach used to assess and prioritise transport projects:  Do keep up Bevan, this was significantly diluted around 15 years ago with the Land Transport Management Act. BCR is only one factor used to prioritise projects.  It is "biased towards roading projects" because, surprise surprise, it is funded by road users.  It does take into account carbon emissions, but it doesn't value them above everything else (the UK did this a few years ago, encouraging low CO2 emitting diesel vehicles over others, and local air quality got worse).  Don't worry, the tool that prioritises what road users want their money spent on isn't used how you think it is.

5. Apply road pricing:  Now I'm fine with this, but Bevan doesn't realise that NZ already has road user charges.  Yes, I'm all in favour of a commercial market approach to charging for roads, but that doesn't include taxing fuel and it means roads being supplied on a market approach as well as priced that way.  He thinks the poor can be helped out by free public transport, though he is unlikely to find that works for people in Huntly, Carterton, Westport or Tuatapere.  I don't think Bevan really wants a market though, because it would go against most of what he wants.

6. Treat our roads as valuable spaces. Our streets must not become traffic sewers: What does that even mean?  Does it mean he thinks vehicles on roads are "sewerage", whether they carry people or goods?  That's just trendy pejorative nonsense.

He wants to "reduce traffic", but implies that a lot of traffic necessarily interferes with walking, cycling and horse riding.   It doesn't if it is on roads purpose built for traffic, and local streets are left for local access.  

The truth is that there is a congestion problem, mainly in Auckland, mainly because market mechanisms aren't used to manage both the demand and supply of roads.  However, road transport has never been safer, never been cleaner (in terms of pollution) and never been cheaper.  Yes, local authorities haven't always thought about how pedestrians fit into the urban environment, and there are locations that could do with traffic bypassing areas better suited for pedestrians and cyclists, but this set of measures devalues the freedom, flexibility, time saving and comfort that private motoring offers millions. New Zealand DID have railway services across much of the country, also with complementary bus services, but New Zealanders bought cars when they could afford them, paid petrol tax to improve the roads, and politicians by and large responded accordingly.  Many other changes in transport patterns have occurred over the years, including huge expansion in air travel, and the recent growth in Uber, all due to individuals and entrepreneurs responding to opportunities.

Bevan, unfortunately, is seeking the command and control central planners' approach to transport.  He wants to tax the choices people currently make, to pay for the ones he thinks are good for them. Unfortunately, he doesn't realise that most of his suggestions are already in place in one form or another.

I think urban design should be supportive of pedestrian access, and cycling where there is demand to justify it.  However, too often this slips beyond advocating for improvements, to a barely disguised attack on motorised road transport, to make it slower, more expensive and less desirable.  If people want to walk and bike, then good luck to them, but why do these advocates for walking and cycling think it is their business to get in the way of people who drive for work, pleasure or business?


SkyPath is the advocacy group for a project to put a cycleway and walkway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Movement describes itself as "a strong, effective, national voice for active transport users (including elderly, disabled and children)."  Well we are all "active transport users" as we all walk.  

Its vision is: 
For people walking, cycling or using mobility aids, conditions are often unsafe or unpleasant.
Their only option to be completely dependent on a private vehicle. Providing good facilities for active transport, delivers immense benefits: a healthier society, less traffic congestion, more livable communities and an enhanced environment.

Bevan Woodword's profile says: Bevan’s work with BetterWorld NZ includes a wide range of sustainable transport consultancy. He has worked towards the goal of walking and cycling across the AHB for more than 10 years, along with many other initiatives to improve transport choice for Aucklanders. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to explain the hard-left's position on Syria

When a one-party state, led by a dictator, with a personality cult, who inherited his position from his father (who himself gained power by military coup), repeatedly uses chemical weapons against his opponents and the residents of areas governed by his opponents, you'd think there would be universal outrage and condemnation.  

But no.  Setting aside the regime itself and its foreign backer (Russia - which has used its airforce to quell dissent against the regime, with little apparent concern for civilian casualties), there have been two groups who tend to hold one (or even more than one) of three views of these events:

1.  The chemical attacks didn't happen (the "false flag" believers).  As such it was staged by one or more opposition groups, or the more ludicrous claims that it was a CIA, MI5, Israeli orchestrated charade.

2.  The chemical attacks did happen, but were undertaken either by an opposition group (which has no air power, given the Syrian Air Force is well equipped) or by the UK (says Russia), to discredit Assad and Russia.

3.  The chemical attacks did happen, but no one can prove it was the Assad regime, and besides any military action just "makes it worse", will "escalate conflict", will "benefit Jihadists", is "illegal", etc.

One group are non-interventionist libertarians, who at best simply oppose military action by governments on principle, unless it is for self-defence.  Some are conspiracy theory cranks who share a lot with the other group.  I'll discuss them all another day.  Suffice to say, while I respect high levels of scepticism over intervention, I am not a non-interventionist.  I think there is a considerable interest for us all, for those governments with some values of individual rights, rule of law and secular liberal democracy, to take steps to ensure that the treaty based commitment of state to not use chemical weapons, is enforced, with some urgency especially if that state is using it against civilians.  There is merit in arguments against such action, but this post is not about those arguments.

This is about the much larger and vocal "other lot", the so-called "peace" movement on the left.  It's view, as exemplified by the far-left hypocritical "Stop the War Coalition" in the UK, is fairly simple.  It opposes absolutely all Western military action of all kinds, and happily cheers on military, terrorist and other insurgency action by any entities confronting the West or its allies. Loud on US intervention, silent on Russia.  Most of the libertarian non-interventionists are fairly consistently opposed to both, but the far-left are much more obviously hypocritical.

With a Hat Tip to Dave Rich on Twitter I thought his explanation of the hard-left worldview of these events, alongside the Skripal poisoning and indeed many foreign policy issues is as applicable to the NZ Green Party as it is to the UK Labour Party, and to equivalent far-left movements in other countries. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Korean People's Army soldier flees for freedom over the DMZ, gets shot

A bit of context.  

The two Koreas are divided by the DeMilitarised Zone (DMZ) which is actually one of the most militarised zones anywhere in the world.   I've travelled on the road to the DMZ from the northern side and you can see that very road (in the DMZ) up till he passes a checkpoint at around 1:07.  That is the first indication he is not authorised to drive in the DMZ.  Before that is a major north Korean tourist landmark in the DMZ as the location where the Armistice that halted the Korean War was signed (called the DPRK "Peace Museum" naturally).   It is in the heavily forested area to the right side of the footage up till the checkpoint that he is seen passing.  When I was there, there were several tour coaches located on this road, they are not visible here, indicating no foreign tourists were at the DMZ on this day (had there been, it may have stopped them as there are likely to be more guards on such a day).

At 1:18 you can see the panic as he passes the checkpoint although slowing down to cross Bridge 72 (still on the northern side) into the northern half of the Joint Security Area.  That is effectively when he has moved from the northern part of the DMZ into the concentrated JSA.  No more than 35 guards are permitted to be on duty, for each side, in the JSA.  At 1:33 he is in the JSA.  By this point, he will have caused a major panic on the northern side as he will have been keenly observed.  By 1:55 he has passed Tongil Gak, which is the northern side meeting house where joint meetings between both sides are held on an alternate basis with the southern equivalent (Peace House is the southern side equivalent).

At 2:00 he passes the Kim Il Sung "signature" monument which was installed shortly after he died in 1994.  The myth is that his last statement the day before he died on 8 July 1994 was this one, of course seeking reunification (ignoring that few on the southern side want a reunified personality cult led slave state like exists in the north).  Shortly after that he drives towards the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which is effectively the boundary of control between the two Koreas.  It is then he stops driving near a Korean People's Army building on the MDL.  At 2:28 the shot shifts to see the reaction of soldiers from the northern side in front of the main DMZ buildings on the northern side running to see what is going on.

At 2:55 you can see his vehicle is stuck, he is fewer than 10 metres away from the other side.  At 2:58 he escapes the vehicle and runs for it, while being shot at by the Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers. At 3:02 another image shows him on the southern side running for "Freedom House" the southern side main building.  At 3:12 one KPA soldier is seen crossing the MDL, which is a big no-no, in pursuit before he remembers and runs back.  Footage for a while after that shows KPA soldiers rallying in panic, but from 4:59, southern (Republic of Korea) soldiers crawl to recover the injured defector.  Crawling out of fear that the KPA ones might shoot them.

That's it.  The KPA is among the most well fed organisation in the north, it's curious that the number of army defectors has been growing in recent years, as news of the outside world trickles in via DVDs smuggled in via China of life in the south.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Requiem for the Wellington trolley bus

Trolley buses are almost iconic for Wellington.   

Wellington was the city that first had them in New Zealand (1924-1932 on one route, followed by the current system since 1950) and will be the last today.  I grew up with them, with my Mum sometimes taking me into town and back on them, and as a child I was fascinated by these vehicles that got energy from wires, were quiet and emitted no fumes.  I lived on a street on which they operated and regularly became "detached" from the wires as drivers went too quickly around the corner, with the old British made rigid overhead wires unable to cope with more than a snail like cornering.  

Trolley buses are nostalgic, the presence of the wires (visual pollution to some) indicates the permanency of the route (a bus will come eventually), and the mere fact they use pure electric technology means they are user friendly.  I've many fond memories of riding on trolley buses, sitting on Mum's lap while watching a Big Ben's Pies disc ad rolling back and forth above the corridor entrance of the bus.  The ride through the Hataitai trolley bus tunnel, pitch black, one lane, the only real chance the trolley buses got to ride at a decent speed, and then the memory of the obnoxious driver who shouted at me for not taking a seat at the back of the bus (he stopped and walked to the back of the bus to do this).  The prick.

However, that nostalgia is tempered by cost (10% more to operate under current oil prices, without including the cost of capital replacement), and the tendency of trolley buses to be slower than other vehicles on curves (Wellington motorists widely see them as the snails of the roads).  

Trolley buses were in all major New Zealand at one point, and New Plymouth. 

Four other cities in New Zealand had them. Christchurch from 1931 to 1956 was the first to go permanently, as the system needed renewal and there was little interest in expanding the network on this low density city. 

Christchurch trolley bus

New Plymouth was the smallest city with a system, running from 1950 till 1967 as one tram route was replaced with trolley buses, but again the costs of running one route in a small city weren't economy.  

ex. New Plymouth trolley bus restored on special trip on the Wellington system
Auckland started with Farmers setting up its own service, for free for customers, operating a loop from 1938 till 1967, joined from 1949 by the City Council replacing tram lines with trolley bus routes.  However, Auckland's system was plagued by a lack of capital renewal, as it relied almost entirely on the electrical system introduced in the 1900s with the electrical tram network.  So from the 1970s, trolley bus routes were closed until 1980 when the last route was closed.  Yet in parallel a decision had been made to replace the inner city network, including services to Parnell, Newmarket, Ponsonby and Herne Bay, with a brand new trolley bus system.  

Farmers Free trolley bus Auckland, owned by Farmers 1930s

Auckland Regional Authority (which had taken over the system some years before) ordered brand new overhead wires and buses, but in 1982 cancelled the lot and was stuck with a mini-system.   Wellington City Council bought the 20 buses at a discount price to replace some of its older trolley buses, and the new overhead wires were used to replace well worn wires in central Wellington.   Another success for the Auckland Regional Authority in politicised decision making on transport.

Never used in the city they were built for.  Auckland ordered Ansaldo Volvo B11M trolleybus
bought at a bargain price from ARA by Wellington City Transport late 1980s
Dunedin held out for two more years, it introduced trolley buses in 1950 also to replace trams, primarily because its hilly topography was better suited to the superior acceleration of trolley buses, than the diesel bus technology of the time.  However, Dunedin paralleled Auckland, with routes shifting to diesel operation as parts of the network needed repairs and the whole system was to be closed in 1980, deferred by the sudden oil crisis, which persuaded the Council to keep the trolley buses until 1982, before finally closing the system.

Dunedin trolley bus in 1978
Wellington was a bit different.  The 1924-1932 "trackless tram" line was a trial from Thornton to Kaiwharawhara on what is now known as the Hutt Road, it would have been extended further towards Ngaio, but the Railways Department objected to the competition so it wasn't permitted.  The modern system started in 1949 and was designed to replace the tram network.  As in Dunedin, trolley buses were much more suited to the hilly topography of Wellington compared to the underpowered, noisy and slow diesel buses of the time.   However, as with other cities, Wellington faced challenges as to the economics of trolley buses when there was a need for replacement buses (as the first generation of 1950s buses were at the end of their economic lives).  However, the oil crisis saw a decision made to buy new buses and 68 new Volvo B-58 trolley buses were ordered (with NZ made bodies), and not long afterwards the 20 Ansaldo Auckland buses became available, enabling the 1960s era BUT buses to be replaced as well.  With new overhead wires in the central city network, and new buses, the trolleybus system got a new lease of life.    Albeit that there were extensive teething problems, as drivers objected to the design of the bus windscreens, and there were constant breakdowns and complaints about noise and interference with AM car radios.

1950s era British United Traction (BUT) Wellington trolleybuses

The Volvo B-58 Wellington trolleybus, with NZ made bodywork

On top of that, the trolley bus network was expanded.  The Mornington route was extended to Kingston, the Newtown Park/Zoo route was electrified, but when the Northland route was extended it was done with diesels (and the electrified segment removed) and a few years later the original Wadestown to Roseneath trolley bus route was also removed, as Wadestown services routinely continued to Wilton.  Weekend and evening services which had been revived were discontinued, mainly to provide time for wire maintenance, although the central city overhead wire system doubled as infrastructure to carry an overhead suspended fibre optic telecommunications network.

By 2001 the issue of replacement came up again, but it was decided in 2004 to replace the Volvo B-58s, but the bodies were replaced as the electrics were still in good order.   Wellington Regional Council agreed to a ten year contract with Stagecoach to retain the trolley buses with a subsidy, because they cost more to operate with the cost of maintaining the overhead wires.  

Wellington's last type of trolley bus- Designline/Volvo at Lyall Bay terminus 2009

Now they are being scrapped, following advice from consultants (none of which have actually worked on operating trolley bus systems in other countries curiously).  Even though the buses themselves have many years of operating life left and almost 40% of the overhead wires had been replaced by 2014.  The electrical supply system is dated though and needs replacement and would cost over $50m to replace.

Yes, I would like them to have been retained, replaced and upgraded (and no doubt it would cost a fraction of the ludicrous plans for light rail in Auckland).  I would like there to be just one line kept for nostalgic purposes, but my claim for nostalgia doesn't mean taxpayers should have to pay for it.   Could something else have been done to save them?  Could experts with working knowledge of modern systems in other countries known of ways to operate and renew a system more economically than those who advised Wellington Regional Council?  Maybe, but the fundamentals around the electrical supply system wouldn't change.  It just isn't worth it to spend that much money on replacing those systems, for nostalgia, noise or to reduce pollution in a city which has good air quality primarily due to the weather! 

What IS disappointing, is that the system is being dismantled before the replacement vehicles are ready.  

So farewell Wellington trolley buses.  Maybe the enthusiasm to preserve them will reignite the nascent museum in Foxton (which lost momentum with the death of its founder and enthusiast Ian Little).   However, while economics may drive transport policy for Wellington, it's clear it has been completely abandoned by the government for its newfound fetish for trams - in Auckland.

So think this.  Why does it make sense to lay down track, install new overhead wire, for a system which is effectively a guided electric bus system, in Auckland?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Don't like the government? Blame the National Party

For the second time in over 20 years of MMP, the left has got, pretty much, what it wanted in a government.  This time, a Labour Party led by a complete neophyte (Jacinda has never sat in Cabinet, never been a junior Minister), with a caucus inhabited by unionists and ex.public servants, with the Greens (led by an ex. Marxist student activist - yes I remember him at university) and Winston the country's leading political whore-monger (look how he , will lead a leftwing government.

This government is already opposed to capitalism (although mind-numbingly can't work out what system means New Zealanders produces goods and services that get exported or sells services to tourists to pay their way in the world).  It is keen on identity politics and not only believes that climate change is damaging New Zealand, but that New Zealand reducing its emissions will make a difference to it.  This is pure scientific nonsense, but there's more.  This government believes that child poverty can be solved by giving people more of other peoples money for having children they can't afford to raise, and that it is not up to people to be responsible parents.  This government doesn't even realise that the biggest problems it campaigned on in the election, such as housing, healthcare, education, river pollution and welfare, are almost nothing to do with capitalism, but rather government intervention.

The problem with housing is primarily due to local government, applying the Resource Management Act, to constrain the supply of housing, in part to meet the new urbanist ideological objectives of densification that is the dominant philosophy of urban planning departments in major cities (not just in New Zealand, but also Australia and the US cities with the most expensive housing).  

The problem with healthcare is that there is little relationship between what consumers want and what they are able or willing to pay for, as politicians, not the market, drive the supply of healthcare.

The problem with education is that it is centrally driven and only recently has been opened up to additional competition, so that it can be innovative and meet the diverse needs of students and parents.  The new government is completely beholden to the producer interests of the suppliers of health and education, who in education in particular, are completely uninterested in being rewarded on performance.

The river pollution problem is a failure to apply private property rights, which could be applied to adjoining land owners including Iwi, to provide a framework to control water quality based on the self interest of multiple private owners of the rivers.  However, this government wants to kneecap one of the country's leading industries, even wanting a debate about "how many cows" there should be.  Why would anyone think they would know how many cows there should be, when they don't know how many of anything there should be, when it should be a matter of supply and demand?

The child poverty problem is a failure of the welfare state, which has never been so generous to people who want to have children, but can't afford to pay for them.  It is also the failure of policies that inflate the cost of living, primarily for housing (see above), but also the regular increases in GST, fuel tax and tinkering with the energy market (albeit not on the disastrous scale seen in Australia and the UK).  

Yet what real difference will be made?  Nine years of National saw little done in any of these areas, housing belatedly had some movement recently, charter schools were a start that was far too little too late, and National just fed the middle class welfare addiction that Helen Clark started.

This government wont do much different from National (yes you'll see uneconomic railway and tram line built instead of motorways), the difference is this lot actually believe in what they are doing.

You see the National Party has been a very poor promoter of the free market, private enterprise and individual freedom.

After leading a courageous government that started tackling welfarism and waste in government, Jim Bolger lost all sense of courage to do what is right and for no sound political reason whatsoever held a referendum on electoral reform that would obviously make it more difficult for one party government (and certainly was being backed by the left because they thought MMP would give them more power, and they were right).  He then led a chaotic government for two years with Winston Peters, before resigning and the final year limping on with Jenny Shipley.  Jim Bolger, remember, cut his teeth in being a Minister under Rob Muldoon, the most economically socialist government to date.

John Key got elected on a platform opposing the high tax, big government philosophy of Helen Clark and spent more, and how much really changed?  Was the welfare state reduced?  No.  Did the state's role in education get scaled back? Hardly.  Was the planning system liberalised?  Only for the government building roads.  Did corporate welfare get scaled back?  No, the opposite.  Yes there was some partial privatisation, but the fundamental causes of the housing crisis were barely touched.   John Key with Rodney Hide's help implemented Labour's local government policy on Auckland, creating a behemoth of a bureaucracy, with more employees than the councils it replaced, spending more.  Of course National also funded the multi-billion dollar underground rail fetish in downtown Auckland, which will never make a single dollar of operating surplus to pay for it.

What New Zealand now has is a government that believes in something, most of it is at best misguided, at worst destructive and ignorant, but it IS driven by philosophy.  A philosophy of "we know best" of "problems are best fixed by throwing money at them" of "climate change can be changed by whatever we do, and if you question it you're evil" of "a person should be judged by their identity group/s and intersectionality of them, not what they actually do, experience or think" of "you are a means to an end".

National only offered a diluted version of this, a half hearted "it's all going well" belief that "we're entitled to rule".  It didn't offer anything different, anything new and never challenged all of the assertions on poverty and the environment spouted by the left.

So while Bill English might say he is leading a "strong opposition", what is he actually opposed to?

The new government is just National with the courage of the philosophical convictions in implementing essentially the same policies, on steroids.

Do you really think National would reverse anything Labour is about to do?