Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tfl incompetence

On Sunday my girlfriend and I were driving to Norfolk, with a rental car (and don't give me "take the train" finger pointing, as the car was full with possessions as she is moving there for five days a week for work reasons), and to undertake this journey should be straightforward. We live not too far from the A406 North Circular road (around 40% of a circular route) which is 3 lanes in each direction over much of its length.
^
It was a wet day and a busy one, with a considerable amount of holiday traffic - including some tube replacement buses - and so you might wonder why Tfl authorised its contractors to close to one lane each way the underpass (under a railway line) between New Southgate and Colney Hatch lane. Why were the second lanes closed (the road already narrows from 3 to 2 lanes each way because this is the beginning of an awful gap in the A406)?
^
Very simple. Contractors were scraping unauthorised posters from the walls of the road underpass.
^
Were they doing this on a roadway? No, in fact there are very wide footpaths where the workers were working. Traffic passed beside them quite safely (as pedestrians can walk through this underpass).
^
Were they doing work in the road median? No! The only reason the central lanes were closed was to create a space for the contractors' vehicles to be parked!! Parked!!
^
The resulting tailback added 20-25 minutes to a journey of about a mile eastbound, it was easily a 2 mile tailback westbound.
^
So for some inexplicable reason, TfL authorised the contractors to close lanes in the middle of the day so that some cleaning activity could be carried out. Now, let's just assume for the sake of argument that it wasn't just to park the trucks somewhere (there is an adjacent service station and vehicles could have been parked less than 100m further away on the road without closing both lanes), and there is work in the middle of the road...
^
Why isn't this work carried out at night? Dare I say, in Australia and New Zealand such work on a major arterial route which halves the capacity of the route would be carried out in the wee small hours. Yes you pay people more, but this is nothing compared to the cost in lost time, fuel and the safety risk of traffic slowing from 50mph to a stop-start crawl - something that clearly doesn't seem to matter to Tfl. Heaven help you if you catch the Northern line replacement buses that were stuck in the jam in the other direction.
^
I can put it down to either:
- Sheer incompetence either driven by failure to appraise whether it is cheaper for London to pay to do this work at night or to do it on the cheap, and create huge traffic jams;
- An obsession with public transport and little interest in highway management, and little interest in minimising congestion through better traffic management.
^
Tfl should be split in two - one body dedicated to managing public transport franchises and another dedicated to managing London's highway network. The latter should have a hypothecated stream of funding prioritised to road maintenance, with specific output goals of minimising incident or planned congestion, and maximising the efficient and safe operation of the network. To do this means a major political change in the Mayoralty and the Greater London Assembly. London has one of the worst urban highway networks in the Western world, the north circular (A406) is incomplete and erratic, the south circular (A205) is a circular by signpost only, it is about time that London's road network was properly managed and funded. London's road users already pay enough to use it!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Removing accountability for highway funding


What do you do when a Crown Entity isn’t performing? Do you fire the Board, do you require its funding body (which is meant to be at arms length and independent from the other entity) to hold it to account? Do you stop telling it what to do, which overrides its usual processes for determining how best to perform its tasks? No – if it wastes money, you merge it with its funding body – so that it doesn’t even need to justify to another entity what funding it needs – it can fund itself!
^
That is the main announcement by the Minister of Transport with the “Next Steps in the Land Transport Sector review”. It wont result in more efficient outcomes, it will result in the abolition of a structure that has been touted around the world as being a leader – what it will mean is that Transit will no longer need to bid for funding for its projects – it will simply ask itself, and local authorities will need to ask Transit. Transit Chief Executive Rik van Barneveld must feel burnt perhaps as much as former Land Transport Safety Authority Director David Wright, when LTSA was abolished, largely because of ongoing political disenchantment with its performance. Now Transit is in the gun, and while not blameless, it is more the fault of Ministers who would not let the system do what it is meant to do – Minister much prefer to meddle and interfere. Van Barneveld must wonder what he could have done, as he has been adept in responding to Minister's calls, and he is far removed from David Wright, who had little understanding of how much the LTSA was hated by the public, and how much Ministers were concerned about this.
^
The announcement today that the government wishes to merge Transit New Zealand (which is responsible for operating the state highway network) with Land Transport New Zealand (which allocates funding to Transit and all local authorities for land transport) will be a disaster. You see, Transit and Land Transport NZ WERE the same entity until 1996 – it is the reason Transit has the name “Transit” which everywhere else in the world means “commuting”, because Transit used to run the state highways and allocate funding to, well, itself and local authorities.
^
The problem before was that, as is unsurprising, if you are a funder and a provider, you’ll fund your own activities first, and treat the bids for funding from the 85 local authorities as secondary. So Transit was split, and Transfund was set up as a specialist independent funding body. Transfund has since been merged with the Land Transport Safety Authority to become Land Transport New Zealand. However, in recent years Land Transport New Zealand/Transfund has been less than proficient at holding Transit to account for its spending decisions. Why?
^
Firstly, contrary to official advice, Labour has refused to remove common board members between Transit and Transfund/Land Transport New Zealand. Jan Wright and David Stubbs were until recently, Chairs of Land Transport and Transit respectively, but also sat on each others Boards. Garry Moore incredibly, as Mayor of one of the local authorities that bids for funding from Land Transport New Zealand, is on the Board of Land Transport New Zealand AND the Board of Transit. Now this isn’t intended to cast aspersions on any of these people, but how can you expect Land Transport New Zealand to hold Transit to account, when it has common board members.
^
Furthermore, the ability to hold Transit to account has been severely compromised by Ministers telling Transit what they want. Transit isn’t simply sitting back and evaluating what projects need building, it is getting political direction that Ministers expect certain projects to proceed because Ministers think they are a good idea. Of course when there are political expectations, costs go up and when contractors understand that there are political expectations, they ask for whatever they want from Transit – then Transit asks Land Transport New Zealand, and it is also expected to fund what Ministers want (even though legislation is meant to ensure Land Transport NZ is statutorily independent from Ministers).
^
One of the criticisms of Transit has been that costs have got out of control, when in fact, this is the fault of a combination of:

- the Land Transport Management Act (blame Labour, Greens and United Future) for encouraging expensive “green plating” of road projects;
- Land Transport New Zealand for not being pro-active in disciplining Transit as to how much project scope creep should be limited;
- Ministers who wanted projects progressed with little regard for cost;
- Transit itself, when statements were made that projects should be progressed “regardless of cost” (in reference to Transmission Gully), in addition if Transit was unhappy with either Land Transport NZ or the Ministry of Transport’s monitoring, it would meet with Ministers directly. Indeed, government appointed board members would always have direct access to Ministers, overriding the independent advice of officials.
- the Clark Labour Government attitude to official advice that went contrary to policy, which tends to suppress the “free and frank” expression of views that officials are meant to be able to share. In this environment, telling Ministers that the people they have appointed (e.g. the President of the Labour Party) are not doing their job properly would have been a CLM (career limiting move). The introduction of a regional fuel tax is a classic example, it failed miserably in the past, but Ministers did not want to hear advice on this.
^
By contrast, what should happen is that Transit is entrusted to manage the state highway network, identify problems (congestion, safety, inefficient routes) and prepare a programme of works, evaluated on the basis of cost and benefit, and present these to Land Transport NZ for funding. Land Transport NZ should, when looking at Transit’s programme and the programmes of the 85 local authorities, prioritise spending across them all – with reference to the government’s strategic transport objectives.
^
In the past, when economic efficiency was the primary measure of spending on roads, in most cases the best projects, for the money, were implemented. There was a tendency to be risk averse and not advance more expensive, high risk urban road projects, prioritising rural realignments and the like. However, by and large, the system did ensure high value for money, and kept control of costs. It was helped by any increases in funding being rather discreet and progressive.
^
Today, economic efficiency is only one factor in deciding what roads to build, and Labour has increased funding for roads many many times over, at a rate which has been inflationary. In short, Labour has so dramatically increased funding that Transit has been stretched to get things going – and that stretching has meant more staff, more contractors and the contracting industry demanding more and more to meet demand. You don’t go from having only two large road projects under construction in Auckland at any one time to eight without the cost going up. ^
In addition, as Labour has demanded that certain projects “must” proceed, then contractors understand the market when the government isn’t going to say no. In the past, plenty of projects were delayed because detailed investigations saw the costs skyrocket, putting discipline on those costs and seeing funding go elsewhere for more worthwhile projects – now everything is going to get built.
^
The only bright side of the announcement is that all fuel tax revenue will be dedicated to the National Land Transport Fund. This should be welcomed, and in fact is simply applying 2005 National Party policy. The other point to note is that National Spokesman Maurice Williamson has it dead right – which also should be welcomed. Maurice should know what he is talking about, he was the Minister who split Transit up in the first place! Kudos for Maurice for taking a responsible stand on this.
^
The Greens will like this, because they don’t really believe in financial accountability and economic efficiency and will hope that Transit’s road engineer culture will get watered down – when they should be considered that the new entity will prioritise state highways over everything else. The Greens have long hoped they could dramatically change transport policy, they have, as well as presided over the biggest road building programme New Zealand has seen since the 1960s. I suspect that Peter Dunne wont care as long as Transmission Gully gets funded (since it is his own pet piece of prime pork), and neither will Winston care as Harbour Link (Tauranga's second harbour bridge) has already been funded (Winston's pork).
^
Personally I like the idea that Transit be made into a state owned enterprise and its gets funding from Land Transport NZ based on a per km payment for all the traffic on its network (based on fuel tax/road user charges) and then spends the money on its network. Then motorists can contract separately with Transit (opting out of road taxes) to use its network.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What's next

Well I've been home and I'm on my way back.
Some simple questions....
Why is service in almost all cafes and restaurants in New Zealand superior to that in almost all cafes and restaurants in the UK? (not the Richard Pearse Restaurant in Timaru, where it varies but the food was good)
Why does TV3 bother with news at all? (Why do NZers bother with TV at all?)
Why is air pollution in Timaru worse than in London?
Why has nobody said the Wellington Inner City Bypass is a half arsed stopgap that should be replaced by a cut and cover motorway?
Why did nobody think that the Wellington Inner City Bypass means that the end of the motorway dumps traffic on the capital's rather revolting red light "district" with that vile looking adult bookshop on the corner of Vivian and Cuba Street now one of the features greeting visitors? (before it wasn't so visible going towards the motorway)
Why is Air NZ almost unfailingly good to me, going out of its way to give me service beyond expectations? (I know others with different experiences)
Why is there a man who has worked in two government departments in the last few years or so tried both times to ban Christmas parties/celebrations, and succeeded? Will he succeed again at his latest locale?
Why is it inflationary for New Zealanders to spend their own money the way they choose, but not for Dr Cullen to spend their money the way he chooses?
Why is what was once 2XSFM now 92 More FM Manawatu - what was wrong with 2XS, why does nearly every radio station in the country have to be some bland variation on a national brand? (and yes I know it is because listeners don't care).
Why does what a cop did with a bestiality film over 2 decades ago matter -except to a news media that thrives on anything prurient in a country with, by and large, bugger all news.
How can a small cafe in Upper Norsewood do coffee better than most places in London?
Why does Radio NZ news include items that are little short than government press releases? The BBC doesn't, and it is hardly politically neutral.
Why does it appear that no one is standing for Mayor of Wellington who believes the council should do less and take less money from ratepayers?

Will the NZ Maori underclass get as bad as the British white trash underclass?

Why is there no history department at Rongotai College?

What does Mark Blumsky do to bring the government to account and demonstrate National is a government in waiting?

Why is it ok for the Australian women's soccer team to tour North Korea but not the Australian one-day cricket team to tour Zimbabwe? Is it because enough Zimbabweans are fortunate enough to live in Australia, whereas North Koreans are few and far between? or is there an inkling of truth in Mugabe's comment that this is racist?

Why does the 38 By the Sea Motel in Petone bother having Prime TV tuned in, when the reception is so shite, even though there is a clean line of sight to the transmitter tower?

Why are there Tararua, Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa District Councils, within one hour's drive between them all?

By what measure of naivety does anyone think that boy racers can be stopped unless either:
1. Boy racers are rounded up and put in prison until their balls drop and they are useful;
2. Roads are privatised and road owners face nuisance lawsuits from adjoining property owners unless they charge boy racers enormous tolls;
3. Brainless bimbettes stop seeing the measure of boy racers' cocks in the way their (largely) sad little mass production cars look like tacky white trash bogan wet dreams;
4. A culture of respect, personal responsibility and guilt for hurting, harming or disturbing others is inculcated by the education system and parents.

This blog is about to be revamped, revitalised and a new life, purpose and energy put into it.

It is time to suck the marrow out of life.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy isn't Thatcher

While I am somewhat pleased that the vile Royal has been defeated (her warnings of riots if she doesn't wins spoke volumes - she'd rather win out of fear than positive reasons to support her), Sarkozy will - at best - tinker.
The more I have heard and seen from him, the more certain things come out. He has advocated using the EU for protectionism against the world, but that France should be more open and competitive in Europe.
France is not yet desperate enough for Sarkozy to be able to do what he needs - he needs to break the back of state welfarism, of a welfare state that pays people to do nothing, that penalises councils for not building enough soulless public housing.
That is why, on balance, I believe France will endure some tinkering, the worst of what France has will be amended - much like Germany under Angela Merkel - but it will simply stop France slipping further behind.
The equivalent in UK history is 1972- with Ted Heath, who tried to reform the British economy, but failed - and Britain had to endure 7 long years of discontent, strikes and stagnation. Stagnation that proved the economic bankruptcy of statist big government socialism, and kept the Labour Party out of government for over a decade - in other words, until it rejected socialism.
Sarkozy could prove me wrong - 53% of the vote is a decent mandate for change. However, Italy under the vile Berlusconi, and Germany under Merkel have both been disappointing (Italy continues to slide backwards). Sarkozy will face a hard summer, those who suck off of the state tit in France, or the EU tit or indeed wish to pretend that they are owed the monopolies and privileges of the state, will protest and fight - but the majority of French voters resist this. It will be a sign of how little interest some socialists have in democracy as to how many of them are with those damaging property when the protests come.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Blair wont be too upset

British local election results (which started coming in at 11.30pm!!) have been a mixed bag.
If this was meant to be a blow against Blair and the war in Iraq, it was not. Labour took a hit, but not an enormous one. The anti-war Liberal Democrats have done badly. The Blairite middle ground has shifted to the Tories, but Blair can resign feeling rather smug.
Headlines
Scottish voting turmoil, ballot counting disaster.
Labour loses Wales, just - but likely to govern with support from others.
Labour loses many councillors, but Tories gain not as much as hoped.
Liberal Democrats lose councillors, largely sidelined.
Scottish elections marred by technical problems with electronic voting, and substantial numbers of Scots not understanding the combination of STV and First Past the Post on ballot papers and spoiling them by mistake. Up to 100,000 spoilt ballots. Too complicated or poor communications? Labour, Lib Dems and minor parties have lost seats, SNP doubled number of seats. Greens and Scottish Socialist Party have lost seats (something to be grateful for!).
Welsh Assembly - 52 seats, Labour lost 3 to Plaid Cymru, so no longer has majority. More results to come, but Labour has lost 8.5% of the vote, with most of that going to Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. Likely outcome, Labour will need to get agreement of either Lib Dems or Plaid Cymru to govern. Darker outcome, BNP nearly won a regional representation seat in the assembly one seat getting 9.4% of the regional vote in Wrexham.
English councils - Good wins for the Conservatives, but not as good as hoped. Still no councillors in Manchester or Liverpool City Councils, although some gains in neighbouring councils. 15 more councils move to Conservative majority control (from previous "no overall control") with 318 new Conservative councillors. Labour lost 5 councils and 163 councillors. Liberal Democrats must be concerned, gaining one council but losing 97 councillors.
English share of the vote:
Conservatives 41%
Labour 27%
Lib Dems 26%
Others 6%
Tories will be relieved, the gains are enough to celebrate, but not the overwhelming victory that was hoped for.
Labour will also be relieved, the losses of the Lib Dems mean Labour remains in second place. The anti-Blair media has been playing up a major defeat - this hasn't happened. There have been some substantial losses, but it is better than expected.
Liberal Democrats have lost a great deal, with the Tories winning as much from them as from Labour. The Liberal Democrats of course have lost their policies to the Tories, and now stand for nothing besides being against the war in Iraq, and more taxes. This election was clearly not a referendum on Iraq.
Greens have gained one seat, but overall result will be disappointing. Largely sidelined (and lost in Scotland).
BNP disappointed thankfully, but did gain a lot more votes in Wales.
UKIP has been virtually irrelevant.

In conclusion, while more results are coming in (too soon to make a call on Scotland), it was a general swing towards the Tories and away from Labour (and the Lib Dems). Natural this far into a government that has been in power for 10 years. Nothing too dramatic.

Off I go

I'm flying back to NZ for a wee while, just to do what I must do.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Union or nationalism?

On Thursday there are several sets of elections across the United Kingdom. There are umpteen local council elections which will, no doubt, see extensive losses for Labour and significant gains for the Tories and maybe, if they are lucky, the Liberal Democrats. Peculiarly, local elections in the UK are a direct reflection on national elections - I wont be voting because London council elections were last year - but the campaigning I have seen is largely a mirror of a national campaign. Party political broadcasts have lied en masse about national issues, not matters that are relevant to local government. What is even more peculiar is how it will be seen as a referendum on Blair, even though it is commonly accepted that Blair will be PM for only a matter of a few more weeks.
However the election generating perhaps the greatest interest is the one for the Scottish Parliament - the one that gets to spend tax collected from Scottish taxpayers (and then some) to fund Britain's most socialist regional government.
Labour is unlikely to be able to form the next Scottish government, with the Scottish Nationalist Party, led by the socialist Alec Salmond poised to have a plurality of seats, though insufficient to govern in its own right. The SNP is likely to seek a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Scottish Conservatives are unlikely to join in coalition, since the Tories are committed to the Union.
The SNP wants a referendum on Scottish independence within three years, and is unlikely to be satisfied governing without it. The SNP is driven primarily by a very socialist big government agenda, as well as a peculiar chauvinism and belief that North Sea oil revenue could fund a massive welfare state and a whole host of lunatic pet projects. Not that the other parties are that much better, all offering bribes ranging from free laptops for school pupils, broad based family welfare schemes and the like. Even the Tories aren't much better.
Scottish nationalism is a form of childishness at best, a belief stirred up by centuries of bigotry that Scotland is hard done by, and that London is distant and Scots have little say in what goes on there. Well, Scotland helped Labour win the last election. Scotland has 59 seats, of which 41 are Labour. If Scotland had been independent, Labour would have won by only 21 seats, a difficult to manage majority in a Parliament of 587. Note also who the next PM will be - a Scot, and the current and last leaders of the Liberal Democrats have been Scots.
If Scotland had independence, it would lose subsidies from England, but would not be poor enough to gain much from Brussels (maybe in the days before Bulgaria and Slovakia joined the EU, but not now). From a foreign policy perspective Scotland would be small fry, it wouldn't have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it wouldn't be in the G8, it would be a small European country that could throw about the weight of Finland, with similar populations. It's GDP would be about the level of Singapore (albeit with 70% more people - which tells you a lot about its true wealth), so we are talking about throwing not much more than New Zealand about. Given the inclinations of much of the SNP, I suspect the independent Scotland would eschew Nato, after all, George Galloway was a Scottish MP when he was with Labour.
The SNP is promising that if Scots didn't like independence, they could rejoin the Union - if, of course, the UK wanted it back.
I am split on this. I have blogged earlier about how I thought that the best thing was for Scotland to become independent. This would get the nationalism out of the way, but most of all the socialism. It would remove the deeply leftwing Scots from the UK, allowing Scotland to go through the pain of experimenting with Marxism - and the cost it will impose in encouraging its best and brightest to leave, and encouraging more businesses to flee. It will fail and Scots need to see it first hand before acknowledging that there must be a better way - they could do worse than look at one of their own sons - Adam Smith. However Scots need to learn the hard way, much like the Irish who have reaped the benefits of lower taxes and a more open economy.
Indeed, it would be the best thing for the Tories, and Labour knows it would be a major blow to that party.
However, I also resist the separation of the Union. Besides sports, the integration between England and Scotland is enormous - this essence of being British. My heritage is part Scottish, and I live in England - I love Scotland to visit, and there is much about the Scottish character to love - hell, I was brought up on it. So I will be sad to see Scotland separate from England, and would prefer that - if there is to be a federal United Kingdom, then Scotland raise the taxes it needs for its socialist schemes, and Scottish MPs in Westminster only get to vote on British laws, not English ones.
I suspect the SNP will do well, primarily as a protest vote against Labour - a tired government, with little inspiration from Gordon Brown. An alternative is that a second place Labour could coalesce with the Lib Dems to thwart the SNP - which wont satisfy many Scots voters.
The case for Scottish independence would be strong if the Union gave Scotland less than it got, and if Scotland had good reason to feel cheated by it. The reality is the opposite, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, a world power, one of the four main countries of the EU, a nuclear power, and home of one of the world's leading (if not the leading) financial capital.
England would probably be wealthier without Scotland, financially, but Britain would be less Great. The SNP will not get 50% of the vote, so cannot claim there has been a strong vote for independence - Alec Salmond should know that. However, it will still seek a referendum, which is a second battle. If the Lib Dems support an SNP government, then they are implicitly neutral on a referendum on independence.
So 3 May may be a step along the path to Scottish independence - for the sake of Scots, they should reject the SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, all of whom represent politics that hold talented Scots back with (or chase them away from ) Warsaw Pact sized government intervention in the economy. However, if Scots continue to be, by and large, socialists - let them go the whole hog and learn a lesson - a lesson of the banality of nationalism, the bankruptcy of socialism, and the need to generate wealth through work not the state. The price of that lesson is a generation of unemployment and stagnation, a high price to rid Scotland of its cloth caps, red flags and 1940s style politics.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Memories

"You're as good as anyone else, and a damned sight better than most"
"Don't ever forget how very very proud I am of you, like a son to me, I couldn't be prouder"
"Don't ever forget how incredibly special you are to your parents, and how much they have given you, they have helped make you into one remarkable young man"
those are things you would say
I am lucky to have known someone who knows the dignity of the self, who doesn't ever let that falter and who demonstrates the same - the quality of not following the herd, of not being concerned of what others think, of not doubting anything about you. No deceit, no pretences, no spin, no weasel words - pure honest passionate humanity, knowing strengths, admitting weaknesses, but not denying the self and what is worthy of that. You taught me what I needed to learn to be able to say "amo". Enlightenment man indeed.
It was...
listening to Bach, Beethoven, Rimsky Korsakov, Wagner
discussing history, politics, education, love and life, people
what I learnt of cultures ranging from Chinese, to Pacific to Jewish.
sharing moments of grief, delight and laughter
while sipping fine Scotch or brandy
looking out upon the harbour or the lights and sky at night
a haven from the world, a beacon that always shone inside me
a place I was welcome, free and which I took with me and is where I always am.
my mentor, my friend, my lifelong inspiration.
the true legacy of one lies in what of oneself is passed onto others
I carry so much of that, and through all the grief and the regret that you were unable to travel out here, it is that privilege that will bring me strength.
I may say thank you, but I know the greatest thanks for you are in seeing me living.
Farewell you beautiful man.

Tyranny of distance

What do you do when you live in the UK and find out one day after the event, that a very close friend, as good as family, has died - and the funeral is too soon to fly over for?