Saturday, April 12, 2008

Woe betide those going to Lincoln University to study transport

You really have to wonder how Lincoln University's Professor of Transport Studies Chris Kissling gets any sort of credibility. I've been in the transport sector for over eight years now, and the times I mentioned Lincoln University's courses I tended to be looked at funny, and the more I heard about it, the more I knew why. They are courses that have a marginal connection to economics, and are more akin to the fantasies of fanatics than an interest in the commercial and individual needs of transport users and producers. I'd gently suggest that anyone thinking about spending NZ$140 on the book noted in this article in Stuff, consider how much better off they would be going here and downloading this study, which will tell more about transport for free than the writings of academics who are ignored by those who provide transport and (hopefully still) by those who advise government on it. Frankly Kissling needs to do some basic economics, and perhaps get some help. The claims of the future sound like the ramblings of an enthusiastic 12 year old - but remember, your taxes pay for this guy to teach!
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Let's take the Stuff article to test some of what they say:
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"The driverless, or electronically chauffeured, car is already being tested on designated roads in California. Kissling expects it to be carrying commuters in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch by the 2030s...Kissling says the retro-fitting of cables for broadband internet has shown the system could be applied at any time." Well driverless cars for motorways are indeed feasible, but retrofitting highways to allow it is some way off. If he really did follow this he'd look at the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration project involving US vehicle manufacturers and the US Federal Government, which is about installing intelligent equipment on new vehicles, it is not about "using wires laid under the roads". Why do you need that when there is GPS?
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"within 25 years, he hopes to see a light-rail commuter system operating in Christchurch. This will include the use of existing rail corridors from Dunsandel and Rangiora....trains will bring commuters as far as suburban transfer stations, where passengers will switch to buses which will run on dedicated road lanes to the city centre. Smooth transfers and speedy travel will entice commuters away from their cars. Kissling says big spending will be necessary to establish such systems but "private motoring as we do it now is unsustainable". Oh dear. Why? What's wrong with efficient low emission buses, or does it justify paying the enormous premium of light rail over buses? Since when did transferring modes "entice" people away from cars? Why is private motoring unsustainable? Assertions with no evidence, like a Green Party wishlist with the taxpayer paying for something they wont use.
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"Another 25-year scenario is the development of "smart" clothes. These could incorporate miniature computers which would open doors on command and steer people around hazardous places" Yes, the decades of infrared detectors and electric treadle mats with electronic doors must have escaped him at Lincoln University. Nothing like being "steered" by your clothes is there? Now I'm worried, is this guy sane?
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"Kissling does not discount "smart" clothing incorporating wings that will allow people to "fly" above busy streets -- but that is beyond his 25-year outlook." Well add another zero to 25 years. Why would you even mention Daedalus and Icarus type ideas?
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"His 25-year outlook includes computer-controlled carparking systems which remove the need for drivers to carry cash. Kerb-mounted devices will scan the number plates of cars as they park, calculate the time spent parked and charge the cost to the vehicles' owners." Well done, but not 25 years. Go to baa.com and you too can do this today, in the UK, at airport car parks.
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"Kissling objects to aspects of Christchurch's parking system. The "early bird" provision, charging a lower rate for parking all day in a parking building, while giving access to the best parks at ground-floor level, is contrary to transport policy, he says. The lack of integration between civic and privately owned parking buildings in signage telling motorists of spaces available is confusing to visitors, he says." So they should be nationalised should they? Contrary to transport policy, well we should fix that shouldn't we? So Kissling is a bit of a fascist, if you own property and get best use charging people low prices for all day usage, it shouldn't be allowed. Actually his concern is congestion - which is about how roads are managed, not parking. However, he seems to never mention road pricing - funny that.
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"His 25-year view includes electronic check-in with "a walk-through portal in front of a camera lens" that scans passengers." Visited an airport lately? Electronic checkin is the norm, and the IRIS system at many UK airports bypasses immigration checks. Hardly revolutionary.
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"Kissling's wish-list for transport in New Zealand includes "serious investment" in railways, to broaden curves, smooth gradients and widen tunnels. Only then could trains run at speeds to challenge road haulage, he says." Go on Kissling, "invest". Explain why people who don't use railways should do this? By what insane economic analysis does this make sense?
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"There is a place for swift rail (like Japan's bullet trains) in New Zealand, from Auckland to Hamilton and perhaps Tauranga." Cost? Business case? Thought not. Utterings from a train fanatic with no basis in economic reality.
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"He says coastal shipping suffers from unequal competition with international shipping lines, while trucking benefits from paying an inadequate amount towards highway building and maintenance." However users benefit from the cheap cost of sea freight cabotage using ships that are already moving between domestic ports, which he ignores. Where does he get that trucks pay an "inadequate amount" towards highway building and maintenance? If he is true, why not increase those charges? No, let's pour billions into railways!
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"Kissling's and Tiffin's new book has been greeted in other countries for presenting a global context for transport and analysing many issues involved." Well the Observer in the UK has reviewed it glowingly (idiots), and that has noted some more mad ideas:
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"Pilotless planes would be flown closer together, automatically rerouted to avoid bad weather, and would be less vulnerable to hijackers. · Passengers would be given sleeping pills and stacked horizontally on beds" Great! Because pilots don't reroute planes around bad weather already, and because pilotless planes can't be hijacked, and we all want to take drugs and travel like freight. Funny how he isn't predicting low emissions carbon fibre planes, oh sorry that's real.
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but surely the best is this "Virtual reality technology would allow people to meet in cyberspace, saving travel for more personal occasions"
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Amazing, a book written in 2007 predicting video conferencing and.. the internet.
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So if you are planning on studying transport at Lincoln University I'd suggest, gently, don't. If the Professor engages in flights of fancy that are either economic nonsense, technical nonsense or... already existing, then you really don't want to spoil your CV by looking like you've had your head filled with such adolescence.

1 comment:

john-ston said...

Now there were some aspects of this article that I think are completely and utterly ludicrous and there were some that I think you judged in an incorrect manner.

"Oh dear. Why? What's wrong with efficient low emission buses, or does it justify paying the enormous premium of light rail over buses?"

It really depends on the route you are talking about. A double axle bus can handle fifty seated passengers, with an articulated bus able to handle seventy seated passengers (with larger buses, more complex ticketing systems would be needed, and safety issues would be encountered as well). Assuming frequencies of two minutes, that gives you the capacity of between 1500 and 2100 passengers.

That may be alright for your low to medium capacity runs, however, you do reach a point where the route is saturated and buses are "bunching" up. There are only two solutions at that point; either 'tier' the service where the route is essentially split into two, or you could upgrade it. Tiering is a useful short-term relief, but not for the long-term (and long-term thinking is not considered by your cost-benefit analyses either).

Of course, the next stage up would be your busway or light rail. A busway would be alright if land is easily available; however, light rail would be useful down the median of a street. Of course, there is no reason why Christchurch wouldn't need it.

"Since when did transferring modes "entice" people away from cars?"

That is the bit I do not like and I agree with you to a certain extent. While transferring modes is alright in the case of feeder to trunk (when an efficient connection is provided); I don't agree with it in this instance; Beach Road Station in Auckland was a classic example of what would happen.

"Why is private motoring unsustainable?"

While I do believe that there is still a lot of oil out there (in the form of oil shale and so on), it is a finite resource. You cannot transfer all the demand for oil to ethanol since that would see a skyrocketing of food prices (you are already seeing the problems of that and people are not happy), and fuel-cells are questionable technology.

That leaves us with nothing, unless you have something to suggest?

"Go on Kissling, "invest". Explain why people who don't use railways should do this? By what insane economic analysis does this make sense?"

What nation has the best freight railway system in the world? It wouldn't surprise you that this nation also has the largest loading gauge in the world and that it has the highest axle load as well. Of course, it got this way because things were done properly from the very start. When you make a mistake at the beginning, you have to fix it up and usually fixing it up costs far more than doing it right from the very start (of course, cost-benefit analyses do not take this into account).

The New Zealand railway system has one of the smallest loading gauges in the First World and this hinders our ability to ship freight around. While the railway would not be able to afford forward thinking, they could most certainly pay for it once the benefits start rolling in.

"Cost? Business case? Thought not. Utterings from a train fanatic with no basis in economic reality."

There is a possible case for an Auckland to Tauranga high speed service (not Shinkansen style, but perhaps Tilt Train style), however, I don't think this is something that should be looked at for at least another thirty years

"If he is true, why not increase those charges?"

He is true, however, the situation is more complex than just increasing the charges. As someone in the know explained to me, the trucking industry is very low margin (and most people are franchisees), and if you increased RUCs for them, many of them would just go under. Of course, goods would need to be moved and some would go be truck, but some would also go by rail, however, as it is Toll cannot ship all its freight by rail (not enough rolling stock). Of course, not only is it a lack of rolling stock, but it is also a lack of paths in some areas (particularly Auckland to Tauranga), so by increasing truck charges, you have just made the billions of rail investment necessary. Of course, that investment would take two to three years to start dealing with the demand.