On driverless cars

selfdrivingI was at an LGA event yesterday on traffic and transport, and one of the subjects discussed during the day was future transport infrastructure, specifically in the context of driverless cars. It helped to crystalliza a few thoughts I’ve had on the subject, and also confirmed that other people have some thoughts in a similar direction so I’m not completely off the beaten track. I want to elaborate on a few of those thoughts, partly just to capture them, but also to see if they can spark any sort of debate or thoughts from others on the subject.

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And when did you last see a red light?

There’s a lot of talk this morning about the Institute of Advanced Motoring going on a tilt against cyclists, trumpeting up the results of an unscientific ‘survey’ that supposedly shows 57% of cyclists regularly going through red lights. Until, of course, you go into the actual figures – as this Guardian article does – and discover that even on their self-selective terms, less than 2% say they do it regularly.

I’m not denying that some cyclists do jump red lights, but the idea that it’s some great problem has entered our national urban mythology as a fact, helped by prejudice-fuelling supposed surveys like this. Frankly, I find it amazing the hatred some people show towards cyclists, while completely ignoring the amount of comparable law-breaking car drivers too. The CTC and other cycling organisations are far too focused on their own issues to do it, but what might a similar survey of car drivers find. How many break the speed limit, especially in residential areas? How many plough on over zebra crossings despite their being pedestrians crossing or about to cross? How many have pulled out on roundabouts directly ahead of a cyclist, figuring that the person on two wheels will be able to avoid smashing into them? I see all of those frequently, but apparently it’s cyclists who are causing the real problems…

Just to let people know that I’ve had notice from Essex County Council about roadworks that are going to be carried out on Westway (the A134) between the Balkerne Hill and Colne Bank roundabouts. These are some important safety works, centred around fitting in a proper barrier system on the central reservation, but they might cause delays while they’re happening.

They’re scheduled to start next Monday (the 9th January) – weather permitting – and will continue for about six weeks, though the work is only scheduled to take place during the day from 9.30am until 3.30pm, so it should hopefully not be causing delays during the rush hour.


I know that some of my readers in Colchester and Essex are commuters, suffering the joys of dealing with National Express East Anglia (NXEA) on a regular basis. I’m not a regular commuter any more – though whenever I do travel to London now, I notice just how much worse it is than when I used to do it regularly for work – but those of you who are may find the @NXEAfail Twitter account somewhat useful as a cathartic way to vent your rage the next time you’re stuck for ages with no explanation as to why, or forced to take a bewildering array of tubes, buses and trains because of engineering works.

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Turkeys against Christmas

Just as a quick followup to my recent posts on parking, the Gazette have discovered that the owner of a parking firm is against a ban on clamping. Apparently “the police would have anarchy in the UK”, if such a ban were to be brought in.

Coming soon, shock revelations about the Pope’s religious beliefs.

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Obviously it’s a travel day today. I’ve been using National Express on the East Coast a lot recently, and while I have issues with some of their services, it’s at least better than this vision provided by Simon Hoggart in today’s Guardian:

A witty reader (he’s not sent his name, fearing legal reprisals) sends in a wonderful fantasy in which Michael O’Leary of Ryanair buys our east coast railway and runs it like his airline. The ticket prices will look like amazing bargains, say London to Edinburgh for £1.

“But these principles will apply: fee of £5 for internet booking, £5 for timetable inquiries, £5 for credit card payments, £20 for clicking the OK – pay button, admission charge to station, charge for compulsory on-board ticket inspection, £5 alighting fee, £10 penalty for not pre-ordering £5 alighting fee, and that’s before we’ve started on the baggage charges and the £10 for those mini-carrier bags from the buffet if you want to get back to your seat (£7.50 compulsory reservation charge) without spilling coffee all over you. The company dismissed the £1 blowing-your-own-nose fee as pure speculation.”

Of course, the universe makes fools of us jokers, with any joke about Ryanair soon being fulfilled by Michael O’Leary’s relentless drive for profit and publicity. I used to joke about them making an extra charge for seats, for example. So, while jokes about Ryanrail may seem funny now, imagine just what horrors O’Leary could inflict on rail passengers by combining his ability to slap a price on everything with the petty bureaucracy and officialdom that has been part of the culture of British rail since, well, British Rail.

‘You may well have a ticket for that train, sir, but you’ve yet to pay your gate transit and platform access fees, and while it might be the last train home tonight, it’d be more than my job’s worth to let you get on it.’

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There’s no romance on the Megabus

Amongst the Guardian letters today, Godfrey Eland wonders:

Having carefully read about Greyhound buses coming to the UK (Report, 20 August), I am at a loss to understand how these buses will be any different from National Express, Megabus or any other of the existing services on our motorways. Can someone enlighten me as to what all the fuss is about?

The fuss, of course, is quite simple to explain. Whil your average travel journalist would never think of travelling anywhere by coach in Europe – after all, why slum it with the plebs for days on end when you can just hop on an EasyJet to your destination? – they’re quite likely to have taken at least one journey in the US on a Greyhound coach, possibly going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas whilst wearing a trucker-style baseball cap in an ironic fashion. They’ll have hundreds ofways of telling the story about the slightly strange man who sat near them at the bus station, but they’d probably look at you blankly if you asked them where you get a bus from in this country.

Meanwhile, of course, their American counterparts – who’d never take a Greyhound, especially when you can fly so cheaply with Southwest – are no doubt lamenting just why they can’t have those cool National Express coaches over there.

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