John Vidal has a different meaning to \”expensive\” than the rest of us

Protestations that government is encouraging electric cars and needs more time to comply are rubbish. It\’s not as if air pollution is hard to control or even expensive. Most comes from mass car use, so a national network of low emissions zones could be set up within months. Fewer vehicles could be allowed into city centres. Government could spend on better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Spending on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is an expense, yes.

As is \”fewer vehicles in city centres\”. It could be an expense worth bearing, it might even be on net profitable. But it is still an expense, not something to just be blithely waved away.

Europe, pollution\" href=\"http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air\">says the EEA, could be paying €537bn (£460bn) a year in human health terms for air pollution by 2020, and government estimates it costs and Northern Ireland\" href=\"http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/air/airquality/strategy/documents/air-qualitystrategy-vol1.pdf\"> Britain £20bn a year already.

OK, let\’s just imagine, £20 billion is the cost to use of cars in city centres. I mean it isn\’t, that\’s the total cost of air pollution but let\’s just imagine that it is.

OK, so, how much is it worth to use to be able to have cars in city centres? More or less than £20 billion?

No, I don\’t know either but that is the sum we have to do before we can tell whether reducing air pollution is cheap or expensive, isn\’t it?

18 comments on “John Vidal has a different meaning to \”expensive\” than the rest of us

  1. The real cost of pollution to healthcare is from particulates, which are produced mostly by heavy duty engines (lorries and buses). Particulates are not a problem in well maintained engines and can easily be measured. Modern fuels are very low in sulphur & modern engines do not release aromatics or NOx in meaningful quantities.

    CO2 does not cause health problems at all and Electric cars are the single most expensive way of tackling carbon emissions. Seeing as electric lorries are basically impossible, this whole article is pointless.

  2. “that is the sum we have to do before we can tell whether reducing air pollution is cheap or expensive, isn’t it?”
    Actually that is the sum to discover whether spending to reduce pollution is good value for money.
    Since the single biggest polluters are coal-fired power stations used to generate electricity to use in electric cars, banning electric cars everywhere as well as petrol-driven ones in city centres and requiring people to walk or cycle instead should be a key element in any anti-pollution campaign. I bet that would go down like a lead balloon with all the elderly people who were compulsorily rehoused from the city centres where they had lived for fifty or sixty years to suburban ghettoes for those unable to cycle.

  3. RE: cycling and Boris bikes

    £14k per Boris bike setup cost and £2.5k/yr per bike thereafter sounds expensive to me.

    You could buy 5000 normal bikes (£250) each month and just leave them in the street for that money. I’m not sure what the attrition rate would be but it’s not inconceivable that it would be cheaper to do it this way and you’d have a lot more bikes in circulation. Might start to look like Amsterdam in a few years.

  4. Two good points from Serf and John. But there are far bigger problems for electric cars. For a start, less than 40% of houses have driveway parking or a garage and this is especially so in urban environments. So are people supposed to trail their recharging lead across the pavement even supposing they can park outside their house?

    The tax payer could fork out for recharging points everywhere, but these cost up to £30K each because three-phase is need for transmission purposes in places where there is insufficient capacity. And thinking about capacity, if everyone drove a basic G-Whizz tomorrow, the recharging needs would bring down the national grid.

    Another problem is replacment of the existing car stock of which we have 30 million conservatively worth over 100 billion GBP. An average car lasts 15 years so are drivers to take a double hit? A petrol/diesel car worth nothing and £25K for an electric car?

    Then there is the problem of ramping up electric car production from what – 160 sold in the last quarter in the UK? – to a real replacement level when over 2 million new cars are sold in the UK every year. That will take decades.

    I could go on but I think you get the picture!

  5. Excellent – restricting cars from cities just happens to benefit those wealthy enough to afford to live in city centres. Wealthy upper-middle class liberals get to lock the peasants out and enjoy the city amenities for themselves, while of course taxing said peasants to pay for the inner city public transport.

  6. Don’t you find these numbers are all just made up?

    I mean, an annual health cost of €537 billion per year? I simply don’t believe it. That’s roughly half the output of Germany lost to mere air pollution?

    I smell and call bullshit. Large amounts of bullshit.

    Someone needs to go around and add up all the claimed “losses” to this and that environmental problem – I bet you they all add up to about 100 times global output.

  7. I’m also suspicious of “stick a wet finger in the air” numbers that are given to three significant figures.

  8. Kevin (#3) – no, because the stolen bikes would end up in Romania or China.

    In terms of global CO2 reduction that might still work, but it wouldn’t reduce other air pollution in London.

  9. Richard (#9) – no, because you keep an eye on them and arrest people if they steal them.

    I seem to remember a story a little while back about a family of caravan thieves that were arrested and after their arrest caravan theft dropped 90%. If an organisation is big enough to steal 5000 bikes every month then they’re big enough to spot.

    Perhaps I’m naive but I have a hunch that if you chucked 5000 bikes into the centre of London each month that the vast majority would remain.

    There’s such a thing as an efficient level of crime and spending £25k over 6 years on some heavy clumsy bikes seems like it might be beyond the level of crime efficiency that you’d get from the attrition of 5000 x £150 bikes (bulk purchase) each month.

    It’s a stupid idea either way but if you’re going to run a really expensive public bike system then you might as well run a system that takes into account the efficient levels of crime.

    I guess the question I’m asking is whether it’s actually cheaper to purchase all the docking stations and the bespoke bicycles.

    The only downside that I could see is that it would really highlight just what a waste of taxpayer money it all is.

  10. @3, Kevin’s is not such a bad idea. particularly if you factor in the real cost of a bike ie the £39 for a geared ‘mountain type’ model a sports chain were selling couple years back. Bought direct from factory, even with a few mods to make them both instantly recognisable & hard to sell on, could probably beat that.
    The idea of them ending up in Romania’s a diversion. If a UK chain can sell bikes for £39 there’s no money in nicking them in London & transporting them to Romania. The nicking (no-one’d be doing that for free) & transport costs’d be more than wholesale.

  11. & London’s been doing similar for years anyway.
    Recycling boxes.
    Had about a dozen in the van. Best tool storage at the price available 8¬)
    Shrinkage on that ‘service’ was acceptable.

  12. @bloke in spain

    Precisely!

    Unregulated public bicycle provision has always been a failure in the past because bicycles were more expensive. They’re so cheap now (if you’re not a government buyer that is) that you could literally scatter bicycles over London and accept the shrinkage.

    Any thief is going to do a cost benefit analysis. – If I attempt to steal 10 x £50 bikes that are distinctive enough that they have little resale value because they’re obviously stolen, is the £500 minus my costs really worth the possibility of being caught? Does crime pay? At current bicycle prices, I’d guess not.

    Again, buying bicycles with tax payers money is ridiculous anyhow.

    This would be my suggestion:

    Allow anyone to setup a cycle hire business in London where they don’t need to obtain any licence, pay zero tax and remove all barriers to entering the market. You wouldn’t be able to move for low cost cycle hire within a few months and it wouldn’t have cost the taxpayer a penny.

  13. Whilst we’re on the subject of cheap public transportation, I’d love to see something like the Turkish Dolmus buses.

    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=dolmus-story-2010-01-19

    I have fond memories of these as a child in Turkey.

    I can’t see why something like this couldn’t exist in London with the right deregulation. Give it 6 months and there would be thousands of minibuses zooming across London taking people to their destination for a minimal cost. All driven by immigrants I’m sure.

    There’s a transportation problem in London but nothing that couldn’t be solved with deregulation.

    This is the sad thing about our tax and spend, regulation hungry, big government, Guardian reading population – a complete lack of imagination.

  14. Thanks Mr Potarto.

    Sounds like a bad idea then.

    Bikes are much cheaper now than they were in 1994 and the Bratislavan white bicycles in 2001. I wonder what sort of a difference this might make.

    It looks like you’re right though.

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