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Paul Mason is a numpty, isn’t he?

If you could automate traffic flows – that is, mandate certain cars to go in certain directions and at certain speeds – you would have the makings of an automotive social network. This is the question all the auto-industry futurology avoids: the question of cooperation and control. If 50 drivers are individually plotting a route via GPS from Leicester to Liverpool, and we are at the stage of automated cars, there is nothing to stop an intelligent system pooling that information, and mandating the car space to be shared, in order to reduce energy consumption; to simplify the journey; to allow a national traffic manager to prioritise or deprioritise what, effectively, would become a car-train.


Volvo’s been working on that for several years now…..only without the national bit.

45 thoughts on “Paul Mason is a numpty, isn’t he?”

  1. If you could automate traffic flows – that is, mandate certain cars to go in certain directions and at certain speeds

    A train, in other words.

    or deprioritise what, effectively, would become a car-train

    Well done, you’ve just invented the railway.

  2. Because we don’t want the “control”. Because the “control” will end up as a huge cost to motorists, far more than any fuel savings. We’ll be paying for a load of unionised staff with big pensions, long holidays, and days out for diversity workshops. It’ll also be brittle. Can’t connect to the “control”? What happens? Software bug in the “control”? What happens? The union of car control goes on strike? What happens?

    Lefties hate roads because there’s no central control. Same thing with cars as in all markets – they either don’t grasp or don’t trust that things can work based on billions of micro transactions driven by self-interest, people’s sense of fairness to one another and a small amount of regulation.

  3. Who has been trapped in one of those smart lifts that arrive when you press the number of the floor you want to summon it except it’s part of a lift bank and if you thoughtlessly step into the wrong one, there are no buttons to push inside and you may be stuck until someone else summons it? Nightmare!

  4. Mandating the car space to be shared…

    Hang on, I’m receiving something from my spirit guide. What’s that you say Kitchener?

    “Is your journey really necessary?”

    Yes, I thought it sounded familiar.

  5. A system begging to be gamed. GPS being cheaper than cars.

    And as documented elsewhere, uber has been trying the same thing, without the mandatory bit. And had cars trashed in response.

  6. 15-20 years ago, when international broadcasters were still on short-wave, Belgium’s Radio Vlaanderen Internationaal had what basically amounted to an anti-car screed in one of the weekly slots. One recurring theme was a system of transponders and receivers that would automatically prevent cars from going faster than the sped limit.

    I finally wrote in to point out that the hackers would break into the system and set it up so that cars going to the seaside resorts wouldn’t be able to go faster than stalling speed. And I’d love to see the system hacked such that cars would be forced to do 150 km/h through the school zones.

  7. “If you could automate traffic flows – that is, mandate certain cars to go in certain directions and at certain speeds”

    What if the drivers of the cars don’t want to go in the direction Gauleiter Mason decrees they must?

  8. OK, 50 people want to go from Leicester to Liverpool.

    What time does the car train depart?
    What if they want to go at different times?
    How long does it wait for people who are late?
    What happens if someone decides to go to Manchester half way through?
    What if someone wants to stop at the Services for a cup of tea?
    Gran in the back of the car needs to go to the toilet again. Does the whole 50 car convoy stop for Gran?

  9. Would this be a subdivision of Gosplan, then?

    They hate motor cars because they are individualistic; Monbiot admitted as much (his famous “selfish bastards” article). Destroying the individualist advantages of the car- departs from where you are, arrives where you want to be, at a time of your choosing, and is an unshared space- and these people will mess their underpants in delight.

    Pity the fool who finds themself pooled with Ms. BatmanJellyBaby.

  10. Gran in the back of the car needs to go to the toilet again. Does the whole 50 car convoy stop for Gran?

    Gran was a burden on society, and has already been euthanised.

  11. Considering that “Liverpool” could be anywhere from Speke to Bootle, and “Leicester” could be anywhere from Thurnby to Anstey, this idea is a total non-starter.

    As mentioned, cars are the embodiment of individual freedom and responsibility, hence why so many people own them.

  12. This is why they can shove their “self-driving” cars up their arse.

    They will be state, not self, driven.

    Despite the hype they are a long way from being a reality yet but socialist scum are already creaming their underpants about how such a system could serve as another method of control.

  13. “and mandating the car space to be shared”
    This would be an adjunct to Uber would it not? We are all cabbies. Until driverless cars are common, then we’ll all own a one car fleet of cabs.

  14. Gran wasn’t euthanised, she was guided along a care pathway, whether she wanted to or not.

    Maybe this is why everyone’s going to Liverpool.

  15. At least with trains you’re not told when you have to travel, merely when you can.

    Ian B said:

    They hate motor cars because they are individualistic;

    So too are bicycles but they love them. Lots of huffing and puffing = a virtuous effort? Perhaps it is some kind of labour theory of social value in that the more effort you put into your traveling the more ‘good’ it is.

    I imagine the Pedibus would meet with their approval.

  16. Of course, we are debating something which will never happen. Any state authoritarian enough to control its citizens’ travel plans in this way “for environmental reasons” simply would not permit citizens to travel, “for environmental reasons”.

  17. Gareth-

    Yes, the bicycle gains virtuous status on the puritan metric. Hard work and discomfort vs. an engine doing the work for you and staying dry. That last thing was a particular part of Monbiot’s rant, that the car “isolates” the individual.

    But I suspect that if they really did abolish cars, owning a bicycle would become deprecated as too individualistic as well. State bicycle pools (Boris Bikes) only.

  18. Google maps, when used with turn-by-turn directions, is actually not far from that with its adaptive real-time traffic routing and rerouting. I don’t know how much it tries to be predictive, though – i.e., routing cars differently because if everyone takes the same traffic bypass now, it will become the new bottleneck. And it certainly doesn’t try to take over or organize car pools. Still, it’s partway there, in a good way.

  19. @ Gareth

    Bicycles are pretty much the most individualistic form of wheeled travel there is.

    In the UK cars are overused and bicycles are underused. This is because in the first half of the 20th century the government ‘picked a winner’, they believed cars to be the future and spent the rest of the century and many £100bn’s shaping our country around the needs of the car instead of the needs of people. Walking and cycling were sidelined, without any real investment they became less and less attractive, by encouraging more cars on to the roads, they made them more hostile places for pedestrians and cyclists, and as a consequence we got more motor traffic.

    The Netherlands shows that when you create an environment for people, rather than cars, the choices people make change significantly.

  20. magnusw:

    Have you read “Roads Were Not Built For Cars”? Fascinating history of how the motor industry was developed by cyclists and how improvements to road surfaces etc in the late 19th/early 20th were down to cyclist campaigning.

  21. If the roads were not fit for cars, they would also not be fit for buses, corporation dustcarts, or lorries either. Or taxis.

  22. Bloke no Longer in Austria


    There’s a kind of flatness issue with regard to the Netherlands as opposed to the downlands where I now live.

    Anyway all the cycle lanes in the world still do not prevent cyclists from being hit by lorries.
    My Dutch family know all about this.

  23. I’ve not yet, but I know a bit about it, though I think it’s a rather moot point. Yes, a century ago cyclists did a lot to campaign for better roads, but really the roads we have today quite clearly are built, in the most part, for moving cars around, and no amount of shouting “we were here first” will make the average motorist give two fucks.

    What is needed is to put cycling and walking and public transport on an equal footing with driving so that people can choose the most efficient mode for their journey. It makes economic sense as much as anything. The government forced generations of people in to expensive car ownership by choosing to prioritise cars, that mess needs to be unravelled.

  24. BnLiA – The Netherlands also has rather more of a wind issue than much of the UK does, a bit of swings and roundabouts. Cycling won’t be suitable everywhere and not for everyone, the point is to at least allow the opportunity.

    Yes, some people still die cycling in the Netherlands, but it is massively safer than in the UK and it is that feeling of personal safety which plays a huge role in getting people on to bikes and, for example, the fact that on average Dutch children start cycling alone to school at 8 years old.

  25. magnusw: agree, I just found the history interesting.

    Also agree with your points: I own a car and bikes. As you say, it’s using the most efficient one at the appropriate time.

  26. All this good stuff about cycling in the Netherlands reminds me that, when I worked in Amsterdam from 1997 to 2003, the company car park was always full and the bike shed had 4 bikes in it. People who idealise about cycling in the Netherlands seem to forget that it mostly happens in leisure hours or if you don’t have a car or a paid-for parking space.

  27. PS BnLiA – I’m seeing a lot more battery aided bikes on the road these days, which again helps flatten out those hills.

  28. diogenes:

    Interesting, didn’t know that. It’s certainly at odds with the comments from Dutch colleagues (high paid finance guys that could certainly afford cars), but I’ve not been to NL so can’t comment.

  29. “or if you don’t have a car or a paid-for parking space.”

    Could be “If you don’t want/can’t afford a car and a private parking space” or if you can’t physically / legally drive a car. Bikes provide greater opportunity for travel for people for whom driving is a poor or unavailable option.

    Besides, if we are talking observational data, I’ve seen bike parks in city centres and at railway stations in the Netherlands with thousands of bikes in them during working hours.

  30. “What is needed is to put cycling and walking and public transport on an equal footing with driving so that people can choose the most efficient mode for their journey.”

    “Most efficient” is one of but several considerations.

    So, the state should make cycling=walking=public transport=driving. Bizarre.

  31. As Sam Adams says, there are small incremental improvements possible, like “smart” traffic lights that can measure length of queues, GPS systems that can recommend alternative routes, etc.

    But that’s too unambitious for the statists. They want an “automated system”. Wassat? It’s the traveling salesman problem scaled up 20 million times. Result: combinatorial explosion and no hope of getting it to work in real time this side of the Singularity.

    Memo to Mason: that’s why it’s also known as the network problem, you moron.

  32. @ Gamecock, ok, preferred, most suitable, maximising their utility. Whichever you fancy.

    The state shouldn’t make them equal, the very point is that they are different and that a person might prefer to use a different mode at different times, for a variety of personal reasons we should not try and anticipate. The state should provide the opportunity for each to be used with common sense allowances for their design limitations, eg, not expecting bus stops outside every front door, or segregated cycles lanes on residential streets.

  33. BiF-

    Indeed. A large part of the problem with statists is they never grasp the difference between managing something to achieve your own goals (like a company, or a total war) and managing something on behalf of other people. Because those other people all have their own goals and desires that one must (try to) satisfy, whereas the company manager or war manager is only trying to satisfy their own goal(s).

    The inevitable result, every time, is that the world they are trying to manage is thus orders and orders of magnitude too complex, so then they decide they’ll have to simplify everything and try to force everyone to want the same as the government and so on, which is why it always ends up as some form of authoritarianism, whether soft or hard.

    And even then it doesn’t work.

  34. I mentioned total war not approvingly, but because much of the impetus for this kind of thinking came from the two war periods, where bureaucrats thought that because they’d managed that quite well, that proved they could manage peacetime similarly.

  35. “…a national traffic manager to prioritise or deprioritise…”

    Oh goody, central planning. By someone who would somehow miraculously just know the right way to do things.

    Because somehow they’re just superior beings to the rest of us, that’s how.

  36. “The state should provide the opportunity for each to be used with common sense allowances for their design limitations,”

    Ahh, yes, The State and Common Sense.

  37. I’m not expecting the common sense from the State, they, after all are the people who screwed it up in the first place. Rather, explaining that those of us seeking improvements are not asking for the impossible, just a sensible compromise.

    Where there is a main road in need of renovation, stick in a segregated cycle lane while it’s being dug up.

    On a residential street, no cycle lane is required, but speed limits of 15 or 20mph and/or traffic calming should be implemented. Rat runs can also be closed to motor vehicles so there is no through traffic.

    These are hardly revolutionary acts, they have very little impact on drivers other than those who like to speed aggressively through residential areas.

  38. magnusW

    The government forced generations of people in to expensive car ownership by choosing to prioritise cars, that mess needs to be unravelled.

    Not really, nobody could have been forced to use cars if they didn’t actually want them. How would you explain the massive rise in bus and coach journeys in the years immediately after the First World War ? The road system was still pretty antiquated ( one of the reasons buses and lorries retained solid tyres for so long ) yet the rise was phenomenal. Car ownership was rising at the same time, people wanted to travel more and new methods of doing that were popular, as they always have been. You could argue, I certainly would, that state interference in the bus industry eventually made it much harder for it to compete with the private car but that was just another aspect of the increasing tendency to regulate everything throughout the 20th C.

    I wouldn’t disagree that too much emphasis has been placed by urban planners on the car, that is changing slowly but I see no sign of a large scale movement away from car use.

  39. Bloke not in Cymru

    I’d always assumed that one of the knock on effects of the war periods was an increased number of people had both the opportunity to drive and/or saw the benenfits of being convoyed around in trucks over marching and that those returning had a changed attitude to motor vehicles. Combined with manufacturing improvements etc you have a willing pool of people and the ability to supply them.

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