Yes, there’s an answer here to the streetcar problem

But experience shows that this project’s success depends on more than just a pair of tracks and new trolley cars. A streetcar line that actually improves quality of life for New Yorkers must be fast, frequent and reliable — all of which require redirecting street space away from private automobiles and toward public transit.

In most American cities with streetcars, success has been limited by faulty design. Forced to share lanes with automobiles, the streetcars get held up in traffic. Unable to maneuver out of their tracks, unlike nimbler buses, they get stuck behind stopped cars or delivery trucks.

Quite so. So, don’t build streetcar lines. Just go buy some buses.

112 thoughts on “Yes, there’s an answer here to the streetcar problem”

  1. The author of that piece is a city planner so can pretty much be ignored and his claim that unsegregated street running is inefficient is only partially true. Light rail is most useful when completely segregated but a lot of systems have at least some normal street running and manage OK. He also rather undermines his argument when talking about the routes needing to be carefully planned to go to the places where people will use them, what if that changes, as it has a habit of doing very quickly these days. This is an inherent problem with any fixed infrastructure public transport and gives buses the edge in most circumstances. Buses aren’t sexy though and don’t need planners to micromanage them so aren’t well thought of except as something to claw back into political control.

    Trams have their place but have been ruined as a concept in countries where they disappeared, such as the US and UK, as their reintroduction has been hijacked by all the usual incompetent axe grinding suspects.

  2. “Monorail… monorail”

    And there’s more than that

    a) the trams are made by one company, and custom made. That means the trams are really expensive as they’re not a semi-manufactured item like buses are. It also means that you have to go back to them to buy more of them. In short, you’re gonna get raped.
    b) you have to have specialist drivers rather than “bloke with a PSV”. That means limited pool, same risks as tube strikes.
    c) you’re stuck with routes. You have an event in town that means say, taking lots of people to the firework display? You can’t just put the trams there like you can a bus.

    There’s maybe a small environmental benefit, but a bus is already a massive environmental benefit over cars, and if you spent the same money blown on trams on subsidising buses, you’d have a greater effect.

  3. Buses have many advantages, but they are uncomfortable and only locals know where they actually go. Never seen a functional bus map that tells you anything useful.

    I think more places should install the suspended monorail thing they have (as far as I know, uniquely in the world) in Wuppertal.

  4. I’d imagine the single, big advantage, is – like the Tramvia I’ve used in Alicante & Valencia (Bordeaux has similar)- you’re not limited to bus lengths. They run a six coach train. And, outside the city, they’re capable of using the existing rail network. Inside, they can do the same & stop at metro platforms. It’s not a bad way of getting a suburb to urban core transit system up & running, without the enormous expense of tunneling in. And a lot more flexible than multi-billion $/£ metro projects.

  5. Buses have many advantages, but they are uncomfortable and only locals know where they actually go.

    They don’t have to be uncomfortable, this is often as much the fault of poor road surfaces and that planners delight the speed hump as of the buses themselves. Buses are built to be as cheap as possible so comfort can get compromised but if they were better regarded and seen as the primary urban public transport option they would attract more users and the companies could afford better vehicles.

    As for information in my experience its just as available on line as train info and the websites are usually less complex.

  6. bis

    Yes that’s where they do best, as proper light rail systems, using them as purely short to middle distance city centre transport makes little sense.

  7. Incidentally, it does help to be a bit creative. A lot of our Malaga-Fuengirola RENFE line is single track. Yet they manage to run a 20 minute service, in both directions, over 25km. Some stations are single platform. The busy ones are two track, dual. Which is where the trains pass, thanx to nifty scheduling.
    Doing the same with a tram & running down the center of the street, rather than the kerbs, would obviate most of the problems mentioned

  8. What makes buses uncomfortable in places like New York is the people who ride them. Google “Epic Beard Man” to see what I mean.

    The advantage of the streetcar is that it can’t be easily routed into the ghetto, so you get a better quality public transportation customers, ones that won’t scare the tar out of New York Times readers.

  9. The busy ones are two track, dual. Which is where the trains pass, thanx to nifty scheduling.
    Doing the same with a tram & running down the center of the street, rather than the kerbs, would obviate most of the problems mentioned

    That’s much easier to do with segregated track than it is with street running. Centre running was one of the reasons trams were abolished in British towns where it was common, it’s unsafe, causes traffic hold ups and makes trams very unpopular. You need extra signalling and platforms in the middle of the street with safe access, rarely used now with good reason.

  10. The tram system in Melbourne worked quite well. The locals don’t stop fucking going on about it though, especially when they’re abroad. One of them looked positively crestfallen when I pointed out other cities have trams, including Manchester.

  11. TN

    Melbourne is a good example of a system that was never closed and therefore has established and tested operating procedures and the locals are used to it, Amsterdam and many other European cities are the same. Building new systems is never so straightforward and the combination of political bungling and local hostility often ensures only limited success at best. The disaster that is Edinburgh has probably finished any prospect of further systems being built here.

  12. Thornavis,

    “They don’t have to be uncomfortable, this is often as much the fault of poor road surfaces and that planners delight the speed hump as of the buses themselves. Buses are built to be as cheap as possible so comfort can get compromised but if they were better regarded and seen as the primary urban public transport option they would attract more users and the companies could afford better vehicles.”

    Exactly. Try running a tram on the road surfaces that buses cope with.

    And yes, bus times are in Google Maps if you tell them about them, which is a pretty trivial exercise of sending them some files of stops, routes and times. Bus maps? How quaint.

  13. I think more places should install the suspended monorail thing they have (as far as I know, uniquely in the world) in Wuppertal.

    Not unique – there’s one at Dusseldorf airport, for instance. It suffers from the fundamental problem of monorails, points (switches for our US readers) are difficult and cumbersome, so monorails are essentially limited to point-to-point (like the Shanghai airport maglev) or a circular route (like the Schwebebahn, you mention).

  14. Surely you could get some of the environmental (well, at least local emissions) benefits of trams by installing trolleybuses, while retaining the abilities of a bus to move through traffic.

    But then you start wondering whether standalone electric buses are almost feasible to run and wonder whether it’s worth installing all those expensive overhead wires.

    I suspect that if self-driving cars become a thing public transport anywhere but in cities will basically be self-driving taxis.

  15. Interpersonal power dynamics matter. For a bus, your admission and smooth journey progress depends on the driver being in a good mood. For a tram, you board through the middle doors (never seeing the driver) and the driver can only follow the physically defined route. Given most New Yorkers’ famously bad moods, nobody wants their journey beholden to a stranger’s whims.

  16. dotdavid

    I’m a huge fan of trolleybuses which I’m lucky enough to remember and to have travelled on when young. Unfortunately, as you suggest, they have the disadvantages of a fixed infrastructure and none of the tram’s advantage of greater capacity, so whilst there are still a few systems left they are they are unlikely to make much of a comeback.

    I suspect that if self-driving cars become a thing public transport anywhere but in cities will basically be self-driving taxis.

    I’m not so sure. A driverless bus would have some big plus points economically and as all the negative externalities of car use would still exist buses might actually enjoy a big revival. As with any future prediction though the reality is likely to be quite different from what might be imagined now.

  17. The Melbourne trams run on twin tracks down the centre of the street. Should you find yourself there, and it and it’s surrounding areas are not the shabbiest places in the world to visit, there are free vintage trams running around the CBD. A must do is als the tramcar restaurant, the food quality is excellent.

  18. @Tim, but the trams in Manchester are crap. They closed two functional railway lines and spent millions on consultants to re-open them as slower tram lines (I believe they’ve done the same thing to the Rochdale/Oldham loop now). And they bought a special brand new design of amazing high-tech tram that can go round corners at a whole 2.5 mph, and has the narrowest and most uncomfortable seat of any public transport in the world.

  19. ‘So, don’t build streetcar lines. Just go buy some buses.’

    Or do nothing. There is no requirement for municipal governments to be in the human transport business.

    But it’s more fun than stopping crime.

  20. “Never seen a functional bus map that tells you anything useful.”

    Oh bad luck. Edinburgh used to have an excellent one: maybe it still has. Christchurch in NZ had one when we lived there. In fact, it had a fine bus system altogether.

    It seems to me that buses have improved with the advent of the electronic notice at the bus stop telling you when the next ones are due.

  21. If you want to see public transport done right (Inc. Trams), go to Hong Kong.

    The MTR is brilliant, easily the best I’ve ever used, and the buses are straightforward enough for me to use too.

    The Trams are great as well, and the whole lot mesh together well enough to form the only city where I am happy to assume I’ll get where I’m going on time if I have business to travel to.

  22. “I’m a huge fan of trolleybuses which I’m lucky enough to remember and to have travelled on when young.”
    I certainly remember trolly buses. One used to get me to school in the morning. I was a big fan of them then because you got that interesting interlude when the pick-up came off the cable & the driver used to get out & fish for it with his pole. And the blinding blue flashes when it rained.
    Nowadays, trolleybuses seem like some amusing fantasy from steam punk. Along with mechanical computers.

  23. Nottingham has just spunked away £670 million quid on a new tram system that doesn’t do anythijng that the existing bus services didn’t already do. And it only goes to a few suburbs. And the whole place was an absolute disaster area for three years. Honestly, a war would have caused less damage to the suburbs concerned. One suburb looks like it is never going to recover as a shopping area.

  24. Dunno if someone else has made this point, but I read an interesting piece, amazingly, about this just the other day (I’m fucked if I can remember where) which pointed out that the reasons politicians love trams is because they love projects, and they love spending money, and if they can spend money on a project in an area where they need votes they get very excited indeed.

    A big tram station somewhere bringing people to that area might be worth a lot of votes, and possibly backhanders, because it’s very permanent. Bus stops not so much, precisely because there’s no guarantee they’ll still be there in a year’s time.

  25. I assume you are discussing a system that looks like this.

    This system uses the subway tracks once it enters downtown after crossing over an bridge and tunnel, shared with buses, network. While it was in no means perfect it provides commuter service at a far lower cost than building a new highway would have. I do acknowledge there are times it would be nice to have two more lanes for cars on some streets but traffic would be worse if the train wasn’t there. As soon as I can afford to I will move out of the house my ex had to have to an area served by our T line.

  26. Buses have many advantages, but they are uncomfortable and only locals know where they actually go. Never seen a functional bus map that tells you anything useful.

    The maps standard to London bus stops seem fine to me. A local map, a zoomed out map, a diagram with the names of the stops and the estimated times between them.

  27. Bus lines can be added and reduced to accommodate actual demand. Train lines are capital intensive project that will greases much more palms and are much less flexible to demand (and to the city planner, a feature, not a bug).

    Any wonder why they preferred fix line over bus line?

  28. +1 for Hong Kong. I found I could get anywhere on public transport. They have a additional extra layer in the system, Public Light Buses which are like semi-fixed route shared 16-seat minibus taxis. Bus 91M to Clearwater Bay TVB in the middle of nowhere, 30p.

  29. coyoteblog.com has the numbers on this.
    Old tram lines are OK, cheaper than ripping them up.
    New tram lines are a disaster. They only work if they go fast (they don’t) and have infrequent stops (which people don’t want).
    The economics are awful but that won’t stop the politicians.

  30. It’s interesting that most city planners seem to have an ideological hatred of cars and love of trains. There is some interesting research out there that the more a city spends on trains, the poorer the bus services are and the fewer ‘poor’ people get public transports. Trains are almost entirely geared to service the well-off, urban middle classes.

    Trains do seem to hit a special place in politicians minds, big projects to attached a legacy too.

  31. Actually Melbourne’s tram system is very slow. You don’t notice this when you’re coming home in peak hour, because everything’s slow at that time. But try getting across Melbourne on the trams in non-peak times. It takes hours and hours to get anywhere. A trip that would take you 20 minutes in a car could take you 2-3 hours.

  32. >I think more places should install the suspended monorail thing they have (as far as I know, uniquely in the world) in Wuppertal.

    Sydney has one in the city centre. It’s basically useless for anything other than giving the tourists something a bit different. It’s slow, and the stops are difficult to get to.

  33. @jgh

    Forgot about the PLB’s! Caught one back from Deepwater Bay (just around the corner from Clearwater. Cheap as chips, and fun, as the locals seem to treat them more like a charabanc day out than a way of getting to town. Lovely things, and I have a little dinky version at home.

  34. Cal,

    The Sydney monorail closed in 2013.

    Public transport in Brisbane is pretty good. At times the buses run on their own routes. If you live close to the river, the CityCats are a good way to get around.

    The Mackay Regional Council runs the cleanest buses on the planet, completely uncontaminated by passengers.

  35. David Moore I’d love to see the research. My biggest concern is that many studies I’ve seen fail to account for the cost of maintaining the road network the buses use. I don’t doubt that when a transportation network adds a new rail line from scratch the costs have to come from somewhere and normally the poor areas take the hit first.

  36. The buses here in Bournemouth and Poole are superb – clean, frequent and with free wi-fi for the screen addicted kiddies. I assume this is because there is a train line running through the middle of both towns so there is proper competition.

  37. There is some interesting research out there that the more a city spends on trains, the poorer the bus services are and the fewer ‘poor’ people get public transports. Trains are almost entirely geared to service the well-off, urban middle classes.

    Yes very true and I say that as an ex railwayman. Buses have been disregarded for a long time although in the early days ( pre WW1 ) they were themselves largely a middle class form of transport and trams for the workers. That indifference sometimes has positives though, for instance the deregulation of British buses in the eighties was a big success and I’m sure part of the reason for that was because the government wasn’t interested in them so didn’t set up a system that increased central control as happened on the railways.

    As an aside if anyone wants to see how a transport system can be created purely by enterprise and competition out of almost nowhere they should study the history of buses in Britain, particularly in the immediate post WW1 period.

  38. Just started doing some work in the downtown area and am enjoying using the seabus again, hate the buses as they are always full and suffer the same problem of driving which is that the bridges are choke points. Light rail system is ok, though they have taken a knock in reliability last couple of years, but seem to be sorting it out now. The new electronic fare card system though is another matter entirely.

  39. I used to like the metro in Newcastle when we visited there regularly (England, not NSW). The trams in Montpellier are swish. Aren’t there trams in Croydon. Are they any good?

  40. Gamecock – “Or do nothing. There is no requirement for municipal governments to be in the human transport business.”
    Exactly, take yourselves off to South America – Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, not to bloody Australia ffs. There they have things called “collectivos”. Man owns large Hyundai van, hires conductor. Bus races down road, conductor hauls people on board, collects fare and throws them off at their destination. Buses race each other to collect fares.
    Here, in the UK, we have these set bus routes, run by large companies creaming off the State for fares not paid by OAPs. Usually driven by fat useless bastards. Scrap the lot. They don’t cover all the areas in a town or city, so people often need to walk a considerable distance or get a lift to the stop. Slow, unreliable and not going where people want to go.
    I used to take the train into Manchester as a kid. It’s now been replaced by a tram at great expense. Advantage? Sweet FA. Slower than before. Back in the day, you got off the train at Deansgate, Oxford Rd or Piccadilly. One of those would be really close to wherever you might want to go. The tram was just another waste of taxpayers’ money and a vanity project.
    Transport is one area where the market will provide if allowed a level playing field, and it will provide far more employment than the large companies do at the moment, and be cheaper for the users.
    And let the OAPs pay.

  41. I will gladly join the Hong Kong trainspotters. To outbid you all I am delighted that I can use my Octopus on the top deck of the two remaining Star Ferry routes. Definitely beats the tram – both the Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan one, which is slow, dirty, inefficient, and should be preserved forever as a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Tuen Mun light rail Mr Square must be talking about,

  42. Face it -the car is really democratic. The real aristo has a helicopter of course.
    And if you haven’t got a car – live in the country. Yokels like the country.

  43. Aren’t there trams in Croydon. Are they any good?

    They’re not bad, apart from being in Croydon. Part of the system runs over former rail lines, which were under used or redundant and the rest is mostly on reserved tracks, there’s some street running through central Croydon which works OK. The only problem with it is that it’s isolated, it connects in well to the rail system but being oriented east/west isn’t ideal and despite crossing the Northern Line it doesn’t have an interchange. There were various schemes to extend it northwards but they’ve never come to anything.

  44. “Transport is one area where the market will provide if allowed a level playing field”
    It’s a bit difficult to see how though. I’m as much as a red blooded entrepreneurial capitalist as the next man but I can’t see pure market solutions to transport in cities. You just can’t get round, whatever transport system you propose, it has to thread it way through, pass over or tunnel underneath what is either private or public property. There isn’t enough.road space for all the private buses who might want to use it. How would a private monorail or tube company negotiate passing over or under every single bit of property on a route?
    There has to be a measure of central planning & once you start that, what market you have left is severely limited. it’s almost the worse solution possible. Mix elected politicians, bureaucrats & private enterprise in the same pot & somebody’s going to get screwed. And you can bet that’ll be the public.

  45. So Much For Subtlety

    Andy Dan – “Exactly, take yourselves off to South America – Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, not to bloody Australia ffs. There they have things called “collectivos”. ”

    Even more impressive in the Philippines. Turkey has a great system too. They would do better with Uber as well. This is a case where the state just has to get out of the way.

  46. The micro buses in Santiago de Chile are fun. They seem to run everywhere for peanuts, probably on peanut oil. Even the buses in Los Angeles are pretty good and wide-ranging. The commentator who has never seen a good bus map should try actually using buses. The maps have worked fine for me in LA, London, Brussels, Santiago, Seattle, Portland, Munich, Amsterdam, The Hague…. Or you just go to Google maps for instructions.

    The Croydon tram seems to have replaced the train from West Croydon to Wimbledon and duplicated the buses from East Croydon to New Addington. Hard to see who amongst the users has gained.

    15 years ago, they had trolley buses in Arnhem. They were great. The ones in Ruse, Bulgaria and Sofia were always suffering from pole drop around roundabouts. And the odour inside was the most concentrated garlic smell I have ever experienced.

  47. Actually Melbourne’s tram system is very slow.

    True Cal, but only for a given definition of true. I live 6kms from Melbourne CBD with a tram running past my doorstep, and believe me there is no time outside say 10pm – 4am that I would even consider driving into the city.

    As mentioned upthread, Melbourne’s tram system has persisted because it was never shut down and the road infrastructure has generally been built around it. In fact, there has been a lot of roadwork done in the last 10-15 years to better segregate trams and cars, improve stops and efficiency, minimise impact on traffic, etc.

    But they’re still trams running on streets, *not* light rail – there is a very big difference. And that means some of the lines that have been pushed way out into the middle suburbs are an excruciatingly slow way of getting anywhere. But they’re cheaper than trains and more popular than buses. Around the inner suburbs they work very well, and because they generally have right of way, move more people faster than buses. Also, it’s an extensive network that goes lots of places. Overall, for inner city, it’s almost certainly a lot more efficient than the equivalent in buses would be.

    In general though, retrofitting a tram system to an existing city is probably never going to work.

    It’s always fun when visitors drive around Melbourne though. Especially when they get to a large roundabout which the trams go through the middle of. The general rule is to give way to trams passing through the roundabout so as well as watching the traffic around you, you have to look up and down the line as well – and when 30 tonne of metal is bearing down on you, you don’t want to tangle with it. When my wife is driving me, she watches the traffic and I check for trams. She’s a good driver, but some of these intersections verge on cognitive overload, especially when there are pedestrian crossings halfway around the roundabout as well. Some of the more egregious of these have been rebuilt and signalised now to reduce accidents. Not all though.

    *Works* quite well TN. And yes, I’ve just proved your point. I’m aware we’re not the only city in the world that has them though 🙂

  48. Oops, something happened to my quote of TN’s post at the end there
    The tram system in Melbourne worked quite well. The locals don’t stop fucking going on about it though

  49. I’ve sometimes wondered if the Public Light Bus model could work in the UK. “Work” as in get past the regulations in the way. I’m sure it would work in practice in many areas of the country.

  50. @ Cal

    Citation needed for that journey that’s 20 minutes by car and 2 hours by tram.

    Sure, if your journey is not one that the network really services (eg radial rather than arterial.) then a car will always win. But that’s not a fair fight.

    The trams travel at the pace of the traffic. If they’re segregated they’ll go faster, but in both cases they’ll be slowed by all the stops.. but not to the extent of making a journey take 6 times as long.

    So yeah, Melbourne trams are great. But, as others have said, that’s because the lines were never dug up when the fashion changed to cars. The legacy of this is both practical and cultural.

  51. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I don’t drive, so I am perforce the cause of driving in other people. I can get to (easy) walking distance from work on the bus for 45p, whereas a taxi costs about £6. Here there’s multiple different bus companies and they’re frequent. You can get to either border from San José for about £15. Building a tram system in San José would necessitate demolishing most of the city, which would be a marked improvement. But fortunately no-one’s seriously suggested it.

  52. Hmm. The mayor of my neighbouring city Kaohsiung recently decided to undertake a “light rail” project in addition to the MRT already built there, and probably because of the MRT’s limitations (basically it only has two lines, both arterial). So the “light rail” thing will most likely be on radial routes.

    There are already buses of course (which aren’t very good) but the ostensible motives for both projects are to reduce traffic accidents and air pollution. Aside from cars, Kaohsiung is absolutely teeming with scooters and motorbikes – more so even than other Taiwanese cities. But what’s going on here is attribution error; the traffic accidents are not the fault of there being so many scooters and motorbikes per se, the fault lies with drivers being shit, which is at least partly because their State-mandated driver-training is shit. That’s drivers of all vehicles, not just scooters. Specifically, the major problem is poor spatial awareness and inattention to what is happening around them.

    Newer model scooters and motorbikes are much cleaner (even before the government mandated the use of fuel injection). Better driver training and a real educational effort might help reduce the traffic accident numbers, and scooters are often an excellent means of transport in terms of convenience and cost, especially in a tropical country with high temperatures like Taiwan. So long as you don’t have to move a lot of kids or dogs or equipment around, which is what cars and vans are for.

    But there’s three things against them: one is the irrational green insistence on reducing CO2 emissions, another is the inexplicable aversion to proper driver training, and the third is snobbery, i.e. the view of scooters as horrible little peasant mobiles that are an annoyance and national embarrassment to the well-healed Merc drivers who want Taiwan to emulate Europe.

    Of the three, I think the second one is probably the most important. The poor standard of driver training seems to be an intractable problem because there’s decades of psychological inertia built up behind it. The driving schools are run by the State and don’t even teach basic things like “mirror, signal, maneuver”. You try explaining things like this to people (e.g. why you should check your mirrors before indicating) and it’s just unintelligible to them. It’s very frustrating and a very difficult thing to understand, to watch otherwise perfectly intelligent people suddenly do inexplicably stupid things when driving and not even realize.

    So instead of spending money on making sure gas pipes don’t explode beneath the public roads, or that buildings don’t fall down when there’s an earthquake, or that villages and bridges and so forth aren’t washed away when there’s a typhoon… we get a crappy public transport solution at vast expense to a problem that was already solved, but just needed a bit of common sense applied to it.

  53. Semi-off topic . . .

    15 years ago I was in Honolulu. Went to the very interesting Bishop Museum. I took a city bus back to my hotel at Waikiki. When I got on the bus, there was a payment schedule. I had to look longer than expected. It had 7 fares. As a middle aged white male, I paid peak fare. Everyone else paid less; some paid zero.

    Public transit as the sword of social justice. America’s egalitarian foundation is crumbling.

  54. I never understood why, exactly, people get bent out of shape over urban congestion. FFS, the very definition of “urban” includes the word “congested” (i.e. many people / businesses occupying a small space). People start screaming when their journey across the urban landscape takes 10 minutes longer than they expected, whereas waiting in a long line at a coffee bar (which is actually more irritating) is somehow dismissed with “oh, they’re always busy at this time of day” — because, duh, the coffee bar service is also congested. One causes inchoate rage, the other a shrug.

    My take: there is NO solution to urban street congestion: not trams, not more buses, not fewer cars. Cities like London and New York have it relatively easy, with their extensive underground rail systems, and perhaps their answer is more trains, more often, to divert street traffic below ground. Perhaps.

    Just wait until London traffic gets like, say, Bangalore’s before hitting the panic button. (Actually, Bangalore’s scooter cabs are one solution, but the British Greens would have a collective heart attack if they saw the pollution the scooters push out.)

    y suggestion: leave it alone. If things get too bad, there will be a shift — companies move to the burbs/exurbs, for example — and all government has to do is stay ut of the way. Fat chance of that ever happening..

  55. @Andy Dan. “Transport is one area where the market will provide if allowed a level playing field”

    The problem is that we don’t have a level playing field to start with. 60-70 years ago governments picked a winner and it was the car and they decided it was the future and started sinking billions every year in to it. The entire road network is largely built around individual transportation by motor vehicle and with the exception of the odd, largely shit and unfit for purpose bus or cycle lane nobody else gets a look in. To get back to that level playing field all spending on cars would have to be halted and billions upon billions sunk in to other modes to make up for 70 years of not just neglect but outright hostility.

  56. Actually Melbourne’s tram system is very slow.

    I did notice this. I used to take it from South Bank to St Kilda each Saturday, and it was pretty slow. But the beauty of public transport is you can open a book and not give a damn how slow the journey is: I learned this taking the buses in Manchester up Oxford Road, provided you give yourself enough time to get there, I just treat the trip as like being sat on a sofa. You do need to make sure you get a seat though.

  57. Exactly, take yourselves off to South America – Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, not to bloody Australia ffs. There they have things called “collectivos”. Man owns large Hyundai van, hires conductor. Bus races down road, conductor hauls people on board, collects fare and throws them off at their destination. Buses race each other to collect fares.

    They have these in the former Soviet countries – marshrutkas – and they are fucking awful. But they do work, and they’re cheap.

  58. It’s always fun when visitors drive around Melbourne though.

    Ah yes, Melbourne has the “hook” turn, doesn’t it? When turning right across traffic you first pull to the left and wait: if you pull into the middle of the road as normal, you get hit by a tram.

  59. “the major problem is poor spatial awareness and inattention to what is happening around them”: whenever a friend of mine saw a particularly bad example of that in Queensland he’d shout “Chinese”. Stereotyping bastard, eh? But he was always right.

  60. “The problem is that we don’t have a level playing field to start with. 60-70 years ago governments picked a winner and it was the car and they decided it was the future and started sinking billions every year in to it.”
    Are you sure this applies to London? For the major routes, you have tracks were for moving cows from one field to another, sometime in the past got tarmacked over. Apart from that, the Westway, short stretches of the North Circular, a tunnel at Canary Wharf. That’s about it.

  61. David Moore thank you for the link. The embedded links led me to a study that clarifies your point of trains having more rich white riders while buses have more poor minorities. What I don’t see is information on the cost of infrastructure.

    From what I have found through google searches there is no good information about the cost. Averaging the different numbers I have found I get a cost of $5M per mile for rail and $13M for 2 lanes of highway for above ground construction excluding land acquisition costs. I have not found a good comparison of maintenance costs yet. Based solely on infrastructure construction costs it would appear that trains beat buses on a dedicated arterial line. Lines that share existing road networks will have a different cost profile so I am ignoring these for the time being.

    The reason I bring this up is that in Pittsburgh much of the rail infrastructure, at least the tunnels and right of way are still in place and underutilized. I will focus on the east busway for now as it could be run using either a train or bus system with no costs for land acquisition.

    The route uses the right of way created for the Pennsylvania Railroad with a downtown terminus at Penn Station, ours was not demolished, and has been extended to the borough of Rankin. Penn Station has an existing unused, due to the lack of riders wanting to go to there, connection to the current rail system. Buses that currently exit the dedicated right of way at Penn Station use surface streets downtown to service stops also serviced, and underutilized, by the small subway network. Existing rail lines extend from Rankin which could serve the economically depressed areas of the Mon Valley if funding could be found to convert idle rail beds to useful transportation links.

    In this situation I would argue that using trains versus buses for the main line is the better option. As land acquisition is not an issue and no new tunnels are needed the cost to add rail will be far lower than most projects.

    The current right of way is shared with freight carrying rail lines on one side, and a steep hillside on other from Penn Station to East Liberty on the other, no more than 3 lanes be built without vertical integration. The existing concrete road bed could be maintained with embedded rails. This is useful for moving buses from the depot to their routes without further increasing traffic on the already insufficient surface streets. Opening the busway to all traffic is not an option as the added capacity is insufficient to improve travel times greatly.

    When trains are used instead of buses the advantage is that buses no longer have to enter congested downtown streets. Currently Pittsburgh uses a hub system where virtually of the buses, outside of the area served by the T line, pass through downtown or the nearby Oakland neighborhood. Shifting some of these buses from arterial lines to radial lines connecting to the new means fewer buses are needed downtown easing both congestion and shorter route length. For this route grading and most tunneling has already been done.

    As most of the neighborhoods currently serviced by the line are currently poor the argument that trains do not carry as many riders doesn’t come into play. The current buses riders will simply change to the new system, at least, until gentrification sets in. Additionally adding this train line would gain support from “greens” so the standard social questions are generally a non-issue.

    The issue with trains versus buses is normally that the wrong routes are discussed. Instead of building a relatively cheap 25 mile line using existing underutilized railroad right of ways we got a 1.2 mile extension, for $550M, that initially served only the new monstrosity, I mean casino, and stadiums. Until we get leaders that build rail projects dedicated to serving the most citizens and understand the added road network cost of buses we have no way of discussing the true merits of each system.

  62. >Citation needed for that journey that’s 20 minutes by car and 2 hours by tram.

    What do you mean, ‘citation’? That’s my own experience of living in Melbourne, sometimes driving, sometimes taking trams.

    >The trams travel at the pace of the traffic.

    No. At least, they only travel at the pace of the traffic when there’s lots of traffic. As I said, in peak hour they’re as slow as everything else. But when there’s less traffic, they’re slower than everything else. Plus they stop all the time.

    >not to the extent of making a journey take 6 times as long.

    It can happen. Because not only are they slow and always stopping, the routes don’t go from point-to-point like a car does. First you have to walk to a stop. Then you have to get a tram into the city centre, or at least somewhere that’s nowhere near where you want to go, so that you can then get another tram, which will get you closer to where you want to go. After an age you get off that, but of course it’s only taken you roughly to where you want to go, and then you have another walk to get to where you need to be. So, door-to-door in a car would be 20 minutes. Door-to-door using a tram it could be 120 minutes.

    So Melbourne trams are fine for getting home in peak hour from the city centre, because you can fit lots of people on them, reducing the number of cars in peak hour, and their slowness isn’t an issue at that time. But going from one Melbourne suburb to another the rest of the time? Forget it. Get a taxi. Or as Newman says, take a big book.

  63. “So Melbourne trams are fine for getting home in peak hour from the city centre, because you can fit lots of people on them”

    So these trams are a prefect fit for one problem. Once we know they can be useful it is a simple cost/benefit analysis as to whether it should be built.

  64. Thornavis in manic “private sector uber alles ” form .” See above >”a transport system can be created purely by enterprise and competition”. Not with London buses it couldn’t.
    The pioneer motorised bus era was marked by such practices as: companies publishing timetables and rivals nipping round five minutes early and nicking all their customers from bus stops: no buses at all in quieter hours of days: disrepair of vehicles to dangerous levels; buses racing each other to populous stops; nobody going at all to far-out suburbs. The whole thing was a fiasco: almost as bad as private fire fighters who fought each other for fire hydrants while whole blocks burned down.
    Then there is the financial aspect: if you are going to deal with the problem of London property prices excluding the useful middle and working classes , it would be as well to have an element of cross subsidy so people a long way out ( on far side of Green Belt ?)could commute very cheaply, next to free.Dave Wetzel of Transport for London spent along time devising the Fares Fair scheme for London (see Net) where cheap fares were subsidised by local taxation (then the rates ,though he would have preferred a Land Value Tax to make it explicit that the high price of land was partly due to good transport links ,publicly provided).
    Cue a brave rebellion by the rich and powerful (aka Tory arseholes) who got their mates in the Lords to declare Fares Fair illegal .Dave Wetzel called them vandals in ermine.
    But vandalism and plunder of the public sector are the rallying cries of the uncivilised hordes that have taken over London.

  65. Ah yes, Melbourne has the “hook” turn, doesn’t it?

    Yep TN, the pull over to the left in front of the cross traffic, wait for the light to change, turn right when the cross light goes green. It’s only used within the CBD, where there is no space for a right turn lane for traffic storage – between cars turning left and right there would be no straight through lane.

    It’s pretty sensible anyway, right turns (for left side driving, swap as needed) are a major source of accidents, trams or not. Once you get used to it, it’s considerably safer. You’ve just blocked in the people who might hit you (the people on your left who want to go the same way you’re turning to) and they are highly unlikely to accelerate straight into you. In fact, it is legal and recommended for cyclists to use this right turn method at every intersection in Victoria.

    The downside is only a few cars can fit into the intersection to wait to turn right. Which is why wherever possible in Melbourne there are long right turn lanes and signals to manage the traffic.

  66. So I’ll give this a go, given Melbourne features and it is my current home town. The trams are a local treasure, and as Tim says, the locals love them. But if you take the romance out and approach it practically, there can be modifications.

    – they take up a lot of road real estate – many Melbourne streets are two lanes of trams, and two of cars. Take out trams and you have four lanes, and a cycle path.
    – they are slow.
    – they are dangerous because they are heavy and do not deviate.
    – they are specialised and expensive, because that keeps their bureaucracy employed.
    – track maintenance can keep key intersections blocked for days and weeks. Neither cars nor trams run. Add in rampant population growth with lagging infrastructure and frustration follows.

    There are many other points, but I’ll offer up a solution. There are likely good reasons why an electric powered vehicle with exclusive real estate to run on makes a lot of sense. But you don’t need the tracks. So I get to trolley buses as a great
    solution for Melbourne. But they never get mentioned.

  67. So, door-to-door in a car would be 20 minutes. Door-to-door using a tram it could be 120 minutes.

    Stacked deck Cal. Restrict yourself to trams, you might be able to make that possible. But there are extensive bus and train networks too. It’s always slower, but six times slower is exaggeration unless you’re talking about late night/early morning.

    I assuming here we’re talking about places trams actually go to. So let’s take the absolute worst lines, 19 from North Coburg into the city, change trams to Domain Interchange, change again to the 8 for Toorak. That probably will take about 120 mins. But I doubt you could do that drive in less than 50-60 mins any time during the day. Peak, probably longer.

    My own personal example, I live in Brunswick but I’m currently working in Ringwood (20 odd kms out of the city). By car, about 35-40 mins each way. I have fairly flexible hours so I’m usually driving off peak, at peak probably an hour. Tram into the city, train out to Ringwood. Door to door, including walking, hour and a quarter, 75 mins, Close enough that I tend to switch back and forth.

  68. It’s not a stacked deck, it’s what I was talking about. I don’t remember the places I used to go as it’s many years since I lived in Melbourne, but I used to get trams all over the place, during the daytime, and it was just so incredibly slow. Half the day would be gone by the time you got where you needed to go. It wasn’t an option for most people, and I noticed that all those Melbournian fans of trams — and yes, they don’t half go on about the trams all the time — very rarely used trams except for commuting to and from work in the city centre (or going in and out of the city centre for the nightlife). In the daytime it’s all students, pensioners, tourists, and generally people with no time pressure.

    (Similar points apply to buses in most cities.)

  69. Just admit that your 20/120 mins comparison is garbage Cal. I’ve told you what I do, which doesn’t involve commuting to the city centre – the exact opposite, heading out of town in the morning and back in the afternoon. I did say it takes longer than driving. Just not by the huge differential you are claiming.

    You neglected finding/paying for parking in your 20 minute analysis too.

  70. “Just admit that your 20/120 mins comparison is garbage Cal.”

    WTF? I’ve told you this was my personal experience. I’ve also had similar experiences with buses in other cities. It’s the same where I live now. There are plenty of suburbs in my current city where it would take me two hours door-to-door to get there if I used buses (as I did when I first arrived), whereas I can drive it in 20 minutes. A slow drive into the city centre, which is nowhere near where I need to go, find the bus I need, then another long slow drive, then a walk. Can easily take two hours.

    And I don’t see why you think a tram ride into the city followed by a *train* ride out of the city has any bearing on inter-suburb tram (or bus) travel.

    As for parking, I don’t remember it ever being an issue in the suburbs of Melbourne. It’s not an issue where I live now too, if we’re talking suburbs. City centre, yes, that’s a nightmare, but suburbs, no. You don’t even have to worry about it in advance. Drive to where you want to go, park on the street somewhere close by. That’s it.

    The fact is that trams and buses are pretty useless for suburb-to-suburb travel for most people, as opposed to suburb-to-city travel. I spent a lot of years being poor and so I spent a great deal of time on public transport doing suburb-to-suburb travel, much more than most people, so I know what I’m talking about.

  71. And I don’t see why you think a tram ride into the city followed by a *train* ride out of the city has any bearing on inter-suburb tram (or bus) travel.

    Because it works? I get there in way less time than you predict – that might be the relevance. Cross city, too. I’m not the biggest fan of public transport either. But I’m willing to admit when something works. And crossing the city in 20 minutes? Give me a break.

  72. Drive to where you want to go, park on the street somewhere close by. That’s it.

    You haven’t driven around Melbourne recently, have you?

  73. Since everybody seems busy rambling about fucking Melbourne.

    DBCReedy “The pioneer motorised bus era was marked by such practices as: ”

    “companies publishing timetables and rivals nipping round five minutes early and nicking all their customers from bus stops:”

    Fighting for you business–chance would be a fine thing either in todays corporate socialist shithole or the era of municipal misery that preceeded it. I rode council buses in my schooldays. “Fuck Off” was the company motto.

    “no buses at all in quieter hours of days”

    Buses are a business. No customers–no business. Our money is pissed away to send subsidised buses for a tiny handful of punters from the sticks. As Uber proves smaller numbers of customers can be catered for by less expensive means of making the trip. Even in the days of the first bus companies I do not believe that the bus business was totally free. You still had to kiss authoritarian arse to be allowed into the business. If you had a bus licence you most likely would not be covered to use cars in the sticks for fear of upsetting cabbies–also licenced (Wiki says first taxi regs in England date from 1636–some free market).

    “: disrepair of vehicles to dangerous levels;”

    As opposed to the fabulously maintained soviet transport systems.

    “buses racing each other to populous stops;”

    See above–fighting for your business.

    “nobody going at all to far-out suburbs.”

    See above.

    ” The whole thing was a fiasco:”

    As a socialist you have special expertise in the area of fiascos. However I think not.

    ” almost as bad as private fire fighters who fought each other for fire hydrants while whole blocks burned down.”

    Specific incident details please–or is it generic leftist fantasy?
    Again.

    Also fuck FaireFares. More socialist bullshit. How to make a bad situation worse by stealing from others.

  74. Blimey I would never have thought a post on trams would generate so many comments and it’s nice to be able to take part in something I know a bit about.

    bis
    There isn’t enough.road space for all the private buses who might want to use it.

    Actually there is the market is limited and sorts itself out eventually, as was shown in Britain in the 1920s and again in the 1980s, it really doesn’t need the state to act as overseer, other than for the usual regulation of safety.

    Diogenes

    The Croydon tram seems to have replaced the train from West Croydon to Wimbledon

    They did but this was an under utilised route, single track and diesel operated. West Croydon station was something of a backwater too, the trams go to both West and East Croydon which makes much more sense.

    Dearime
    “despite crossing the Northern Line it doesn’t have an interchange”: good Lord, how was that justified?

    Afraid I don’t know that but I suspect the expense of building a new tube station and associated connections was probably the reason.

    DBC

    Ecks has answered some of your claims and there’s a lot more to say about that but I’ve just got in from a hard day on the allotment so I will get back to it. For now though I reject your statement that I’m in some kind of mad private enterprise mode, I was making an objective comment on the nature of post WW1 bus and coach development.

  75. DBC

    If you’re still there here is my response to your latest rant.

    You make a lot of claims about the practices of the private companies in the early days of bus services, I’ve seen them all before and they present a distorted picture. Yes there was intense competiton for a very short period in the immediate post WW1 era. It lasted about ten years and had started to abate even before the passing of the Road Transport Act in 1930 that more or less ended it, often to the detriment of established independent operators and the passengers. This competition and innovation, of which poaching passengers and racing was only a minor part, had resulted in a huge expansion of services particularly into those rural areas where there had been practically no public transport before. The growth of coach services too was remarkable and entirely the result of small companies recognising an untapped market. The rise of geographically well defined companies, often as a result of amalgamations and the subsequent area agreements that these came to with each other was a result of that intense period and gave us some long lasting and well known bus companies. It was most certainly not a fiasco as you claim.

    As for your claim that the London bus system wasn’t created by private enterprise, that is flat out wrong and could only be made by someone who knows nothing about the history of London buses. You don’t provide any evidence for this claim so I’m assuming that you must imagine, as so many people do, that the creation of London Transport was a result of an imagined failure on the part of the private companies. Which if so also suggests you know little about this subject and are just using it as an excuse to bang on about property prices and LVT, as per bloody usual.

    I would recommend that you and indeed anyone else who might be intersted should read John Hibbs’ short but thorough book, The History of British Bus Services, It provides an excellent introduction to the subject.

  76. Ecks

    Even in the days of the first bus companies I do not believe that the bus business was totally free. You still had to kiss authoritarian arse to be allowed into the business

    Not really, until 1930 there was very little to prevent anyone establishing a bus operation. The biggest regulatory hurdle was that different local authorities, who licensed operators, all required a connecting service to be registered with them, one licence wasn’t enough. This was an erratic system and not always enforced but it had a negligible effect on the growth of bus and coach services. The 1930 Road Transport Act ended this, one of its positive aspects, and introduced area licensing administered by the traffic commissioners.

  77. Thornavis – the distance from East to Est Croydon ctstions was about 10 minutes on foot. The last time I went there, the distance is now about 10 minutes by tram. As I say, the benefits are hard to quantify.

  78. See above> Firemen fighting each other while fires grow unabated is the most memorable scene from the film “Gangs of New York”.
    Other Net references: ” When firefighters were violent gang members”; “When gangs of thugs put out fires”.
    If this is too red-bloodedly American private enterprise,(is this possible?) consider this from “Fire Insurance Marks ” (Wikipedia about GB) “Successive combinations of fire brigades led to virtually the entire city of London being put under the protection of the London Fire Engine Establishment which fought, not only the fires of policy holders, but those of non-subscribers, the reason being they rapidly spread to insured buildings.”
    Private fire insurance led to your well insured house being burnt to the ground because your neighbour couldn’t afford it.( In the same way that private health insurance wouldn’t protect you if violent infectious illnesses got out of control all around you amongst people who could not afford doctors).
    @Thorn You seem to object to the Road Transport Act of 1930.Given its provisions, I would suggest that nobody in their right minds would have ventured on the roads in motorised transport pre 1930, as a matter of personal safety!
    Your description of the spread of bus companies does not include much competition, just the spread of services to unprovided-for areas by lone pioneer companies followed by their amalgamation .

  79. DBC

    @Thorn You seem to object to the Road Transport Act of 1930.Given its provisions, I would suggest that nobody in their right minds would have ventured on the roads in motorised transport pre 1930, as a matter of personal safety!

    A strange comment it’s clear that people did venture on to the roads in motorised transport, in fact they took to it in droves. I assume you don’t imagine that pre-motorised transport was safer ? Just check out the figures on the number of people killed by horses in various interesting ways.

    My problem with that act, as regards buses, is that it went a long way to replacing commercial and operational decision making with their political equivalent. As an example, routes could not be abandoned or even varied without the permission of the Commissioners, this gradually led to the ossification of services which could not respond to changing markets at all well. There were other problems, these were apparent from the start but thanks to the general good sense of the commissioners and the goodwill of the companies it did not cause too many problems and as the market was still expanding the consumers did not immediately feel the effects either. However after the war with the big increase in private motoring things changed and it was then that the inherent failings of the system became apparent, it lasted far too long.

    Your description of the spread of bus companies does not include much competition, just the spread of services to unprovided-for areas by lone pioneer companies followed by their amalgamation .

    It’s a big subject and I was trying to be reasonably brief. My point about the spread of services was that it was a good example of private companies, often very small ones, spotting an untapped market and moving in, it wasn’t just a matter of competition, vision and enterprise were just as important. There was a lot of competition though and that’s how many of the larger companies came into existence or expanded from small beginnings. Fierce competitiveness often led to the losers selling up to a winner which then went on to either absorb or merge with other winners. One of the reasons London Transport came into existence was that the London General didn’t like this and had always sought a monopoly, going to the extent even of setting up front companies which appeared to be independents. Lord Ashfield was quite open about this, he didn’t believe in competition or that shareholders mattered much and so, with cooperation from the government and the unions, London Transport came into being. The Traffic Commissioners had also done their bit by more or less stopping the independent competitors from operating. Ashfield was a man of vision with a genuine concern to create a quality transport system which, with the help of some other gifted men, he did. The system was very good but ultimately suffered from the same problems as the provincial companies after the war, declining markets and over regulation.

  80. @ DBC Reed &Thornavis
    While my personal memories cannot seriously compete with Thornavis’ deep research, I can point out the inherent stupidity in DBC Reed’s “pioneer motorised bus era”.
    The pioneer buses were horse-drawn. A lot of the post WWII-era London bus routes, on some of which I travelled, were determined by the ability of the horses to pull a full-laden omnibus up a hill – so the routes diverted around hills that were too steep.
    DBC Reed is also talking bunkum when he suggests that the post-WWI practice of “pirate buses” timing their route took place at the beginning of motorised omnibuses. Twaddle! The pirate buses were post-WWI run by, largely, ex-army officers. My mother used to catch one to school as they were more fun.
    On another rant “Private fire insurance led to your well insured house being burnt to the ground because your neighbour couldn’t afford it.” is a flat-out lie. Private fire insurance resulted in your house NOT being burnt to the ground. There was NO public sector fire brigade. When Mr Reed learns to read to the end of the paragraph he will find that his wiki reference states “the London Fire Engine Establishment was formed under the leadership of James Braidwood.[5] With 80 firefighters and 13 fire stations, the unit was still a private enterprise, funded by the insurance companies”

  81. – they are dangerous because they are heavy and do not deviate.

    You make some good points S Bear, but this is not one of them. You can count the number of injuries or fatalities due to trams in Melbourne on the fingers of one foot. Well, I won’t say never, but it’s rare. Crunched vehicles happen, not as much as they used to, but despite the weight, trams are generally traveling slowly through intersections and it’s usually property damage only.

    They do occasionally deviate – long time ago I was driving and had a tram derail in front of me. The back end drifted off the tracks and kept going until it was perpendicular to the road. Fortunately I was driving a 1956 MGA with nicely unbalanced drum brakes all round, when I stamped on the stop pedal the car pulled left and swerved me round the mess.

  82. @ Cal

    You’ve correctly identified what the trams are good for.. getting in and out of the city, plus any other journeys that happen to suit their route (Fitzroy to St Kilda or South Melbourne is one of my regular non-CBD journeys).

    Yet you say trams are slow because they’re not good for other things. Well duh. My kettle can toast a bagel, but not very well.

    Tram usage is very high for people doing the journeys that trams are designed to do. There is no case for building a load of radial lines for the other journeys where cars are clearly optimal, and busses chip in as required. The market has spoken.

  83. Blimey I would never have thought a post on trams would generate so many comments and it’s nice to be able to take part in something I know a bit about.

    I think your expertise in this area is fascinating!

  84. I think your expertise in this area is fascinating!

    One of the real strengths of this blog is that many of the regular commenters are experts in something.

    And one or two are experts at everything 🙂

  85. @J77
    After a lucid interval, you are back to O level Comprehension failure .Wikipedia says quite simply that fires in uninsured buildings “rapidly spread to insured buildings.” J77 dismisses this as a flat-out lie!
    Thornavis shows extensive hobbyist knowledge of the alleged wonders of private “competitive “motorised transport but comes round to concluding that the founder of London Transport “didn’t believe in competition”. Is he saying that centralised London Transport was a mistake?
    None of you has the historical sense to realise that in this post WWI era , competition was rightly questioned, largely due to the work of safety razor King Gillette.He and his many followers pointed out that to compete with each other firms each have to have their own marketing department, HR department and now computing, massively multiplying back office bureaucracy. This becomes bleedin’ obvious when mergers are arranged because their whole rationale is that one marketing department etc will be made to do the work of two or more. Socialists used to campaign on ,in this way, cutting bureaucracy. Gillette used to apologise for forcing firms to compete.
    But armed with computers and blind faith in laissez faire roused from the grave ,where Chamberlain, consigned it in the 1870’s, we now have all wonders of proliferating private sector bureaucracy (just what is needed to sort out the centralised NHS) and the private sector banks owning all the country’s money.
    Well done, useful idiots!

  86. None of you has the historical sense to realise that in this post WWI era , competition was rightly questioned

    Of course it was questioned. The rise of communism and fascism was nothing more than attempts to build an alternative. Did you notice that they utterly failed? Somehow, who knows how, those duplicated marketing and HR departments are leading to better outcomes.

  87. DBC Reed is lying again.
    I stated that ““Private fire insurance led to your well insured house being burnt to the ground because your neighbour couldn’t afford it.” is a flat-out lie.”
    I did not say wikipedia was a flat-out lie.
    The *absence* of private fire insurance resulted in houses burning down.
    Prior to private fire insurance houses got burned down because there was no fire brigade at all. The first private fire brigades protected the houses of the insured, then they started to protect adjoining houses as a preventative. The wikipedia article (if you bother to read it properly) does *not* say insured houses got burned to the ground. The Sun, for instance, would attack fires in adjacent houses because the cost of doing so was less than the cost of partial damage to the insured house.
    The all-beneficient state did nothing for nearly 200 years while the greedy capitalists pioneered fire insurance (the well-meaning early mutuals failed and “The Sun” started its fire brigade in 1710). An example of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”.

  88. @ DBC Reed
    Anyone who has suffered from the apallingly shoddy service from the centralised monopoly of buses called London Transport and its failure to revise routes designed for Victorian horse buses *knows* that centralised London transport was a mistake.
    If it’s quicker to walk than take a bus there is something wrong.

  89. “because your neighbour couldn’t afford it”: good to know that uninsured buildings were a consequence of poverty, rather than stupidity, cupidity, or negligence.

  90. That’s an interesting point john77. Back to Melbourne, only because I know it, public transport was ‘privatised’ in the mid 90s. It’s more of an outsourcing/franchisee agreement really (private operator runs their bit of infrastructure in return for fare revenue), but privatisation is the word bandied about by the ‘foreigners sucking money out of the system’ brigade. There’s a lot of fuss about them skimping and sucking money out of the system from the usual bolshie suspects.

    So for an example of just how good the central control of public transport was, let’s go back to the early nineties. Guns and Roses concert on the outskirts of town, attendance about 30,000. Obviously known about for months in advance. Train station nearby. Only problem was, the last normally scheduled train leaves about half an hour before the end of the show. So what do you do?

    Well, if you’re the PTC (Public Transport Corporation), you run trains as scheduled and tell your potential customers to go fuck themselves. A friend of mine walked 20kms into the city because they wouldn’t run an few extra trains. Too hard, who would negotiate with the drivers and other staff, think of the safety implications!

    Fast forward to now, when the franchisees actually care about passenger numbers because they represent fare revenue, extra trains and trams get run for sports matches, stadium concerts, whatever. Somehow not so hard anymore.

    The Melbourne tram restaurant service has been mentioned a couple of times (and it is lovely, a bit overpriced but a fun night out). That’s one of the best examples of just how bad union/public service control of transport got in the 90s here. Back then, we had conductors on trams. The restaurant trams, despite being booking only and with full table service, were still required to have conductors. No job to do, just turn up for 8 hours, read a book, collect pay. A plum shift that used to get handed out as a reward.

  91. @d
    It wouldn’t matter if your well-insured house burnt down because your neighbour was uninsured because of relative poverty or any of your list of pejorative abstract nouns , it still burnt down even if you had spent loads on insurance. Things were infinitely worse in New York of course, but most things normally are .
    J77 Clearly they started fighting fires in non-subscribers houses because experience had shown they “spread rapidly to insured buildings” .A non competitive comprehensive fire brigade was the natural evolution from this point paid for out of local taxation which people in bygone days saw as an improvement because rich bastards paid more for the service than poor people. Nowadays the rich with large rambling tricky-to-deal with houses might expect to pay a council tax precept for the Fire Brigade the same as those in poky little houses thanks to the attitudes inculcated by Thicky Thatcher and her Pals, so adored round here.

  92. DBC Reed:

    “None of you has the historical sense to realise that in this post WWI era , competition was rightly questioned, largely due to the work of safety razor King Gillette.He and his many followers pointed out that to compete with each other firms each have to have their own marketing department, HR department and now computing, massively multiplying back office bureaucracy. This becomes bleedin’ obvious when mergers are arranged because their whole rationale is that one marketing department etc will be made to do the work of two or more. Socialists used to campaign on ,in this way, cutting bureaucracy. Gillette used to apologise for forcing firms to compete”

    You really are digging this shit out of the Ark aren’t you Reedy.

    The tired old chestnut of duplication of effort under capitalism.Jeebus.

    And of course there is no bureaucracy and wasteful effort under socialism –one of its many strength.

    King Gillete may have apologised to companies for something that was of enormous benefit to the public and humanity in general ie competition. More fool him.

    We a still waiting for a single apology from socialism for millions of murders.

    I saw a cartoon back about 1980.

    These bureaucrats are sitting in their office at the Monopolies Commission. One of them comes in and says: “Bad news. We have broken up all of the big companies. We will soon be unemployed”

    “Nonsense” says one of his comrades as a lightbulb appears over his head.

    Next scene we see a little shop occupying both sides of a street corner. “Ma and Pa’ Mart” it says.

    Thee door opens and the bureaucratic pukes enter. “You’re being trust-busted” they announce to the elderly and bewildered Ma and Pa. “How can that be?” says Pa” we’re just a small corner market”. “Ah!” say the pukes. “You are the ONLY market on this corner–and as far as we are concerned –that’s a corner on the market!”

    In the next panel we see that Ma and Pa’s has been divided in two. Ma’s Market on one side of the corner and Pa’s market on the other.

    Just at that point a couple of arty-farty Guardian-types are passing the corner. “Look at that” says one “Two markets on the same corner–a textbook example of wasteful duplication under Capitalism”.

  93. DBC, can you please learn to write? Your political opinions are bad enough without suffering through your offenses to basic grammar and punctuation.

  94. I’m bemused by all the attention on Melbourne, no mention of the disaster of Edinburgh. They are extending the tram link into the centre of Birmingham from Snow Hill station- the first 500 yds opened recently (it’s only taken them 2 years!). The trams are being slowed right down by the number of people walking in front of them. Birmingham city centre is small, the streets are tightly packed with pedestrians & now they run a train through it. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a serious accident. Trams can’t steer away from an impact & their braking is inherently worse (smooth steel wheels on a smooth steel rail = low friction, rubber on tarmac = high friction). Buses would do the job for a fraction of the cost.

  95. @ DBC Reed
    You are living in a make-believe world.
    The well-insured houses did not burn down; that is why the The Sun Fire Office survived and prospered (it is now part of Royal Sun Alliance).
    “A non competitive comprehensive fire brigade was the natural evolution from this point paid for out of local taxation”
    Which did not happen in the real world.
    What happened in the real world was that the various insurance companies co-operated to create a more efficient fire brigade and then progressive mergers created a single fire brigade for London – all paid for by the insurance companies.
    The council tax precept for fire brigade is based on the rateable value band so those living in expensive houses pay more than those in cheap houses.
    In the pre-Thatcher era, rates were not based on wealth or income but on the rateable value of the premises. The proposal to introduce a “Community Charge” arose from complaints that widows with very little income (widows’ pensions were fairly rare for those retiring in/before the 1980s) were paying more for services that they did not receive than households with multiple wage-/salary-earners. As someone old enough to remember the pre-Thatcher era, I can tell you that your claim is erroneous.

  96. King Gillette didn’t want competition.
    The stainless steel razor blade is a result of competition by Wilkinson Sword. Allegedly it had been invented twice before but Gillette thought it would reduce its profits as people would buy fewer blades and the increased profit per blade would not fully compensate for the reduction in the number of blades sold (in defiance of economics 101, where the cost savings should be shared between manufacturer and customer).
    Monopolies, especially state monopolies, hinder invention and innovation. Do no lefties ever wonder why the USSR spent and Communist China spends so much time and effort stealing technology from the west?

  97. (smooth steel wheels on a smooth steel rail = low friction, rubber on tarmac = high friction)

    Unless you drop sand on the rails while braking. Which is what they do. Simple, but works.

  98. J77I too can remember pre Thatcherite days : free university education with grants, a functioning mixed economy with, near where I lived as a child, a factory producing the Handley Page Victor.Then we moved to near where the de Havilland Comet was produced and then , finally, into the ambit of Vauxhall Motors . A veritable hive of industry.
    In the pre Thatcherite era a house plot cost a few hundred pounds and the house price consisted of the price of the bricks and mortar as a 5X multiple of the land price. Post Thatcher the situation was deliberately reversed so the value of the bricks and mortar was dwarfed, with land value now a 5X multiple of the construction cost.
    I do not remember the Poor Widow argument for the Community Charge at the time.
    The poor widow argument was heroically blasted out of existence by Winston Churchill in a famous speech called “Land Price as a Cause of Poverty” 4 May 1909.
    Yet again, ignorance of Economic History is the cause of pointless arguments.

  99. DBC, for the pre-Thatcherite hive of industry I refer you to the MGA I talked about earlier. Looked beautiful, drove and handled like the piece of shit it was. I must admit it was a good car to learn to drive in – heel and toe, double declutching, dealing with brake fade. But it was hardly an engineering masterpiece!

  100. @ DBC Reed
    Your memory has gaps – including the price of houses in the late 1970s (in five figures), Tony Blair’s introduction of tuition fees and loans instead of grants, the dysfunctional economy under Wilson/Callaghan with 50% more workers than jobs in the CEGB and 100% more workers than jobs in the train driver’s cabs, as well as the widespread campaign against the “unfairness” of rates.
    Vauxhall Motors in the 1970s: the butt of Lada-type jokes – it was only after GM delegated it to Adam Opel that it started to introduce quality control: if that’s your example of a functioning mixed economy …

  101. Reedy looks back with nostalgia to the 1950-1965 period.

    Plenty of jobs and a nation that was without the carefully peddled hatred/self-hatred for which we have socialism to thank.

    Reedy’s mental processes put me in mind of the Dr Johnson quote:

    “Sir, your work is both good and original. However the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good”.

    His foolishness is not to realise that the market had set up most of what was good–aided by the best aspects of the English character. An era when coppers liked football duty cos they got to watch the match and crowd trouble would have seemed like something from another planet or science-fiction of a God-awful future(in which we now live).

    All the elements of socialist bullshit that directly destroyed that old nation were a fundamental part of the era Reed longs for. The “mixed” economy–useless state “enterprises” that had pinched what was there before and had begun the process of run down. Yes–changing tech helped that rundown. But not as much as socialism. Back then tho’ young Reedy could buy his train ticket and think BR was an improvement on the old companies and things could only get better.

    Likewise the NHS. Living on the stolen goods of the previous system and its ethos. Which is what sustained the system. The personnel were the same as before. The state jackasses were still writing letters that ended with “Your Obedient Servant” and their bad ideas were only the weak ancestors of todays nonsense. State planning –so the young fools like Reed thought–would make everything better and better. Stood to reason it did.

  102. When Churchill’s People’s Rights also from 1909 and its continued relevance appreciated , it might be worthwhile continuing this bickering discourse but people on here rely entirely on memory and the newspapers and never reference recognised third party authorities.
    Ltw summarises a whole political era by moaning about his dodgy MGA.
    J77 and Mr Ecksema can see nothing good in their own country , as they have experienced it.
    Much to my surprise , I am genuinely more patriotic in feeling than they, who appear to be panders to the policies of a foreign power : probably the US.(Why are the British media dominated by American news trivia?)

  103. @ DBC Reed
    I can see lots of good in my own country. In the 1970s I was working to help it.
    So pointing out that you are wrong (and occasionally a liar) does not make me unpatriotic, correcting your misquote of wikipedia is referencing a third party authority. preferring Adam Opel to GM does not make a pander to the USA.
    A true patriot like myself is willing to point out what is wrong and try to putit right.
    Secondly when I personally *know* things (such as house prices in the 1970s), it is better to use facts I know than depend on third parties who may have made mistakes, mistyped or even deliberately lied (such as the “Rhodes must fall” campaigners).

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