Party Season, EVs, Self-Parking Cars, Pollution


Party Season, EVs, Self-Parking Cars, Pollution

It’s that time of the year, “the party season,” when people get together to celebrate Christmas. Other religious and/or festive events are available. Pubs and restaurants are booked solid for office parties where “drink will be taken!” And drunk driving rises, with predictable and sometimes fatal consequences. To combat this, the police mount an annual high-profile campaign against drunk driving. Anyway, that’s the theory. My friends in the police tell a different story. 

Traffic cops are given targets to meet, so they breathalyze anybody and everybody. Brake late, breathalyzed, one mph over the limit, breathe in here. I must admit, I do not understand why your U.S. police still use highly subjective and time-consuming roadside sobriety tests when a simple instrument would give you an unambiguous answer in under a minute. I digress, the result is that the government squawks about numbers and it’s all BS; the police tick the box and get on with their day job.

Speaking of dangerous driving, the government has published research showing that using a phone is as dangerous as being drunk. And? Nothing. Fail the breathalyzer and you’re off the road for a year, plus a fine. A phone user gets a £200 fine and 6 points on your license, that’s only halfway to losing it. Surely, if the phone user and the drunk driver create the same risk, shouldn’t they get the same punishment? In a recent, completely unscientific, survey on the motorway (I wasn’t the driver), I saw about 20 drivers using phones. The scary thing was that they were nearly all big trucks.

The European Union (no, we haven’t left yet) has, in its infinite wisdom, decided that electric vehicles present an unacceptable risk because they are too quiet! Therefore, all new EVs are to be fitted with a noise maker to simulate the noise of an engine. Now, as one of the benefits of EVs is reduced noise pollution…

Meanwhile, we seem to have pinched an idea from you guys; it had to happen. One of the things that I noticed when I first visited your fair country was the number of buses with a bike carrier on the front. Now, we are going to do this, too. Cyclists can do the first/last mile on their bikes, but the bus takes the strain for the middle bit. 

In making this decision we seem to have largely ignored your concerns about the danger that the “bull bar” racks present, and the delays to other riders while the bikes are unloaded. Come to think of it, I saw lots of buses with racks, but I don’t think that I ever saw a bus with a bike on board. Ah, the good old days when we used to research and evaluate things first!

Cars and Crowds

A hundred years ago, when I was working in municipal government in London, a seminal document was published called “Pavements are for People”. This covered the growing problem of parking on the footway in London, to the general detriment of pedestrians and particularly parents with children, the blind and other people with mobility problems. 

It’s been illegal since a law passed in 1835, and in London a new law was created which created specific offense in the capital, but also allowed parking bays to be created on a wide footway where this wouldn’t inconvenience pedestrians. Despite the law, the problem was growing, but the new London law meant that drivers could get a ticket, instead of having to go to court.

Where London led, the rest of the nation wanted to follow. But for some 50 years the government has waffled and obfuscated and very actively done nothing, not even offering advice on how best to use the still existing 1835 law. Now, once again, parliament, via the Transport Select Committee, has raised the issue. “Something must be done” they chunter, but we are having an election and when the next lot will arrive, I can’t help but think this will go to the back of the queue as once again MPs try and untangle the Gordian knot that is BREXIT. 

By the way, an interesting take on evidence-based policymaking. The outgoing government has refused to carry out an economic analysis of the current BREXIT plan, arguing that it is “self-evidently” a good thing. The best independent analysis is that the “good thing” will leave us all about $2,000 a year poorer.

A few years ago, I remember seeing a video by Audi which showed a driver pull up and get out of their car, which then drove itself into the adjacent underground car park and parked. On returning, the driver pushed a button on the key fob and the car returned to whisk the owner away. Now, the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart has equipped a car park with cameras and sensors which allow suitably equipped cars to be guided to vacant space and recovered autonomously using a phone app. 

The hook is that “drivers would be spared the hassle of searching for a space and walking through dingy or unsafe car parks”. Now, Mercedes Benz are high end cars and the article enthuses that this system is targeted at luxury hotels and (presumably upmarket) shopping centers, which are of course regularly frequented by Merc drivers and are notorious for their “dingy and unsafe” car parks. 

Doesn’t anybody ever read this stuff before it’s published? I am sure that the technology is very clever, but it seems designed specifically for a set of circumstances that won’t exist where it will be used!

Smoggy Skies

Atmospheric pollution is a problem in big cities all over the world and it seems increasingly that municipal governments knee-jerk reaction is to blame the problem on road traffic. Wishing to be seen to be doing something, City Hall introduces some measure aimed at cutting road traffic and assume the job is done. One of the most polluted cities in the world right now is New Delhi in India, where the levels of some atmospheric pollutants are ten, yes, ten times the maximum safe level. 

The city fathers have reacted by introducing the odd/even number plate system where cars can drive on alternate days depending on the last character of their license plate. This works short term, but I remember talking to someone in another city where this had been used. Within a month or two, the rich people bought a second car and the poor people bought a second set of license plates. The effect in Delhi is unlikely to be significant since most of the problems are caused by farmers in the surrounding states burning crop stubble so they can sow new seeds.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the fair city of Bristol has just unveiled plans to introduce a total ban on diesel cars in the city center, “for environmental reasons”. Most buses are diesel, most taxis are diesel, most trucks and vans are diesel, most ambulance and fire tenders are diesel. Ah, that could be a problem. So, all of the above will still be allowed, mostly, at a price.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of the year, have a good one. And if you celebrate nothing, enjoy the rest. 

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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