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Brexit, Again; 85 Percent; Paying us Not to Drive; and the Rest

May 12, 2019

Peter Guest

Brexit. That Guy Fawkes chappie may not have had such a bad idea. All sense of reality has now departed, and I have no idea what is going on. Trouble is, neither does the prime minister! By the time that you read this something may have happened, but right now the government, and indeed the parliamentary process, seems to have crashed and burned. Help!


Meanwhile, someone in government seems to have had a bright idea, maybe. I have been to your side of the pond recently and a “fact” that has stuck in my head is that in a typical U.S. conurbation something like 85 percent of workers are car commuters. This seems to be acknowledged by many as “a bad thing,” but there is a presumption that nothing can be done about it, which is not true, of course. It’s nowhere near as bad here, and as you get closer to the city center the numbers drop dramatically. I think that it’s less than 15 percent in central London, for example.


 


De-incentivizing Driving


Now here’s the bright idea: what if we actually paid people to leave their cars at home? Yes, that’s right, if people agree to stop using their cars, the government will give them money to ride the bus or train, or cycle or walk. Or take a taxi/Uber/Lyft. The objective is to “make it quick, easy and cheap for everyone to travel around the region by creating a range of reliable alternatives to private car ownership.”


The four-year trial, which will involve about 100 people in Coventry, will see drivers that agree to take their car off the road are given a card with about $4,000 a year in value to use on other modes. That’s probably about a million bucks after all the administrative costs are included. I am not sure what the point is. Park my car for a year because someone else is going to pay for the alternative, sure, that’s a no brainer but four years from now what would the government learned? 


Perhaps the negative if people start to drop out of the program because the alternatives are just so bad? But if the people in the scheme stay the course? I am not sure what the message is. And is this the best use of the money - to give one person $4,000 to affect her personal transport? How many annual bus passes would that buy improving mobility for people who can’t even afford a car? As I say this, it does seem a pretty pointless exercise in the bloody obvious, but perhaps I missed something.


 


On Parkex/Traffex


Just a couple of days after putting this issue to bed we have PARKEX, our annual national equivalent to PIE. PARKEX is an annual event which runs independently in even years, but in odd years combines with the larger TRAFFEX (Think traffic signals, lighting crash barriers, signs, etc.) show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. There are probably over a thousand booths at the combined show, with the dedicated PARKEX zone around 85, plus another six or so in the other part of the exhibition. Area wise, it’s probably still slightly bigger than PIE because there are more large booths, but exhibitor numbers are lower.


Now here is an interesting thing: looking back at last year’s show, exhibitor numbers are about the same, but nearly half the people that exhibited in 2018 have not returned! Now one or two might have gone into the larger TRAFFEX show, as subsidiaries of a larger company, but some big hitters are noticeable by their absence. 


For a start, no parking operators now exhibit. Perhaps this reflects a change in the attendees. In the past, municipalities, airports, shopping centers and hospitals would walk the floors to see who does what. Now, I think that their people don’t have the budgets to even take a day out to learn how to do their jobs. In the last few years I have met more that one city parking manager who had to take a day off and pay out of their own pocket to attend; and it’s free entry! 


Long ago in a galaxy far away, I was part of the team responsible for putting on PARKEX. Today, I would be very uncomfortable with the thought that half the exhibitors didn’t want to repeat the experience and that most of the industry big guns didn’t think the show was worth the cost of exhibiting. If people don’t think that the event is worth repeating the show is one blink away from disaster. It’s broke and needs fixing.


 


Hail the Cheese Grater


Meanwhile, Dutch giant QPark has won an unusual award. Their car park at Charles Street Sheffield, locally known as the Cheese Grater, has been identified as “The World’s Quirkiest Car Park”. My memory of this car park goes back to when it was a finalist in the British Parking Awards. It didn’t win, but that was another competition with a different set of criteria. Not sure who runs this competition, but to be judged the world’s best anything is an achievement, and our Dutch colleagues should be congratulated.


 


Betting on Autonomous Vehicles


I am not a gambler, so when I bet one of your leading lights a whole $10 that “By the end of the decade, somewhere in the world, a fully autonomous vehicle would be commercially available” it was totally out of character. With 20 months to go it’s getting tense, but a decision this week by the European Union moves the whole autonomous vehicle debate a big step forward.


From May 2020, all new cars sold in the EU must be fitted with a range of devices aimed at making automobiles of the future safer. These will include Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) which will automatically brake a vehicle exceeding the posted limit. Other requirements include a breathalyzer to stop drunk driving, a system to warn drivers if they are drowsy, autonomous braking, lane departure warning, “black boxes” and cameras. Altogether, there will be 30 new mandatory standards for new cars. And here’s the thing, they are nearly all adding autonomy and taking safety critical decisions away from the monkeys.


Peter: We monkeys are wondering about the wisdom of intelligent Speed Assistance. I was driving on your A1 the other day and 75 percent of the vehicles were driving at least 20 MPH over the posted speed limit. So, the EU would automatically slow them down to 70 mph. Fair enough. I wonder about the reaction of the Germans driving on the speed limitless autobahn. Will it now be forced to have a limit, or will UK drivers, so they can be equal to their German cousins, be allowed to drive limit free? Ah - the law of unintended consequences. JVH



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