Friday, 24 April 2015

The eternal roadworks of the BBRP

Rejoice! The Stapleton Tunnel Railway Path closure "6-10 weeks" is due to be complete next month. That's five months after it began.

This is good news for cyclists as it means they don't have to suffer cycling through parts of the city that are so unused to cyclists they have to have warning signs up, parts of the city where locals put tacks out in their way. As for the locals —the S Gloucs Electorate— they can stop being held up by cyclists, park their crossover SUV on the pavement outside their house, sit in front of the TV and go read Bristol Evening Post about how an anti-car city is at war with them.

With this tunnel re-opening, those cyclists now only have to deal with

  1. The Lawrence Hill widening: 10 wee
  2. The Bitton-Saltford Resurfacing
  3. The Destructor Bridge dismantling.

These things actually make the Tunnel closure seem like well thought out. It was scheduled over winter, there were signs from the outset, and eventually the council came up with a route that worked: no main roads, no mad residents, low stress.

Lawrence Hill: 

Ten Weeks, goal being to widen the path on one of the busiest stretches of the route. This will be good for walkers and cyclists, though there's one question: why wait for spring, so closing this stretch until June?


Four weeks.

As the BCyC note, the cyclists actually had to push to S Gloucs council to postpone the roadworks until after the whitsun bank holiday. That's the most popular cycle route in the country, and a council proposing to close it over the first weekend of the school half term. Even closing it for the rest of the week is bad enough. 

Apparently S Gloucs council say "Alternative routes will be posted whilst maintenance work is carried out between Bitton & Saltford"

The fact that they have to promise this shows how little thought goes into the work. Imagine the M4 was being shut for repairs. Would they come up with a plan to deal with the traffic volume, or would they have a couple of arrows pointing you to somewhere (The A4? A431? Something that beanders through the back roads which will takes ages but will ensure you rejoin the path alive unless some S Gloucs chav who likes doing country roads at speeds comes round the corner too fast and "loses control". Then, after killing the family, they'll try the "there was nothing I could do gambit" and get off with a light tut-tut from a jury.

Because we can be confident of this

No attempt will be made to provide a safe alternative route, if that route impact the traffic flow of motor vehicles in the area.

you can see that even in Bristol centre: you can get across via staggered toucans —but have they increased the cycle times of the lights to let the cycle traffic through? If they have, it's not working.


This is a "temporary" closure of six months of the river path joining up the railway path with the centre of bath.

Which a pretty lose definition of "temporary". 

And where do they take you on this closure?

they take you from a quiet path

Onto the A4

via a gravel strip
BANES council can't even be arsed to lay down a strip of gravel to ensure that any cyclist diverted to the Bristol Road doesn't get a puncture en-route to fighting for space with buses and tipper trucks. Furthermore: why hasn't it had tarmac already? Does someone want to preserve the "rural"nature of a link to a river from a main road which oozes diesel pollution? 

Were it not for the fact that it'd close the exit for twelve weeks for resurfacing, it'd be worthwhile complaining about this.

What do all these roadworks have in common.

  1. They shut down the railway path -the sole pleasant route between the two cities
  2. They abandon you on alternative routes.
  3. No attempt is made to make these alternative routes safe to cycle on. At best you get yellow signs showing you where to cycle. At worse (Bath), you are left with some random diversion signs on the way in to town -and nothing on the way back.
  4. All but the tunnel have been scheduled over the summer.
If there is a fundamental problem here it is: the BBRP is the only way to get between Bristol and Bath that people on bicycles actually enjoy. It's family friendly, its flat, and nobody fears for their lives. Whenever its closed, then, the councils dump you on the mediocre unpleasantness that lurks alongside the path. 

The presence of the path has allowed the councils to avoid making any infrastructure improvements in parallel. The growing popularity of the path is forcing them to take action, but it's signs and PCSOs telling cyclists to slow down, rather than providing alternative routes.

Why doesn't the A4 Upper Bristol Road into Bath have cycle facilities? Because it's been possible to push the cyclists out the way into a slow-motion conflict with pedestrians. Why will the Bitton-Saltford detour —inevitably— involve one or more of : random back roads with inadequate signage, cyclists-dismount signs, points where you have to pedal for your life across the A4 or along the A431?

It's because the councils don't care. IF S Gloucs council cared about cycling as transport, they'd have more to spend their money on than resurfacing the one path in the region people use, and if they were to do the resurfacing (to be fair, the surface is bad), they'd do it over winter, and/or make sure the path was open on weekends.

As for BANES, they almost make S Gloucs look good. They still look better than North Somerset, but N Somerset are the rural equivalent of Westminster City Council, so that's not saying much. Their sole contribution to cycling is the fact that most one-way streets in the core have formal cyclist contraflows -not that van drivers on phones recognise or accept that. There's nothing to stop them painting bicycle signs on their road for the six months, or to put signs up on the A4 warning drivers of lots of bicycles ahead. But they don't, because they don't care or caren't be arsed.

Welcome to bath: don't cycle

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Westminster Council killed a cyclist today

North Yorks County Council have just settled in a lawsuit where an unmaintained pothole killed a cyclist. Martyn Uzzell, from North Somerset, may have died from injuries sustained from a collision with a car, but it was the council who was ultimately at fault.

Which is something in common with Westminster Council, who killed a cyclist today.

TfL's decision to not go ahead with their (somewhat inadequate) proposal clearly stated that it was Westminster Council that was against the proposal:
"Having considered responses to consultation, and following concerns voiced by Westminster City Council, we have decided not to proceed with these planned initial improvements at Lambeth Bridge northern roundabout.
"Instead, we will concentrate our resources on developing more substantial improvements that meet the expectations of Westminster City Council and other stakeholders."
"Meet the expectations of Westminster City Council and other stakeholders? This is bollocks that shows up how much power WCC have —and are using it to Keep London Lethal.  Cyclists who cross that junction are the biggest stakeholders: their lives are the ones at stake. Yet WCC "voicing concerns" was enough to stop the proposal.

And as a result, a woman, a Londoner, has died. It's important to use those terms, not "a cyclist', as that puts her in the box of "a cyclist", right next to the belief "cyclists break the laws, it's their own fault". It's not. It sounds like it is directly the fault of the lorry driver -that's something that may surface in court. Though given the Met Police's history, that will only happen because of the witnesses, and even then, it'll be some "careless driving" offence, probably downgraded to 200h community service, without even a driving ban, because the lorry driver would lose their job.

What is predictable is that WCC isn't going to be in the lawsuit, fielding damages. Because opposing change is a more subtle form of wilful neglect than not filling in a pothole. Yet it is just as deadly.

WCC killed a cyclist. They now have no justification for any new proposals for making this junction safe for Londoners to cycle over. Any attempt to do so will highlight just how much more they care about through traffic than safety of Londoners.

TfL need to go back to their CAD tools and come up with a design that is tangibly safe. Then they need to go back to WCC and say "shut the fuck up" when the WCC transport team mutters on about traffic flow. Will TfL do this? It's up in the air. If Boris becomes just the MP for Uxbridge: maybe. If he goes on to become Leader of the Opposition in a parliament where the government is Labour in some form or other, he may be distracted. And without him doing nearly-fuck-all for cycling, unless he still backs Andrew Gillingham, TfL will back down, Westminster will carry on as usual, and more Londoners will die.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What do we want? A legal system that works

Turn on a television or iPlayer. Look at what the police shows are on in their drama category. go to IMDb see what's there in a collection of detective and police dramas it'll be about murder cases policeman trying to solve them, prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves, lawyers trying to defend the guilty or the innocent. This is what exciting. This is what policing about. This is what the legal system is about. This is why people joined the police.

Now try looking for something about cyclists being run over. Nothing. Maybe lurking in documentaries is something on Britain's shittiest teenage drivers -entertainment. Alongside Top Gear -a comedy that claims to be the BBC's men's show.

Turn on the news. There may be some dramatic stories on their there. Then maybe some tragic deaths but unless it is particularly dramatic it won't be about somebody being hit by a truck, car or bus.

Death by car is not interesting.

Imagine you are a police force. government cuts are coming down telling you you have to save money where are you going to do it? will it being road policing? Or will it be from those incidents which the press will cover and condemn you if you're seen to fail? Road safety doesn't stand a chance.

Imagine you are a CPS prosecutor. You want to do well in your career. You want recognition. you want things on your resume you can be proud of. You don't dream of prosecuting traffic classes -those are the kind of things you get assigned to when your career is going downhill.

The safety of cycling, the prosecution of cyclist deaths? It's not going to get a look in.

Which is of course precisely where we are today.

It's not just the police don't give a fuck -it's that nobody does: nobody in the legal system, and almost nobody in the national press. And the politicians? They don't have all their constituents clamouring for justice, and would rather talk about the "war motorists" than the war by tipper trucks against people.

The Michael Mason case is going to be a showcase issue. The inaction of the Met police is a story on its own. Their PR department knows it's disaster, which is why they put out that "we will prosecute" press release out. Too bad the rest of the police don't see that and are still doing fuck all. No doubt somebody senior gave the press Department a hard time saying "why did you publish this!" -missing the point that management should been saying "why you do nothing". All the police have to do is hand it on to the CPS. Yet they refuse to do that. It's becoming a point of principle: they don't want to surrender to the pressure we are placing on them.

We can all do something here that start by giving money to the justice for Michael campaign. If they get enough money for prosecution that will get the press we need that will show at the Met for who they are: a police force that doesn't care about the lives of cyclists.

Do it now:

High publicity events in London can also be part of this. If one protest was enough to get the press release issued, bigger ones may actually stir the met into action. Hold one over a weekend and the rest of us across Britain can join in.

Getting the police to refer murder-with-car to the prosecution is only the first step. We need decent prosecutors who recognise that road deaths are the primary non-accidental cause of death in the country. We need investigators the care about the problem and do decent investigations for those prosecutors. We need expert witnesses for the prosecution themselves that don't believe "the sun in my eyes" is a valid excuse for killing people. Bez's articles showing up the utter failings of the legal system are a start here. He is documenting the wrongness. Now we need to get the rest of society to read those articles, to recognise the crimes that have been committed and how the police and the legal system are letting killers drive around the streets.

We need a legal system that gives a fuck about cyclists.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The E-W CSH: A disaster for London and Great Britain. Apparently

Last week TfL voted in the E-W CSH.

From the perspective of liveable British cities, this is significant event. It means that Londoners crossing the city by bicycle will be able to do so, confident that they will reach their destination alive. At least once they get to the CSH.

That guarantee "cross London alive" is the same guarantee that the city extends to anyone driving, taking the tube, a bus, or a train across London(*). A guarantee that was not, until this week, available. Until now: hope.

(*) Pedestrians. You are still fucked by TfL and Westminster Council.

If you look at why cycling in London is restricted to the city centre, to bold people (usually 20-25, male), it is that: only people bold and confident would cycle through London, usually with a compelling reason such as "didn't want to wait sit in traffic jams or pay to be crushed in the tube every day". Which is why cycling in the suburbs is less than in the busier, riskier, city centre. There's millions of commuters in London. It only takes a small fraction of them to be bold enough to cycle and you end up with the peak-hour numbers London gets today.

The credit for this should be spread wide. A unified front pushing segregated cycling, rather than vehicular cycling advocates hoping for safety in numbers. If the cycle lane achieves its expected success, then the VC advocates will have little to say. The London cycling bloggers and the reporters in BBC, the Times, the Evening standard and Guardian kept cycling and its safety mainstream. Everyone who protested, saying "this is unacceptable!"

The effort everyone put in to get so many businesses behind it has also to be viewed as critical -it stopped the campaign being viewed as "the metropolitan elite cyclists" vs "the businesses of London".

That is, unless you are the Canary Wharf company, the GMBpro union, the London Taxi Drivers Association and delivery companies, all of whom appear to be using the same text: too sudden, need a trial.

Which as Cyclists in the City notes is not a coincidence.

Canary Wharf appear to be leading the attack. One possible justification is for their CEO's drive to work. There's a more generous one, which is: if it increases the effective distance of Canary Wharf from the City or Westminster, then it potentially reduces the value of Canary Wharf. Is it really going to hurt them? No. It's what it represents: change.

Change that they are not in control of.

The vote signifies the establishment losing a control of the City of London. Arguably, it represents this establishment, the elite of the Baby Boomers, discovering that their power is over, generation X, Y and the Millenials setting the agenda.

Last week, Schroeders published a report arguing that peak car was a generational shift in lifestyle and hence transport; that repeat sales to baby-boomers to result in a static market.

The CSH is open to baby-boomers: it'll be open to anyone. Only, the elite of the baby-boomers don't want to cycle, they're not dutch. They are happy with their motorised lifestyle -apart from the congestion and delays, obviously. The CSH is a complete attack on their way of life: something that represents the future, shows that the future is not the status quo -and that this future is being designed by others.

They feel threatened, they don't want it, and presumably expected to kill this. Except they haven't. They've tried the classic tactics: discreet words in people's ears, off the record briefings and lobbying at party conferences. Not only has it failed, that lobbying and briefing itself has shown up the old guarded. Canary Wharf's management are tainted.

Which is why, presumably, Canary Wharf itself didn't personally email the TfL board. Instead they appear to have drafted the letters for others to send. It's notable here that the timing is similar, they all had the email addresses of the board, and there's a few recurrent phrases. "laudable" is a key one, as "its sweet but unrealistic to care about the lives of cyclists". There's also that classic "environmental impact" phrase. It's not the cyclists causing the pollution problems, so stop trying to make them or TfL feel guilty about it. No organisation that drives diesel vehicles in city centres is in a position to complain about the environmental impact of cycle paths. Then there's the introduction, which usually starts with "support in principle, however..." ,as a way of making clear they don't support the idea if it comes anywhere near them.

Let's look at the letters that came in.

Jan 29th: Federation of small businesses. Welcomes work to improve cyclist safety. However... Makes the point that 3 months is hard for them to plan around it. Of course, they've really had 6+ months.

Jan 30th: Dr Leon Mannings, Motorcycle Action Group. Cites PhD, then "greatest level of new constraints on vehicular road use ever to be imposed anywhere in the UK". (Clearly Leon's PhD missed the "what is a vehicle?" section). Assumes that motor traffic is inelastic/only going to rise, CSH will cause congestion, air-pollution and misery for all.

"The laudable objectives are to improve safety for riders of a mode that currently facilitates around 3% of transport by road in London, and to deliver a dramatic the centre. [Dr Manning uses city-wide numbers, not c-zone numbers, to minimise cyclist percentage]"

"However...laudable...the negative impacts on the other 90+% of road users will be greater than poosal in the history of UK transport policy...moreover increase congestion and environmental and economic problems."

...Discusses impact of safety to motorbikes, segues into motorcycle based paramedics/police and how lives are threatened. More specifically

this scheme as currently proposed will increase the risk of injury of death for PTW riders -and significantly resuce the avantages that PTW's offer for essential journeys

Leon could have made a better argument focusing on the safety of motorbikes. As it is, his "biggest UK transport changes, restrictions on vehicular movements and congestion & pollution" claims make him sound like he hates the very idea of cycle paths.

Jan 30th: British Beer and Pub Association

This organisation comes over as odd. No organisation claiming to represent supermarkets, chip shops and kebab vendors has criticised the proposals. Yet those businesses need to unload their products. The BBPA claims to represent owners of 40% of pubs and 90% of the beer produced. This implies that they are the beer manufacturers with their tied/owned pubs. These are not the independents and the microbreweries.

"support the improvement of road safety for all road users in London and elsewhere, however"..."100 delivery accounts"..."dangerous to cyclists"..."and to delivery staff who will need to cross busy cycle lanes". "pub businesses will be affected as it is conceivable that distributors will find it simply too risky to deliver"

"we support cycle superhighways but feel there should be a hold on development until there's a resolution"..."cycle superhighway safety from deliveries"

Then they propose: a trial with removable markings.

The behaviour of this organisation has to be called out as outstandingly bad. They are arguing that the fact that they don't know how to deliver beer over a cycle path as a reason to halt the most transformational cycling project in Britain. And, given their objection is to delivering beer over any cycle path, they are against segregated cycle paths in Britain. What do they want instead? Presumably they want shit-paint cycle ways which their vans can park in. For years they've been doing that, yet only now, as safe cycling routes get delivered, do they suddenly start claiming to care about cyclist safety.

They could do some research here. Two obvious tactics spring to mind.
  1. Look at their member list, identify any who have major NL or CPH operations and say "find out what they do". Heineken UK, for example. Or Carlsberg.
  2. Ask cyclists: "would you prefer sharing a lane with an HGV, or have to deal with some vans delivering beer across the path?"

But no, they call for an immediate halt and the bollocks "trial with cones" story. That won't offer tangible safety, won't get serious takeup, and will let them say "it's a failure: stop it everywhere". Should cyclists boycott pubs in retaliation? No: only the big brewer's beers and their tied houses. Look up members of the the society of independent brewers and drink their beers at independent pubs. Indeed, that could be a good national protest couldn't it: a "cyclists don't let friends drink BPA-member's beers" 

 Feb 2: CBI
"support in principle"..."want more information for planning", All well and good, until the phrase "any threats to London's transport network must be fully communicated in advance". What the fuck?

The CSH is considered threat to London's transport network? And of course they close with "balanced network for both motorists and cyclists". Fine. Let's count the number of roads with safe cycling facilities, the number of roads without them: and push for balance. The CBI have said that balance is what they want, so lets call them out on it. For every lane-mile of road within then M25 ring, cyclists deserve the equivalent. Anything else would be an unbalanced network. From that perspective, the E-W CSH constitutes a fraction of the lane capacity of the Chiswick Flyover: there's going to be a lot more cycle paths out there before balance can be achieved.

 Feb 2: GMB Professional Drivers Branch

This is clearly the diesel-head part of the GMB trade union. This branch doesn't like change. "request your reconsideration" ... "major flaws"..."increased journey times", "increased emissions" Notice how its always people on bicycles that get blamed for "increased emissions".

Nobody driving a diesel vehicle in the city has the right to blame the cyclists for their increased NO2 emissions.

With the exception of black cab and red bus drivers, everyone had a choice of what kind of engine to drive. Don't blame the cyclists for GMB pro members going for diesel. They eventually get round to concluding that it "could prove disastrous on the economics of London and indeed of the whole of the UK". This is potentially the first time that anyone has accused a cycle path of threatening the economics of Britain.

Feb 2: Freight Transport Association and Road Haulage Association
This is the letter known to have come from Canary Wharf. "support the superhighway approach in principal", "improve safety for cyclists"..."however"..."a sensible balance between the needs of different road users". OK. Let's have some balance. Here are some basic needs of different road users.
  • Londoners on bicycles: get home alive.
  • Londoners walking: get home alive.
  • Londoners not walking or cycling: get home alive.
This is currently unbalanced. The people not on bicycles or foot don't have to worry about dying before they get home. That puts the "sensible balance" needs into perspective doesn't it?

If you oppose safe cycling options in the city you are saying "your journey time matters more than the lives of others" Their letter goes on to talk about deliveries, emissions, costs etc. But assuming that the whole letter was ghost-written by Canary Wharf, who gives a fuck what the rest of it says. It's just Canary Wharf choreographing opposition with a list of talking points.

Feb 2: UPS

Notice this flurry of emails on Jan 2? Often with that opening phrase "we support in principle". These could all be a sign that Canary Wharf management provided the bullet points to use when drafting a message.

Here's UPS's "not opposed in principle"..."but are concerned"..."damaging impact on our operations"..."will ultimately hinder business growth in the capital" Got that: the barrier to business growth in London is UPS's delivery timetable. Delay that and London will fall. Therefore the UPS delivery schedule is more important than the lives of cyclists.

Feb 2: Association of Internation Courier and Express Services ..."supports TfL's objective to ensure that cycling in London is safer and where possible to ensure properly segregated lanes". This is calm, balanced request for some time to help get their issues about more delivery space resolved. Of all the letters, this is the one that does not imply that the CSH will destroy London. Even so, that, "where possible" is a warning sign.

In contrast, the RAC foundation:

Feb 3: RAC Foundation Argues that the 38M investment will cost London 200M, and that it is real damage to "bus users, business and commerce in the heart of a world financial centre which is a vital engine of economic prosperity for the UK economy." There's not even a mention of saved lives. There's no "We support it in principle, however..". The RAC foundation has just come out and argued against it on economics. If ever anyone felt that the RAC foundation cared about people: if you cycle, they don't. They care about press and TV, are happy to make press events to discuss a future of self-driving cars, but don't care about the live of of cyclists, today.

Feb 3: DHL "we support your work", "however we share the concerns of the FTA and RHA". As it arrives a day after, they may have just been cc:'d a copy of the FTA/RHA "canary wharf" letter, rather than had this drafted by canary wharf.

Feb 3: London Chamber of Commerce
Want more details on economic impact. No mention of cyclist safety.

There you go: CBI views this as a threat to the London transport network, GMB Pro a threat to the entire country. Brewers and Pub association a threat to the very existence of pubs in his country. And the RAC foundation: they don't give a fuck about cyclists and use the "economic prosperity of Britain" as their argument against.

The good news: their letters didn't stop the vote. The briefings failed, the "lets have a trial" arguments dismissed.

Nor did the people who sit on the board -and didn't need to bother with the letters. There's no emails from the LTDA, nothing from Canary Wharf itself. With their members on the board: no need.

Yet something profound happened instead. The people who have influence changed. And the old guard? They may have just pissed off Boris. Who may be leader of the Conservative party in six months, while still Mayor of London.

While the vote went through, it's highlited the difference between that old guard and the future inheritors of the city. The business "spokesman" organisations: CBI, London Chamber of Commerce -they come out as particularly out of touch, criticising the moves as if the CSH project is not for the benefit of the staff of its member, or indeed its customers.

Every organisation that came out in support of the CSH needs to check their membership of these organisations, then get in touch and say: you didn't speak for us. Ask them to start qualifying your statements or change their position, because they are not representative of the future economy of London.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Tesla vs Dinosaurs, the new Apple vs Nokia

We recently argued that car manufacturers were essentially engine manufacturers, or more precisely, engine factory manufacturers —and that e-cars rendered  obsolete their core skills
  1. Designing petrol/diesel engines that deliver "acceptable" performance, fuel economy and pollution numbers, engines that are cost-effective to manufacture.
  2. Designing manufacturable vehicles around these engines, with the features needed to allow that engine to translate into movement: transmission, steering, braking, air intakes, exhausts, cooling.
  3. Having a cost-effective supply chain with 3rd party suppliers capable of on-demand supply of everything needed for those vehicles.
  4. A service chain capable of bringing in the cars & their motors for local service, with supplies available on a timely basis. Servicing and parts are a long-term revenue stream, especially pre-emptive annual services.
We also claimed the centre of the automotive universe had moved from Detroit and Southern Germany to Silicon valley

To back this up
  1. Ford announce their "innovation center" in Silicon Valley. Google is sucking them into a new orbit. 
  2. More press on the "surge" of electric cars, motor manufacturers saying "more must be done to encourage this". Except in the NL, where the number sold actually fell. In a city with safe cycling and functional public transport, electric cars are a distraction.
  3. Schroeders publish an investment analysis which argues that Peak Car has arrived in the west. Sales in the EU US and elsewhere will be replacements, especially to the (ageing) baby boomers, who will need autonomous vehicles to adapt to their age and to introduce planned obsolescence to vehicles that would otherwise outlast their remaining years.
  4. The Register review a Tesla Model D, a four-door family hatchback e-car that can out accelerate a Ferrari if desired. A car whose per-wheel motors under software control deliver optimal traction for the conditions and operation. A car whose large battery delivers range; a battery the car is built around for handling. The reviewer notes that a Nissan Leaf has an out and back "journey range" of 25 miles. The Tesla: 200. Out and back trips work. No more plugging in to recharge every night.
  5. The register compare it to the Porsche Panamera "c-zone exempt" hybrid and say you'd only choose the latter if you cared about the branding . Their Panamera view highlights how Porsche are behind in battery engineering, and have a convoluted mechanical transmission mode for performance alongside 
  6. The register review a "Renault Twizzy" e-car and sneer at its sheer uselessness.
  7. Tesla push-out an over-the-air software update their P85D cars that cut the 0-60 speed from 3.2s to 3.1s, While this number is fucking irrelevant except as a status symbol amongst the wealthy, the fact that Tesla can do this upgrade in software tells Porsche, BMW, Ferrari: this is the future. The fact that they push it out to all their existing customers adds insult to the injury. They also release a youtube video showing how their per-wheel electric drive delivers better snow traction than "all-wheel drive", just to let their competitors SUV units know that they are next.
Tesla have shown that the core skills of the future are radically different:
  1. Designing batteries which charge fast, hold charge across temperatures, can discharge on demand.
  2. Designing charging systems to charge those batteries fast.
  3. Building out the charging infrastructure. Whereas the existing motor industry demands more government concessions: free parking for e-cars, bus-lane access, etc. Tesla build performance charging stations as their solution to the range problem. With cars that can do 300-400 miles per charge, Tesla don't need that many, especially if a 15-30 minute recharge is all that is needed.
  4. Designing full size, everyday cars which make the battery an integral part of the vehicle, a vehicle built from the groundup around motors which can provide per-wheel traction and 0.60 performance on a par with even more expensive sports cars. 
  5. Integrating battery charge management with instrumented vehicles and wireless communications, so that giving all owners of the P85D car a performance boost is an automatic feature "Good morning! your car just got faster"
As a result, the Tesla model S wins the best ranking ever for a car by the US Consumer Reviews magazine.

The existing manufacturers, the dinosaurs, have a problem. Their existing plant is obsolete, their existing skill base obsolete. And they are not the cool places to work for if you want to build future transports. Would you rather help Renault do the Renault Twizzy 2 or go to Tesla, help build their next cars, and maybe earn a sabbatical on Space-X to work on space launcher management.

The existing car manufacturers are the new Nokias.
  1. They need to recuperate the sunk costs of those factories by continuing to build  and sell p- and -d cars. 
  2. They need to sell replacement cars to their declining customer base in the west
  3. They know that most cars are used daily for short-range commutes
  4. They know that pollution and congestion means that p-car and d-cars are being viewed as unwelcome in modern cities.
  5. They have to target the emerging economies with variants of their existing models, using the hand-me-down factories.
So they've all had the same idea: "let's sell electric cars as the number two car in a two-car household! One they charge up every night and use for commutes. We can then sell the "open-road-luxury tourer/crossover SUV" as the long-range toy!"

Except they've been so good at producing small petrol cars that they can't produce e-cars to compete. They have to keep costs down by (a) retrofitting the batteries and electric motors into vehicles that are built for combustion engines with transmissions, exhausts, air intakes and the like, and (b) skimping money on batteries.

Fitting small batteries keeps costs down, and while it meets the range of "most" journeys, it adds journey anxiety, —and is still very, very expensive. Furthermore, e-cars still have a key disadvantage. If you are driving one you still end up in stationary traffic wondering where you will park that day. Every evening you need to remember to plug it in somewhere to charge.

So what do the manufacturers do? They send their lobbyists to the government and say "we need lots of charging points for our limited range vehicles", "we need money to help build battery factories", "we need you to subsidise every e-car otherwise they won't compete with the combustion cars (dinocar?) we make", and of course "can we let them drive down bus lanes?"

Now consider
  1. Nokia's most successful phone. While it helped the developing countries, it did nothing for Nokia, which now only exist as a unit within Microsoft. 
  2. Apple, who in sheer volume of smart phones sold do not dominate the market, make 50-70% profit on an iphone, and the majority of the smart phone profits.
  3. Apple, despite selling only a fraction as many laptops as the PC vendors, take all the profit from that business.

Apple have shown that if you can produce the most compelling products —you can get the majority of the profits. And that technology and its packaging lets them do it in the markets they compete in.

Tesla have the potential to do something similar —especially if they can move fast, to be the rapid mammal against the lumbering sauropods.

You can talk about e-cars and people will say "they are too expensive", to which you can agree "yes, those 20-mile range leaf toys are useless all round." Irrespective of motor type, it's the wrong transport option for a city. And with such limited range, its useless outside of a city. Which makes them fundamentally useless.

There's always the hybrid option, "the best of both worlds". For today's car manufacturers, it leverages their existing skills in engine and transmissions, and adds a battery and regenerative braking to it. But go look at that Porsche Panamera review and think "nobody would seriously design a vehicle like this if they had a clean slate". A petrol engine and transmission, as well as a battery and motors? At least Toyota have pure electric motor transmission in their Prius designs. 

Hybrid cars like the Prius may compensate for the inability of the existing car manufacturers to produce compelling electric cars, but all they are doing is retaining all the limitations of a combustion engine (engine block, cooling, lubrication, fuelling, exhaust, pollution management, serviceability) and adding the problems of an e-car (battery placement and management, motor management, effective regenerative braking). And, by having both kinds of engine in the same vehicle, your luggage capacity is in trouble: the longer the electric range, the less stuff you can carry.

It's a stop-gap solution for companies that aren't in a position to go fully electric.

But it is all they can do while they struggle to catch up. They need to build the skills Tesla has, build the manufacturing plant and supply chain, the software for managing engines and batteries and the experience in building vehicles out of them —experience where Tesla are now three cycles ahead on a development process that is iterating far faster than modern "5-7 year" car model cycles. They also have a sales channel, the dealership model, that is no longer relevant in a world of online sales, apple-style direct sales stores and continuously instrumented vehicles. Yet that dealer channel is one of their assets they don't dare abandon, because without it, they can't keep reselling their existing models.

Which brings this article back to the subject of peak car.

Today's manufacturers, the dinosaurs, need to resell cars to their existing customers at a 1:1 rate. Households moving from two cars to one don't do that. They aren't in a position to make or sell electric cars at the price point they sell cars for today, low-end electric cars suck and hybrid cars are clearly stop-gap toys. 

They are in trouble. Nokia management holding an iPhone saying "what are we going to do now?", while a subordinate says "we still have the market share!"

Tesla don't need that market share.

Tesla don't need 1:1 replacement sales of the existing automobile fleet to keep their plant busy and repay massive government loans.

What Tesla need is what Apple has: the profitable bit of the business. 

Which explains how they are working.  They are producing cars that get great consumer reviews. Now, rather than go down to that "e-car for the commute" business, they've gone up to compete with the sports cars, creating a brand image. Tesla are making Tesla cars desirable, with the fact that they electric an incidental detail; no more relevant than whether its a petrol or diesel engine in a BMW 5-series. What you are buying the car for is not the ability to recharge it after 20 miles, but the ability to fill it with luggage, your entire family, then go for a long journey —overtaking those BMW 5-series cars you get stuck behind when needed.

Nokia: meet Apple
Dinosaurs: that little thing at your feet? It's called a mammal.
Combustion engine manufacturers? We've got some bad news

Incidentally, Tesla have two charging stations in South Gloucestershire. One close to the M4/M5 Cribbs Causeway interchange, one off the A4174 and in range of those north-fringe commuters who make the mistake of living somewhere in extended-M4/M5 congestion commute zone.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bingo card #2

Based on the recent London Taxi Drivers Association commentary on the proposed london cycle routes, here is an updated version of our original bingo card.

If you listen to the interview (35 minutes in), you can hear the taxi driver spokesperson say the entire checklist except for the "mutual respect". Nobody else has ever done this unintentionally before —the LTDA deserve to be nominated for the award for "most backward looking organisation", alongside the New Forest National Park Authority.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Google, Apple, Uber, Tesla and the future of cars

A comrade from abroad visited the People's Cycling Front HQ over christmas. As he works for a european motor manufacturer, his debriefing was very informative.

What scares them? Tesla and Google; to a lesser extent Apple and Uber

Apple: for providing expensive status toys that don't have wheels on them. Phones are the new coming-of-age accessory, the thing you need to stay in touch with your friends. Ask people which they would do without, car or phone, and the under 30s say: phone. It's the 50+ who say "car". And, like tobacco company customers, their over-use of the product is causing them to die out.

Apple have done more though: set the expectation on how easy devices are to use, and how fast devices evolve. A 3 year old phone? How ancient! Yet car manufacturer "in car experiences" are designed to stay in a car for its entire life, and take years of effort beforehand. The car companies just aren't nimble enough here. Their user experience sucks: go to a car shop and either stare in horror at the number of buttons, or in a different kind of horror at a touch screen that requires attention.

Google: for leading the self-driving car work. Mercedes may have been showing off their self-driving car, but it still likes to offer the "driving experience", while allowing you to rotate the seat 180 degrees for a meeting with your colleagues or family. Google don't care about driving experience, and don't see their users caring either. They want the Apple market -and if you go online via the phone on a train, bus or car: they're happy. They don't have the myth of the open road or their motoring heritage brand to sell. They have something useful: extra online time with your friends. If there's one thing the car companies like about Google is that it may be possible to work with them. Though there the android experience scares them. Google own Android; phone companies come and go.

Uber: not a direct threat to the car companies, yet. What they represent though is is the driving accessory to the iPhone. Uber relies on all their customers having a smartphone. Which means it is OK to spend the money you'd spend on a car on a phone, a bike, public transport and Uber. Throw in car-club and boris bike and provided you live in a city: no car is needed. That is only going to get worse. Every time someone takes a ride with Uber, they know the pickup and dropoff points, and can start planning ahead. Taxi drivers may know that London Paddington is busy when the trains from Bristol arrive, but Uber can know more: that there are 12 customers heading in from Reading, with regular routes for 6 of them.., so start pre-emptively shifting vehicles.

Where Uber really have power is the money behind them. That lets them go beyond evolving the application to be better than anything competition can do, and get into a world that until now only the taxi and car organisations have done: get involved with government. They need to do that to overcome the barriers that some cities are putting up. The LTDA have got power in london by regulatory capture of the TfL taxi licensing authority, and access to press and politicians when in their cars. They can be individual lobbyists for their causes. Except who wants a conversation with a taxi driver when you can be on your phone doing interesting things? Meanwhile Uber has the strength to go to state and federal governments in the US to overcome city restrictions, restrictions which start to come over as anti-consumer.

But Uber can do more, because of their near neighbours in Silicon Valley. The LTDA represents Taxi Drivers. Uber represents Uber. If Uber could roll out a service with a fleet of self-driving electric cars, they would. Their customers aren't paying for 20th century driving experience, they are paying for a ride to wherever —and the chance to catch up with things on their phone while it happens.

With international scale, Uber have the opportunity to work with google for self-driving cars that meet the needs of today's customers.  They are also building up the skills needed to lobby in cities and countries, initially to make Uber legal...but those skills and contacts will help with any transition to self-driving vehicles.

Which brings us round to the one that impresses yet terrifies the car manufacturers: Tesla.

Mikhael and the copenhagenize crew may emphasise the "auto industry" as sellers of an obsolete brand, fighting back against demographic and social change, but Tesla threatens to render the existing car companies obsolete, even while driving itself remains a valued tool.

It comes down to this: what is a car company?

More precisely: what are the core skills of a car company, the barriers to entry which keep competition out?

The answer: engines

Car companies may have brands and marketing, different sub-brands (VW Audi group being the big EU example with Audi, VW, Seat and Skoda), but what takes up most of their R&D budget today, and most of their capital costs is engine plant.  Which is why all vehicles in VAG share motors from the same common pool of engines: shared NRE costs and CAPEX for plants that can cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

What Tesla say is: so what?

New mechanical engines are incredibly expensive to develop. It's not just a matter of designing something powerful, efficient, quiet, not-very polluting, reliable and easy to maintain, it's about designing engines that are cost effective to manufacture. Its those factories that take the capital.

The existing car companies may have some of the best mechanical engineers in the world, capable of designing the engines and the factories, but Tesla have come along and said: its no longer about petrol and diesel engines —it's about batteries, electric motors and the software around them.

The existing car companies may have manufacturing and supply chains optimised to keep stock down to a minimum, partner with their suppliers to get exactly the right number of spark plugs to the factory floor when needed —but that's a supply chain for mechanical parts.  Tesla have come along and said: those moving parts? You'll be needing less of those. Stop worrying about engine cooling, focus on keeping batteries at optimum temperature —and how to recharge them fast.

The existing car companies may have the dealers that nobody else can use to break into a market, but again Tesla have looked at apple retail outlets and said "we like that". Tesla don't have dealers, they are a vertical business, from battery to customer.

That vertical business model transforms servicing. If Toyota have to do a recall, it's expensive, some cars will be missed and its a massive hit to the company. Whereas Tesla have all their cars online, with telemetry and the ability to take software updates. Tesla didn't have to do a recall to (temporarily) disable a suspension-lowering facility while questions existed about its safety. Tesla pushed out the change, later on reversing it. No other player can do that.

In ten years, Tesla have gone from being a company with nothing to being a car company whose battery, charging and vehicle monitoring and management skills make those incumbents look like dinosaurs. And they back up those skills with factories that are far more modern than what the incumbents have. Yes, Tesla cars are expensive today: but they are the new status toys. And those costs can only come down, as Tesla scales.

And guess who are within range of each other: Google, Tesla, Apple and Uber.

The centre of the motoring universe has moved, from Germany and Detroit to California, where it has the potential to do for the incumbents what Apple did for Nokia: destroy them, not out of maliciousness, but because they weren't agile enough, because they stayed in the old world —rather than see the future.

Think about that when the LTDA protest about the cycle superhighway, when a taxi driver cuts you up: Google, Apple, Uber, Tesla