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

Thursday 22 January 2015

NFNPA: is actually war that they want?

Only last week, we were slagging off the New Forest charter as bollocks, with those final changes showing the real opinions of the group

  • The cause of the charter is "concerns from some local people"
  • The issue is not "Impacts on the Forest", it is "inconvenience to other road users"
Our summary was: The whole thing is bollocks and the NFNPA should be told to fuck off.

Which is exactly what the CTC and the organisers of the Wiggle event have done.

And the reaction of the NFNPA? Parish business as usual. According to, the "amended minutes" are:
  1. The NPA will only support the draft Charter if it is amended to include  cap of 1000 cyclists and to require that rides wear rear numbers and
  2. If the Charter is not adhered to … the NPA will look to persuade the Government to change legislation so that local authorities will have control over the events.
They recognise that the charter has no teeth to it —and rather than say "never mind, please work with our SAG to ensure we all get on", they say "If it is not adhered to we want laws to give local authorities control over events".

They would fucking love that control, wouldn't they. No doubt driving somewhere to their meeting where they set the limit on cycle groups for the season. The Bournemouth Echo says 
NPA member Maureen Holding, said: “If this doesn't work we should call in the MP and pursue rules and regulations that are enforceable. We want safety in our forest and we want everyone to be able to enjoy the area, not just cyclists.”
Meanwhile, adds "Our source at the meeting reports that Ms Holding said she believed a limit of 500 would be more appropriate"

This woman is still claiming the "safety in the forest" myth, even though the final charter admits it is inconvenient, then says "well, let's just call our MP"

That's Maureen "I'm not anti-cycling but"  Holding, who is "not anti cycling, but " ... “I’ve always said the cycling charter needs more teeth – it hasn’t got the bite that it needs.”

She's the one who has been saying for months that "a change in the law is needed". And clearly she thinks that 500 should be the limit. Remember though: that limit is not "per ride", it is "total number of participants in sportives that day". 

If  Maureen "I'm not anti-cycling but"  Holding, gets her way, she'd have a limit of 500 bicycles/day in her forest.

Sadly for her: it's not going to happen. 

What will happen?

The next Wiggle sportive will be a test. Will the uncontroversial bits of the charter be followed,  and will it go down well? If not, what are the problems? Will there be locals putting up posters? Criminals putting down tacks at risk of causing injury? Or just some gripes about "too many cyclists"? Regardless: if there are any issues, the cyclist haters in the NFNPA will be blaming the cyclists, saying there were too many of them, etc, etc. 

There will be a summer. The forest will grind to a halt on holiday weekends, animals will get killed by cars, there will be multiple crashes and possibly some deaths related to it. Hopefully none, especially any involving cyclists. If a cyclist is on the KSI statistics, this will reinforce prejudices "they shouldn't have been there". The presence of large traffic jams most weekends will not be considered a problem.

Cyclists will cycle round the forest. As is their right. They will spend money in cafes and restaurants, B&Bs. Anyone planning to visit the forest should try to spend money ostentatiously "I wanted to visit the forest while it was still legal to cycle here", or "I know the forest has got a reputation for hating cyclists, but having visited it I can see it's just a few parish councillors and not the majority of the people". There's no harm in making clear that you are aware of and don't approve of the NPA members' actions —while recognising it doesn't imply the rest of the area is so narrow minded.

The Bournemouth Echo will print cycling scare stories. This paper could say "we're not anti-cycling, but..." as the opener to their weekly editorials.  They've printed articles on "growing number of cyclists 'frightening' people in the New Forest". They've consistently used resentment to sportives to support the killing of the Boris Bike plans: sportive photos over family ride photos, no attempt to even defend the ideas. Presumably they will repeat their tired, repetitive agenda. Which is a shame as there's another big story they havent looked at: how a small clique of parish councillors took over the national park authority, lost the region £1.6M of government funding and are now threatening the sole tourism mechanism that the forest could realistically sustain. 

The NFNPA members will remain in power. The power group that got in on the basis that something must be done will stay in their committees, have a meaningless piece of paper and will have their supporters fuming whenever they are held up. These are the same people that lost the forest £1.6M already. What they will do is refuse to recognise the loss is their fault "the government' didn't accept our reasonable proposals from local people," and double-down on their efforts to have some kind of legislation to put teeth behind their bollocks. What they've probably underestimated is how hard it would be get any legislation through. It's one thing to set lighting up times in a parish, to push through your agenda in a park authority for which membership has not been contentious in the past —another for a clique of NIMBY parish councillors to try and set the laws of a country.

There will be an election. It's too late for the NFNPA to ask for local authority "regulation" before that election. After it, there's a new queen's speech and then "100 days" for the new government to make a visible impact. Possibly, if the new government is conservative majority, or Conservative+UKIP+DUP, the new forest MP has a chance of going to them and arguing that some form of regulation is worth listing. If its Cons+LibDem, he can ask, but there's less chance of it flying. If it is labour: they won't even sit down to talk to him. He's not on their team and they have other things to worry about.

The only way some form of regulation on cycling on public roads will come about is tacked in to some other general bill, such as some road traffic one. So look out for them.

And cyclists who care? There's the sportive, there's day trips. 

There's also the option to stage a mass informal protest.
  1. Agree on a single day to visit the forest, some time in spring, post sportive, before peak season.
  2. Plan to come over to the forest, ideally on a weekend trip, staying nearby and spending money locally.
  3. Even if there is only 1 or 2 of you: contact the SAG, announce that you are coming, check to make sure that you are below the "1000 limit" for aggregate event attendees, ask what numbers you should wear. Do this to make a point that an aggregate limit is unworkable.
  4. Turn up and ride. Maybe plan in advance some meetup points. Maybe not: the key thing is a mass visit of cyclists to the area, riding down every road, enjoying themselves. 
Because this sends a message to the NFNPA

It says : we will not be intimidated.

It says: you can make up whatever charter you want, you can't stop us without making cycling in the forest illegal

It says: you are outnumbered.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

You can't change Britain one fuckwit at a time

You can't change Britain one fuckwit at a time

Search Twitter and you can easily find lots of tweets "I fucking hate cyclists in the middle of the road! I will run them over!" It's equally easy to argue with them.

Is it worth bothering to do so -except in the special case that the fuckwit is some sort of politician?

Because while it is easy to argue with the twats, it takes time. Time that could be better spent trying to have greater effect than argue with one single idiot. And at the end of a twitter spat, what makes you think the fuckwits two or three braincells have been rewired? Do they still hate cyclists in the middle of the road and those who give him a hard time on Twitter.

What to do instead?

Write letters to the local press. Don't waste time with bottom feeders, work at the top of the food chain.

Join your local cycling organisation (including the People's Cycling front of S Gloucs, but not the Popular cycling front of S Gloucs), and collaborate with others on key local cycling issues, usually:
why isn't the council doing anything to make cycling safer and appear to a broader portion of society. Along with: what are the incompetents in the planning department proposing that will actually make things worse -and how to stop them? That said: praise the council when they do good, help turn out for opening events to get into that local press, and don't turn up dressed like a bollard when you do.

If your local cycling group has a "1980s" view of what will help cycling to succeed: red paint and a magical critical mass of cyclists (hello: Hackney), raise the issue in the group and show how true dutch-style/copenhagen-style infrastructure can effect change. If that fails: be the Splitters!

If you have children at school identify like-minded parents then work with the school to make walking and cycling safer. Walking is a key focus point: if kids can't even walk safely to school, then cycling doesn't stand a chance. It is also likely to appeal to a broader set of parents.

Get to know your local councillors. And your MP, MEP, MSP. Try to talk to them. At the very least, get some letters showing their support or disdain for safer cycling infrastructure -and if they promise support, look for cash not words.

Focus on the infrastructure, the press, the planners and the politicians. Leave the fuckwits to their five followers.

Friday 16 January 2015

Unprofessional Drivers and their employers

If you want to fly a private plane there's a lot of training and testing, including regular health checkups.

If you want to fly a wide-bodied passenger jet, there's a lot more training, a lot more testing -and a lot more tracking of you and your flying skills.

Actions in a private plane that might raise a "don't do that again" comment would, for a commercial pilot, result in your license being suspended "pending investigation".

Potential health conditions would be monitored, and if any risk was felt to be present, your license revoked.

These pilots are people who have earned the right to call themselves "professional"

Airlines operate under strict regulation, including limiting the time pilots must spend in the cockpit. They actually care about this.

Airlines have schedules for flights that are designed to be feasible. They even incorporate some leeway for the inevitable things that happen: stacked planes above LHR, diversions, fog over Bristol. These may be unwelcome, but they  happen often enough that they are prepared and capable of dealing with it. No airline complains about "bad weather costs the airline industry 100M/year", unlike, say, the FTA whose members seem surprised about congestion.

Aircraft also come with preflight checklists, rigorous checks of vehicle state where the pilots are expected to walk round the entire craft inspecting everything from the engine to the tyres, then going to the cockpit and starting it in a documented process which includes looking at all the telemetry. If there is any problem they are expected to abort the flight. If a light comes on during a journey, they are expected to divert or return, rather than ignore it.

Yet this is the exact opposite of what we get for "professional" drivers and their employers. We actually have lower standards, because

  • The penalties for any driving offence are the same, be it a 1.1L fiesta or a 44 ton HGV.
  • There are stricter tests for HGV/Coach drivers, and nominally stricter medical requirements, but in the absence of any retesting, bad habits can creep in. This could be why "professional" drivers are often some of the most dangerous out there: overconfident, aggressive in their use of their (larger) vehicles.
  • Their workload often involves unrealistic schedules which can only be met in everyday traffic conditions by breaking the law.
  • The "professional" drivers can use the "I would lose my job over this" defence at any court case where they would earn penalty points.

What about companies that employ these "professional" drivers?

At the same time their employers don't seem to care

  1. They hire people for as little as they can get away with
  2. They generate the unrealistic schedules. Rush hours are not unexpected events, they happen every weekday so stop being surprised and whining about "congestion costing the UK...".
  3. They don't share any blame if one of their drivers is caught driving or texting at the wheel, speeding or driving dangerously. If there is a crash then there may be a civil lawsuit, but that is what their insurance covers.

The system needs to recognise that employers can make things better, and if not, they make things worse. Unrealistic schedules, phoning up the driver on the road, paying per load (tipper trucks), all create and amplify risk. A key one is "turning a blind eye to hours used", that is, condoning abuse of the tachometer so that they can get their freight delivered with less staff

Truck safety: brakes, tyres, windscreen wipers, lights, these are core features that, if neglected, can make a truck even more lethal. If you look at the percentage of HGVs breaking some vehicle safety requirement at police stops, it's nearly all of them.

Why do companies behave this way? They can -and it saves them money. Work your staff illegal hours and you have less staff to pay. Skimp on vehicle maintenance and again, money saved. Need to change a delivery during the day? Phone and text the drivers. Time and money saved, and if the driver reads a text on the motorway, well, "that was their decision": no blame for the company

There is no fucking way airlines would be allowed to run this way, yet trucking companies appear to do so.

And, so do coach companies.

The way TfL care only about schedules and not road safety are a key point: everyone cycling in a bus lane has to be aware that the buses trying to use them are running on unrealistic schedules based around their not being cyclists in the way, and with the company and hence the drivers penalised for being held up. That's why buses overtake you then immediately swing in: if it saves the bus a couple of seconds, that adds up.

It's also why bus companies push back against infrastructure improvements that don't appear to benefit them -or actually add a few seconds. Cycle infrastucture is a key example of this, but so are pedestrian crossings. Down in Bristol, some of the "showcase" improvements on Whiteladies road involved FirstBus" pushing to replace zebra crossings with light controlled crossings, as their timetable was impacted by the large numbers of students walking to university. That's right: lots of people on foot were an inconvenience, not something to be encouraged. In a "forward thinking green capital".

At least Bristol council sometimes cares.

In the SGloucs-managed suburbs,that doesn't happen. The councillors can't imagine anyone walking or cycling, so view bus transport as the sole viable alternative to the car. Which here in CUBA, means the Bus Rapid Transit fuckup: two attempts to convert biking/walking paths into bus lanes defeated, but BRT2 going ahead for no tangible benefit and at the expense of pedestrians in Bedminster (showcase retail area), and, as its costs overrun before building even begins, trying to use cycling money to make up for projected shortfalls. This is for the successor a project that has tried to destroy Britain's single most useful railway conversion for 8-10 buses an hour, a successor that tried to "value engineer" out all the cycling and walking facilities they'd promised to reinstate after destroying a footbridge over the Avon.

Another local example is this M5 Coach Crash. Here we have a professional coach driver who is diabetic. Nothing wrong with that as long as he follows the diabetic protocol, including checking blood sugar levels before he sets out. Do we know he does that? We don't but we do know: he appeared to fall asleep on the M5 while driving a coachful of people.

Fortunately, in this crash, nobody was injured: pure luck. A great near miss to which the government could have reacted the way they would have done to an wide-bodied commercial airline pilot in a similar situation. Revoked his license until the incident was fully understood, and, if due to a medical condition -or no other explanation could be found-, say "sorry, for the safety of the passengers and the people under your flightplath, we can't let you fly any more".

What happens for a coach driver? The driver says "I don't know what happened" and "If I lose my license I lose my job", and ends up without even any fucking penalty points, just a 50 quid fine.

This a driver, -who through luck rather than skill- avoided killing his passengers when he somehow lost conciousness at the wheel. And that is considered acceptable?

Why are the fucking safety standards for coach drivers so much lower than for airplane pilots?

There's always that claim "the most dangerous part of a flight is the drive to and from the airport". Maybe that's not because there is something inherently dangerous about the roads, but because they are full of coach drivers who are allowed to keep driving even after they crash, HGV drivers fiddling their tachographs to drive for 18 hours a day salesmen (and it is mostly men) driving their BMWs and Audis at 90 mph while they talk to their back office in their iphones.

Well, if that's the case, it's correctable: hold "professional" drivers to higher standards than amateur drivers, on the basis that if they do it for a living, for many hours every working day -they better be fucking safe to so. Instead of "I will lose my job" being a plea for lenience, it should be "you should have known better".

Equally critically: hold their employers to account. Large fines whenever one of their employees is caught in some infraction in a work vehicle should suffice. How many £1000+ fines for HGV drivers using their phone does it take for an employer to decide fitting hands-free phone systems makes more sense? How many impounded trucks with defects or tachograph abuse before they conclude that the schedules of driving and maintenance need fixing?

Only if the employers get to share the blame will the system change.

Thursday 8 January 2015

The New Forest NPA: criminalising cycling in the countryside

So, the NFNPA cycling "charter" is up, some nominal support from cycling organisations,  and Hants police. What's in it? Being a word document showing last minute revisions, extra insight

Why the charter? "concerns from some local people". Nobody else. Not the NPA itself, not the police or council, locals.

This charter does  not replace or detract from the need to comply with the highway code or highway legislation

What it doesn't say is 'all the rights granted by highway legislation are not removed by this charter'. Especially the one where it says cyclists have a right to cycle on a public highway.

Because this charter isn't about rights, its about taking them away

All rides of 100+ are expected to contact the group. Planning a club ride? It's ok if there there is 99 or less. 100 or more: expected to co-operate and comply.

 This shows the truth, the impacts of the forest aren't irreplaceable environment damage, household pets being run over, speeding cyclists killing children. No, it's "inconvenience to other road users". They throw in the sop of 'and other cyclists', just to spread the blame.

"avoid use of quiet country roads". This again shows the real concern "inconvenience", and why so many millions in the now-defunct "Plan B" was to be spent widening a road. For the haters behind this charter, there is nothing worse than being held up by cyclists"

Again, that repetition of the duties of the highway code, not the rights. And we've suddenly gone from implying that cyclists are an "inconvenience' to "irresponsible"

Maybe pre-event briefings should cover those rights too, just for completeness. And for fairness, when the "New Forest Drivers Charter" is published, anyone organising an event with >100 cars will have to offer a pre-ride briefing on the highway code responsibilities

Again, the mention of "riding in single file", and highlights this. Note that the comment claims that it could be for an emergency vehicle: it's for your own good.  We call that "post-rationalisation"

This raises some questions. The implication of wearing a number is that "offenders" can be reported: but what for? For cycling two abreast? Could someone really phone up and say "I was held up by four cyclists riding two-abreast, here are their numbers?"

The second paragraph implies it, taking action against participants who "contravene event rules", e..g "banned from future events for ... cycling in a peleton".

In the absence of any definition of "peleton", what the fuck does this mean? As on a sportive its inevitable groups will form. Not necessarily fast ones, but groups, wheelsucking or turn taking. Is this now a crime?

As for banning: will that be from a specific event, like "wiggle sportives", or will it be from all rides in the area

Are the NFNPA proposing being able to ban cyclists from all events in the area?

The whole thing is bollocks and the NFNPA should be told to fuck off.

Realistically, Wiggle aren't going to, as they don't want to have the council, verderers and park authorities go out their way to make things already harder than they have. Wiggle are already forced to start outside the NF, they have to deal with Verderers apparently changing drift dates, and if people really did want to protest against cycling, tacks on the ground are an easy way to injure a lot of people.

Everyone else though should think long and hard about whether to agree to this. What it represents is an attempt to limit the number of cyclists in a bit of the countryside -and if the new forest does it, Surrey will be watching to see how it goes. Both these places have the same clash of locals thinking they have exclusive rights to drive down back country roads at speed, both blame cyclists,

And they both have councils saying "legislation may be needed". That's going to go down well with their narrow-minded haters, but nationally, it would be vicious.

What to do instead? Get out and ride! Don't be afraid of cycling two abreast or in a group. Don't be afraid to walk into pubs and buy food and beer. That doesn't mean be antisocial: let cars past when you consider it safe for them to do so, don't scatter gel wrappers everywhere (hint: there are pockets in your jersey for them), and be considerate of pedestrians in villages. Consider also fixing a camera or two on the bike, so if you do get tailgated by a car, or overtaken dangerously, you can be the one phoning in the number to Hants police, with a video.


Lucky they haven't heard of Strava or they'd be demanding it doesn't record rides in the forest on the day of an event. Or even more: ban recording any rides in the area, ever.