Saturday 12 December 2015

LHR: missing the fucking point

The entrance to Heathrow is three lanes of traffic. Motor traffic: cyclists are not allowed

That's because what was a cycle lane, got turned into a narrow, high-restricted traffic lane instead.

Notice how, along with the signs for the terminal there's one for "short stay parking"

That is: in order to cope with the number of cars entering the area, including private cars doing dropoff and parking in short stay parking bays. And of course the multi-storey staff parking in the central mess of what just another pedestrian and cycling hating 1970s gyratory.

They have added a "cycling hub"

That's not a hub: its a fucking spoke —and if Heathrow management are proud of it they haven't spoken to a single person who has ever tried to cycle to the airport.

The approach? That'll be on road on the A4

It's worth remembering at this point is that only a few years ago, LHR promised "No third runway".

They lied. They probably had it on a roadmap at the time. This shows that (a) LHR can't be trusted and (b) if you want a binding commitment from them, you need to include a penalty in the T&Cs. If they really had meant "no third runway", the government should have said "you wont mind signing this clause that says £5000 pounds to everyone in the flight path plus £5B to central government".

Because all of this is about profit. Why do LHR have short-stay parking? Because its so fucking profitable. Why do LHR expect government to fund the M25 tunnels, refuse to pony up for Crossrail: it would hurt their profits: "Heathrow has repeatedly said it is not willing to pay more than about £1 billion, though the costs are estimated by Transport for London to be £15 – 20 billion." (source airportwatch)

LHR's business is about flying passengers in and out the airport. They like the hub idea, as it gets more people through: on the planes, in the shops. The airlines and the business love it too.

Those are the business in the "Greater LHR", the sprawl of companies nearby. All notable by their vast car parks, roads of death and lack of cycle parking.

This street view, for example, is facing 180 degrees away from Hatton Cross tube station. There's a tube station right behind, yet a vast car park for staff to drive to.

This is the mindset of every company supporting the 3rd runway: we want more planes near the offices which we drive to.

It's why the airport and the roads around it stand out as the outer london pollution hub (source: war on the motorist)

Yet LHR think their proposal will not make things worse: things are already fucking awful.

What's their vision? NOx is Somebody Else's Problem which will magically go away
  1. Crossrail: this does nothing to discourage the "Greater LHR" staff/business traffic which forms the inner ring of pollution, nothing for the core, nothing for the new and expanded runways. And priced such that it will be a luxury option from the West Country.
  2. Euro6 and EVs on the M4. Euro6 has been shown to be a line. That part of the proposal needs to be taken out of the spreadsheet.
  3. The cycling hub
Which shows that they don't give a fuck, aren't prepared to do anything about it except pretend on spreadsheets that the actions of others will address it.

What's their problem? Failure to recognise that they are the central cause of the pollution, and should act on it.

A key point must be for them to recognise that they themselves are directly and indirectly responsible for all the pollution caused in Greater LHR, and they have to address it.

They need to understand something simple: every vehicle driving on heathrow related business is four less passengers. Make it that simple and they would start to think about what they should do.

Why are any private cars coming into the airport? Why not taxi only and dedicated disabled access (enforced) only, with special dropoff points for outside the central hub? Remove that traffic, converting one of each direction's tunnels into an electric tram the way other airports do, and you boost the capacity of the tunnels, and provide something for the commuters to get on their bikes with. Commuters —because every single staff parking bay needs to go. That's for the executive down: everyone who drives to work is costing the airport three passengers.

The airport could take baby steps immediately

  • impose a toll on all private vehicles driving through the tunnel. A pound would be a start.
  • remove that staff parking
  • fix the fucking cycle access
  • give all staff free bus and tube travel.
  • get rid of the magic paint on the A4 and provide cycle routes for the staff from hounslow that are on a par with what central london is rolling out. If there is room for it in Central London, there's room for it by the A4. Boris has shown that.

Then turn to every business nearby whose livelihood depends on the airport and say "every one of your vehicles costs us for passengers: act". Again: close the car parks, offer free public transport, cycle parking. There's a wrinkle there: company funded train or TfL transport is treated as a taxable benefit, employees pay for it. Staff parking is not. That's something that central government could address, but in the meantime, what few parking bays remain could be billed for at significantly more than the tax-per-day of staff commuting by public transport. That will get people to prioritise.

Those trade unions saying "we need this!" —go to them and say "if your employees need this, they're going to have to stop driving". Make it clear there's a fucking choice.

From the perspective of Bristol —which would benefit a lot more from LHR expansion than Gatwick— LHR need to come up with a story. If there is more than one passenger, renting a car to drive from the city to one of those vast airport rental dropoff points is cheaper than two coach tickets, and avoids sitting in that central bus station which is as awful as a Banksy's Dismaland. LHR hate bus passengers. That's in the central hub, its almost as bad at T4 and T5 where you sit in a little bench and are expected to feel grateful.

If there are three passengers from Bristol, a private hire vehicle is less than those coach tickets; a PHV whose driver will come in early, wait in that short-stay parking and so give you a journey home whose experience outshines anything else.

If you are on a company trip and going for less than five days, you can get from the Bristol/S Gloucs North Fringe in under two hours, drop your car off right in front of the airport for a driver of Purple Parking or similar for them to park off-airport, bring it back to you. Because if you can get a private car right up the terminal -you would, wouldn't you? And of course, in a world of autonomous cars, anyone can do this, reading emails to the airport, sleeping on the way back after a long-haul flight to a new BRIC destination

Today the train from Bristol to Paddington and out doesn't cut it. While the LPAD->LHR stage is fast, you go past the airport and back again, on a train which can stop just outside paddington for 15 minutes because "they weren't expecting a train". And on the return journey, miss your reservation and you'll be fighting with all the reading commuters for space. Currently, the Bristol-paddington-LHR route is a premium option which can go horribly wrong. Crossrail will help with the logistics —but do nothing for the pricing, which will still be more than driving to the airport in a diesel car. With an electric car, the cost per mile will be so low that you really won't bother. And while that may reduce your personal NOx, it will create the M4 congestion which boosts pollution of all the diesels on the road.

Now look at Frankfurt airport, one of the big competitors

  1. The Frankfurt AirRail terminal has its own baggage pickup: you can walk to the terminal and pick up your bags there.
  2. You can check in at Frankfurt central train station, getting issued with a train ticket and the flight boarding card.
  3. You can drop your bags at the station too. At heathrow: its trollies, queuing for elevators, pushing them up slopes, walking about half a mile underground.
  4. If you get a flight with Lufthansa, you can buy a return train ticket to anywhere in germany for 29 €.

Imagine if you could do the same in the UK? At Paddington, Reading, Bristol, and at Kings Cross/St Pancras you could check in while waiting for the next train, get on the fast electric train to the airport, arrive at the station, drop off your bag and walk straight to security. For less than today's cost of a Heathrow express return ticket.

That would transform airport access for passengers from places in driving distance to the airport —suddenly it would be both cheaper and easier to get the train.

Finally, it's notable that LHR cite Paris and Amsterdam as the other key competitors. That's paris which bans cars on polluting days, which is trying to go car free. And Amsterdam, which has so many people cycling that their NOx map doesn't resemble other European cities. LHR need to look at London at a whole and conclude that anything done to reduce NOx and CO2 pollution in the city itself benefits them. If flight is so essential, then they need to think about offsetting flight pollution through a reduction in road pollution throughout the city —and work towards it with TfL.

Do Heathrow see that? Do they look at mainland europe and think "we should copy Frankfurt"? Go to BA and FGW and say "copy Lufthansa or we won't give you extra runway slots". Do they go to the business round the airport and say "what are you doing?"

No they fucking don't. They produce PDF files with the usual "empty road" bollocks you always get, fingers pointing at EURO6 cars, which, when that fails, LHR can say "not our fault", and build a cycling hub in the bit of the airport the furthest from the centre of the airport as it is possible to build.

Monday 7 December 2015

Cabbies: Tavistock Place is not what will destroy you

This is a letter to taxi drivers. 

It's not going to argue about the merits of Tavistock Place, the Embankment cycle superhighway or the other things coming. You might not like them —you may resent the fact they represent changes to the city that you cannot control, but they won't destroy you.

You face an existential threat. Britain dodged one in the Battle of Britain; humanity dodged one in the Cold War. The dinosaurs encountered one and lost. You? You run the risk of being a historical note -like the Viking colony of Greenland. More likely, the brand of the black cab will remain, just like those other icons: the routemaster bus, policemen with helmets too: something for the tourists to have on postcards and tea-towels.

What is this existential threat? If you thought "Uber" you'd be getting warm —but its more: it's the Internet and the devices attached to it.

When was the last time you popped out to rent a video or a DVD? Do you ever reminisce about going to the video rental store as you sit down in front of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, or Amazon? Do you still take photographs on a camera with a roll of film? If so —you can't take them down to a local camera shop to get printed —that shop will be gone. Along with the record shop and possibly the bookshop. 

They faced the existential threat of The Internet and lost.

Nobody set out to destroy those shops on the high street; it just happened. The new companies brought new opportunities to people, and we all embraced them; those stores were simply collateral damage. 

Thats what threatens you. Not just Uber, but the other companies building the stuff that Uber depends on. Uber needs Apple and google for the smartphones. Apple and google need users attached to their phones. Everyone driving is lost revenue, to these companies. And when you look at how much time people -especially in the US- spend in cars, that's a lot of lost revenue. And what are google working on now? Autonomous cars.

Uber are now valued at more than General Motors. That way more than if they took every single taxi journey on the planet and got 25% commission on that ride. So why the valuation? It's because Uber have general motors in their sights —along with Ford, VW/Audi, and the other car companies.

Uber have a simple ambition: to get the money everyone spends on buying and running cars. Why own one when you have a phone, and whenever you wave it, a car appears? It's the magic wand of motoring. No more need to worry about parking by your house, at your destination. No more maintaining it. And, assuming it's electric: no need to worry about range. You'll tell uber your destination, and they'll bring up a car with the range. If something goes wrong, well, Uber can send a replacement out to meet up. And it'll be their problem to worry about charging points, having vehicles ready at pickup etc.

To Uber then, you may be today's competitor —but you are a stepping stone to their greater goal: to replace today's car manufacturers.

Apple and google? They don't care about you one way or the other. But the phones, the cars they work on, the satnav maps they provide —that's the underlying technology that's threatening your business. And there's nothing you can do about that.

It's not just the scale of these companies you have to fear —it's their growing political power. The cash reserves Uber has means that they can start funding the election campaigns of US politicians. Once they do that, Taxi Licensing Authorities in the relevant cities are going to have anything they've done to block uber reversed, while legislation enabling self-driving cars gets pushed through.

In the UK, London is the big target for Uber: you've got the money, you've got the journeys, and, in the centre, an interesting mix of public transport and high-density destinations they can aim for. Your livelihoods. Get that cash flowing, keep the funders happy, destroy their direct competitors (e.g Lyft), and build a future for a transport company bigger than GM which has no drivers whatsoever.

So what can you do? How do you face down this existential threat?

That's a problem which you and your organisations —like the LTDA— have to worry about. 

It is probably the greatest threat you've ever encountered: it's got the car companies scared, and you've never managed that. 

Get together. Get out your phones and arrange a meeting —not Nokia phones, obviously— they lost to Apple and Google. Drive to that meeting past the streets that had video shops, record shops and booksellers. If you see an Uber driving in a crash, use the camera on your phone, post up the image —but spare a moment's thought to all those people who loved cameras and made a living selling them and the developing and printing business. But get together with your colleagues and work out how to survive.

Can you survive?

Maybe a better question is how long can you survive —and what help do you need to achieve this?

TfL are a possible ally. But you need a compelling vision of a real Taxi for the 21st century: one that doesn't pollute, one that recharges at taxi stands, one that is integrated in a world of booking by phone, touch to pay, co-ordinated booking systems with handoff between you and other cabbies. You might even think about changes to the pricing model.

TfL are also an enemy. It's not just their licensing of minicab drivers, or the fact that they are allowed into the city centre for near nothing, it's their sheer inertia and lack of innovation. You need to take the lead there —but it has to be compelling. "Like it was before Uber" is like a  VHS shop saying "like it was before iPlayer". That time is gone.

You might find the Uber drivers can be your allies here. They are in even more trouble than you. They're not employees of Uber: they are expenses —and there is no space for them in Uber's long-term vision. Start getting them to unionise, to demand salaries and rights, and get TfL to set those minimum standards, and maybe it will level the playing field. 

You need to keep them out the bus lanes. Uber, Google, Tesla and others have their autonomous car's LIDAR scanners scoping them out already; in their home cities, bus lane plans are on hold for this very reason.

Which brings this essay back to us: the cyclists. 

We are not the ones who will destroy your very livelihood.

You may look at changes in the city, at the Junctions of Death, along the Embankment, at Tavistock place, and elsewhere —and resent this change, a change to the city you love and which you can't control. Maybe so: but they are coming so that Londoners on bicycles can reach their destination alive.

None of those cyclists are building autonomous cars with a vision of taking over from the car companies, crushing your business as a stepping stone or a mere side-effect of the vision.

Protest about the changes if you want. Put money into a lawsuit over a conversion of what was essentially coach parking into a safe mass transport option if it makes you feel better. Complain about the cyclists whenever you get a journalist, a councillor or an MP in the back of the vehicle. Go to TfL and try to bully them into changing their plans. But in doing so, you are not only getting distracted from what really is going to destroy you: you are using up money, time and political capital which you need for your fight for your very survival

Maybe, just maybe, cyclist could even be allies.

Do you think we are happy that autonomous driving tests don't seem to include cyclists? Do you think we are happy that Nissan and Tesla want their car in bus lanes? Do you think, as we cycle round Westminster looking for one of its six cycle racks that we are pleased to see recharge docks in a part of the city where the congestion charge exempts them?

At the same time: we want to set off on a journey knowing we will get their alive. We want our children to be able to cycle to school and not worry about them. We will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve what little bits of safe infrastructure TfL and some of the councils are slowly adding to the city. Because we know what matters to us: our lives