Friday, 13 June 2014

Roads and freight: what would the free market do?

A woman in her late twenties has been killed and her newborn baby girl in the same car airlifted to hospital after a collision on the M40, police said.

The crash between the car and a lorry happened at 11:20 BST on the southbound carriageway, just before junction nine.

This one's close to home, and not just literally ...

As a motorcyclist, instinct tells me that lorries can be lethal. As a father of two young children, I worry about just this sort of accident.

A quick Google backs up my feeling that lorries are disproportionately dangerous:
The assessment of official statistics, carried out by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) for Campaign for Better Transport, showed that the ratio of fatal road accidents involving Heavy Good Vehicles (HGVs) compared with those involving other vehicle types has been climbing year on year:
  • On motorways: More than half (52%) of fatal accidents on motorways involve HGVs, despite HGVs only making up 10% of the traffic on motorways
  • On A-roads: HGVs are involved in 1 in 5 fatal crashes on A roads, a ratio that has worsened over the last 5 years
  • On minor roads: An HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic

Can "Campaign for Better Transport" be trusted?

You might expect a libertarian to be sceptical of a group that's against road building and which campaigns to "save our buses". Their patrons include Lord Faulkner (Labour). Their board members fret about "equality and diversity" and "social exclusion". One of them, Alastair Hanton, helped them win "major improvements to the taxation of company cars as benefits in kind" - a tax hike, I suspect. Another board member, Sue Fletcher, boasts "a lifelong career in the charitable and public sectors". Their choice of catch phrases rings alarm bells: "evidence-based policy-making" usually means "policy-based evidence-making".

So no, I don't trust them. And I don't share their concerns about carbon dioxide. But I do share their instinct that lorries are an unsafe an inefficient way to transport freight.

What would the free market do? Would more freight go by rail? Would there be private roads for lorries, and separate ones for cars? Would there be speed-limit-free 'fun roads', for those prepared to take the risk? Would there be roads reserved for motorcycles? Would there be computer-controlled 'safe roads', for everyday family commutes? What would the public demand? What would be economically viable to supply? How would new roads get built without compulsory purchase orders?

As long as the state maintains its grip on roads and railways, we'll never know.

Friday, 14 February 2014

"A Britain where nobody wants to live" edges closer

Four years ago I blogged about 'a Britain where nobody wants to live'.

The title was taken from a much-quoted speech by Ivan Lawrence from 22 March 1979, in the debate over seat belts:
Since I have been in the House I have seen the cogent arguments and the telling pleas of hon. Members on both sides of the House persuading and succeeding in persuading the House that it is only a very little piece more of liberty that we are withdrawing and for such great benefits and advantages. As a result we have far fewer of our freedoms now than was ever dreamed possible a few years ago. In the end we shall find that our liberties have all but disappeared. It might be possible to save more lives in Britain by this measure—and by countless other measures. But I do not see the virtue in saving more lives by legislation which will produce in the end a Britain where nobody wants to live.
I was pleasantly unsurprised to see Steve Baker supporting freedom on the matter of smoking in cars. He presented another classic quote, from de Tocqueville:
After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
While we're quoting, one by C.S. Lewis springs to mind:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
It is shameful that so many so-called conservatives do not share Mr Baker's respect for liberty. Nicola Blackwood is my MP, and she will not get my vote.

For more, see: