Category Archives: Anarchist’s Corner

DIY Traffic Calming

DIY Traffic CalmingOnce upon a time, not so very long ago,if you lived beside a British trunk road your life would be a nightmare of congestion, pollution and constant danger. As the years passed, the nightmare spread; first to ‘A’ class roads, then ‘B’ roads (remember when you could cycle on those sweeping rural highways?), and finally to unclassified roads in all but the most remote corners of these islands.

Today, almost every stretch of tarmac that isn’t protected by cameras, chicanes and speed bumps of various kinds has become a lethal rat run.West Park, Castle Cary is a good example – a cul-de-sac for God’s sake, but somehow traffic manages to thunder up the road at 30mph before screeching into one of the rare parking spaces. If they’re all taken, the vehicle simply double parks.

The Problem

The problem is that we walk and cycle along our road, our pets do whatever it is that pets do along it, and our children play, and learn to ride bicycles here too. If children cannot safely learn to ride on a suburban cul-de-sac, where can they learn? And if we give in and accept that all roads are now too dangerous, is there really any point in them learning to ride at all?

…visual clues indicate… that this road space… is where people live, walk, talk and play…

Our road and the houses along it  were once owned by the local authority, until such social housing was swept away by Mrs T’s home ownership revolution.The handful of houses remaining in local authority hands were transferred to a housing trust, which also took control of the car park, while the rest of the road remained with the authority.

We asked the trust if speed humps or warning signs could be put in, and although generally sympathetic, it said this was really a local authority problem, suggesting we petition the Highways Department at the local district council.The reply, a full month later, is perhaps indicative of the thinking prevalent in those authorities where the 1960s car revolution is still very much underway. Naturally, the traffic engineer shared our concerns, but was at pains to point out that:‘…children should not be playing in the road. It is a dangerous practice and should be discouraged.’ Remember, we are talking about a short cul-de-sac ending in a car park used primarily by residents.The highways man continues:

‘There are warning signs that we can erect, but the guidelines we have to follow clearly state that they should only be used to warn drivers of the presence of schools or playgrounds and the likelihood of encountering children on the road ahead.This does not apply as far as West Park is concerned… if we were to erect a sign and there was an accident, it could well put the Highway Authority in a vulnerable position…’

School Crossing Road SignNot to put too fine a point on it, this is utter nonsense. According to the Department for Transport’s ‘Road Safety Good Practice Guide’, urban residential roads account for nearly 40% of all crashes (‘accidents’, according to DfT) and a high proportion of the casualties are children.The answer, according to recommendation 4.67, is that: ‘On residential access roads drivers need to be given visual cues that indicate strongly that this road space is part of the environment where people live, walk, talk and play.’

Traffic calming measures can be quite problematical. Speed humps are complex to install, the emergency services may choose to object (less likely on a cul- de-sac, of course), and to be safe and fully effective, they must be well lit and signed. Surely the answer is a warning sign, indicating that children might be playing? Something that children have always done and always will do, on quiet cul-de-sacs?

In practice, there’s nothing to stop you buying a road sign and erecting it on private land, but there is very little precedent for members of the public purchasing DfT-approved signs and erecting them in a public place. In our case, the sign would need to be fixed to a local authority pole, on the boundary between the road owned and managed by the local authority, and the car park owned and managed by the housing association.

…anyone responsible for a hazard is entitled to warn road users about it…

Local authorities have wide powers to remove unauthorised advertising signs, and equally wide powers to put up their own road signs, provided they are produced to exacting standards laid down by the Department for Transport in the guidance notes ‘Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions’.Where motorists are likely to encounter children, the appropriate sign is one that will be recognised by all road users – these are commonly found on the approaches to schools and playgrounds, but not, as our local authority claims, exclusively in these places.The particular hazard is usually indicated beneath the sign, and there are several options available, most appropriately in our case, the all encompassing:‘Caution Children’.

Anarchy in the UK?

If members of the public started putting up ‘obligatory’ road signs wherever they wished, traffic management would deteriorate into a state of anarchy, but the rules regulating triangular warning signs are rather different. If your car breaks down, you’re entitled to display a warning triangle, and in practice, anyone responsible for a hazard is entitled – even encouraged – to warn road users with appropriate signing.We had informed our local authority of a hazard (namely Alexander and co) and the authority had shown itself unwilling to help, so we decided to go it alone.

Several companies manufacture road signs, either to customer specifications for private roads, or to DfT specification for highway use.We chose to buy from HM Prison Coldingley, near Woking in Surrey. Coldingley is one of the key manufacturers of DfT- approved road signs, and can supply anything to order, profits helping to run the prison and giving a small income to prisoners.These things aren’t cheap, but they’re well made and obviously designed to survive in all weathers for many years. Our sign, in the smallest standard size (575mm x 870mm, including the warning plate) cost £105, complete with fitting kit and delivery.

One thing we weren’t expecting was the goodwill of friends and neighbours telling us just how much they appreciated the sign, and it does look businesslike. Does it work? All the indications are that it works very well indeed. In the short-term at least, traffic speeds are reduced, and cars are approaching with a new awareness that – as the DfT puts it – they are entering road space where people live, walk, talk and play. Motorists are not demons, they’re ordinary folk, but a lack of guidance from above had allowed our tiny road to become a race-track by default.With an appropriate message, drivers have once again started to drive in an appropriate manner. It really is that simple.

Home Zones

Home Zones are a successful feature of the road scene in The Netherlands, and a few pilot schemes have been established in the UK. Home Zones are usually established in urban residential areas, using street furniture, vegetation and other features to break up the street, and make motorised road users feel less comfortable, reducing the speed and volume of traffic. In rural areas, roads may similarly be designated as Quiet Lanes, the aim being to encourage pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and wildlife to return. As our experience shows, not all highways departments and traffic engineers are enthusiastic, but under the Transport Act 2000, they certainly have the power to designate any road that meets DfT criteria as either a Quiet Lane or a Home Zone. Broadly speaking, a rural road is considered suitable if it carries less than 1,000 vehicles per day, and a residential road if it carries less than 100 cars ‘in the afternoon peak hour, with little or no through traffic’. Get counting and good luck! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Further reading: The DfT website includes a great deal of information on road safety, road signs and Home Zones. The l can supply books, leaflets, videos and advice on all aspects of Home Zones and other street-calming initiatives:, Play England. HM Prison Coldingley tel 01483 804300 fax 01483 804427

Cycle Scheme

Tax-Free ‘Green’ Transport

Cycle SchemeHere at A to B we can be a bit sceptical about government schemes to boost cycling. Don’t forget, this is the same bunch that imposed on- the-spot fines on elderly ladies riding sedately on the pavement, but wouldn’t fund the cycle facilities to keep riders safe; that built more and bigger roads, when they claimed to be reversing the trend, painted speed cameras bright yellow, so motorists could avoid the fines, and promised to quadruple cycling, but oversaw the biggest decline in cycle use ever recorded. Why would we take any notice of a government scheme?

We should have noticed this one. Last year, the Chancellor announced that ‘green’ travel to work initiatives would be allowable as tax-free incentives for company employees, provided certain conditions were observed.The list of qualifying ‘Travel Plans’ included free or subsidised works buses, occasional lunchtime use of said bus, subsidies paid by employers to public bus services, season tickets, up to six cyclists’ breakfasts a year (big deal), workplace cycle parking, and – more crucially – bicycles and equipment.

Initial take-up was slow, because the conditions sounded complex, and few people had looked into the small-print of what appeared to be a routine announcement about bus subsidies. But things were moving, and soon Halfords, Giant, Specialized and Trek had coalesced around an agency called Booost – already providing computer equipment in a similar scheme. Under the guidance of the Association of Cycle Traders, the bicycle bit was soon up and running, and the early participants were joined by Gary Fisher.

All very cosy. In theory anyone could set up a scheme, but these big multi-national companies had made all the running, and they were understandably less than willing to share this profitable new business with other cycle manufacturers or small retailers.

…the scheme is for the mass-market, and the mass-market is happy with Halfords bikes…

Booost blames government demands that tax payers’ money should not be spent on BMX and childrens’ bikes, forcing it (rather oddly) to stick with the biggest manufacturers and retailers. Somehow, this bias towards big business all sounds very New Labour. Booost reassured us that bikes could be bought through independent cycle retailers too, and the Association of Cycle Traders has been skirmishing with Halfords to bring this about. It claims that ‘several hundred’ bike shops have expressed an interest, but to date, few have made sales.

In theory, Halfords can source bikes from any manufacturer, but in practice… well, you get the picture. According to a Halfords representative, ‘The scheme is for the mass market, and the mass market is happy with Halfords bikes.’ Well, maybe, but mass market bikes are not necessarily the best commuter machines. More importantly, folding bikes are hardly represented at all.

Trek and Specialized market reasonable Dahon-based folders, and the Giant Halfway is a neat little bike, but there’s not much else. Dahon bikes are sold in some Halfords branches, and should thus be admissible, but the really specialised folders, such as Bike Friday, Birdy, and particularly, Brompton, are excluded. Halfords is not authorised to sell any of these, and although the company will endeavour to source one by fair means or foul, it is not in a position to honour the warranty or provide servicing.With the notable exception of the Giant Lafree, electric bikes are excluded too. Meanwhile, Brompton has tried hard to get on the scheme, but been repeatedly rebuffed.

How does it Work?

Like all government schemes, it’s a bit complicated.The employer agrees to lease a number of bicycles (plus safety equipment, accessories and arguably even trailers – there’s no limit) chosen by its employees.When the purchases are made, the employer claims back the VAT, effectively knocking 17.5% off the purchase price, with the saving (hopefully) being passed to the employee.The bike is now owned by the employer, and loaned to the employee for a set period; the interest-free loan payments are deducted at source, effectively making the purchase free of income tax and National Insurance too. After a set period, the employee can purchase the bicycle for a nominal ‘fair market value’, and it becomes their property. Payments can be made over any period, but twelve months is typical – this interest-free loan being a useful bonus in itself.

Brompton L6

Brompton L6 £322

Got that? The details of individual schemes vary, and the tax band of the participant has an effect too, so it’s hard to be precise about the savings involved, but most tax payers would expect to pay around half of the normal retail price – higher rate tax payers even less. Obviously, the more you earn, and the more expensive your cycling tastes, the greater the advantage.

The only loser is the bicycle retailer, obliged to pay a small administration fee to Booost.The employer saves 12.8% in National Insurance contributions, which can be passed on or used to cover administration costs. Of course, participating employers also get a useful recruitment incentive and happier, healthier employees.

According to the Inland Revenue, the bicycles can, like company cars, be used for leisure purposes, provided they are used ‘mainly for travelling to and from work’.And as with any other bicycle, if the machines are used for work-related journeys (not commuting, unfortunately), employers can also pay employees up to 20p per mile free of tax to cover depreciation.

Where’s the Catch?

At the moment there are a whole set of problems. Halfords says it will do business with small employers, but Booost is generally only willing to talk if you’re in the market for hundreds of bikes.The perception for many smaller employers and cycle retailers is that the whole thing is just too much trouble.

Birdy Red

Birdy Red £490

Fortunately, there’s no need to deal with Booost or Halfords if you don’t want to. Frustrated with the current schemes, independent cycle retailers are setting up their own. One of the first is the ‘CycleScheme’, launched by Avon Valley Cyclery of Bath. Avon is a key supplier of folding bikes, including Moulton, Dahon, Brompton, Airnimal and Birdy.The company also specialises in racing and mountain bikes from Giant, Marin, Gary Fisher, LeMond and Klein.Thus CycleScheme will cover some classic commuters, plus the sort of rare and specialist bicycles that you really wouldn’t want delivered to the back door of your local Halfords. And despite being a division of a retail outlet, CycleScheme claims to work with other independent shops – the intention is to rival the national coverage of Booost itself.

Larger employers are starting to do their own thing too. Company ‘A’ with 350 employees was rejected as too small by Booost, but set up its own scheme, negotiating discounts with individual cycle shops, which get a nice simple cash sale. Company ‘A’ also saved on leasing fees by arranging a short 3 month lease period and paying cash for the bikes. In the first month, 20 employees have signed up.

The Future

Unless the government changes its mind and withdraws the bike scheme, the impact on top-end bicycle sales will be huge. Bike to work programmes are particularly well suited to folding bikes, because employers are also allowed to provide tax-friendly loans to cover season tickets up to a £5,000 ceiling. So the means exists to subsidise every part of an employee’s rail/cycle commute, from the bicycle and accessories, through the train fare, to cycle storage at work, and even the occasional breakfast!

Booost web
CycleScheme tel 01225 448933
web mail

Cambridge Trains Map

Reopening Railway Lines

Scottish Borders Trains MapVery often Anarchist’s Corner tells a tragic and unresolved tale, but these examples are rather different.They’re two of the most important transport good causes around, and you really can do something to help. Even if you never travel by train, and don’t live in these areas, don’t forget that they are net generators of road traffic, which affects every road in the country. Overseas readers might be surprised to hear that major transport infrastructure decisions are made by volunteers in Britain…

Scottish Borders: Back in the late 1960s, after Doctor Beeching had erased half of Britain’s rail network, one major trunk line teetered on the brink of extinction.The direct ‘Waverley’ route from Edinburgh to Carlisle provided suburban rail services in Edinburgh, long-distance links throughout the Scottish Borders region and an essential diversionary route should either of the other trunk lines from the south be disrupted.

Despite some powerful arguments in favour of retention, the Labour Government of the day chose to close the entire line, and the final train duly ran on 6th January 1969: it proved to be the last major rail closure in the UK.

So what, one might ask? We discovered the negative effect on tourism ourselves back in 1998 (see Mole, A to B 8). For the locals – the voluntarily and involuntarily car-free (37% of adults in the area at the last census), students, children, the unemployed and so on – the effect was more or less complete isolation. Galashiels, with a population of over 14,000, found itself 33 miles from a railway station, while Hawick (population 14,500) is no less than 50 miles from Edinburgh. Many smaller towns, including Selkirk, Melrose and Jedburgh, were cut off that fateful day too.

More recently, the effects have been felt just as keenly by those who could afford a car, because the long tenuous road link into Edinburgh is proving increasingly slow and unreliable for regular commuting. As was all too often the case, promised road ‘improvements’ failed to materialise, leaving the central Borders woefully served, while road and rail routes on the east and west coasts were steadily upgraded.

…a trust has been set up to force the taxman to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme…

Thirty years on, despite near total indifference from the British Department for Transport (well, what did you expect?), political change in Scotland has put railways back on the agenda. After a long and heroic struggle, a small but vociferous pressure group is close to securing 35 miles of rebuilt commuter line from Edinburgh south to the Borders town of Galashiels.

What can we do? A committee of MSPs from the Scottish Parliament is currently debating the Waverley Railway Bill and taking written evidence from interested parties. This could, of course, be a letter relating to general environmental issues, but would carry extra weight if (like us) you have had problems getting in or out of the Borders region whilst on holiday, or perhaps chosen to travel elsewhere for the same reason. Evidence of disrupted rail travel on surviving Anglo-Scottish rail services is also admissible, because should the entire Waverley line be reopened, it would have great strategic significance.

For wealthy types, the campaign also needs donations, and a trust has been set up to force the tax man to chip in under the Gift Aid scheme. A nice irony there – the Waverley Route Trust receives no assistance from the Strategic Rail Authority or the DfT, but you can screw some money out of the Government all the same.The Trust is seeking £40,000 for a professional study of the options for taking the line further into the Borders.The basic commuter railway will solve one problem, but the Waverley line will be carrying charter trains and freight (principally timber traffic), plus through intercity and sleeper services, should it ever reach Carlisle.To make a donation, telephone Bill Jamieson on 01578 730262 and ask for the Waverley Route Trust Gift Aid declaration form.

Maybe you think railway reinstatement is a load of rose-tinted tosh? Not in Scotland it isn’t.Work is about to start on rebuilding lines to Alloa in the Central region, and Larkhall in Strathclyde. England might exist in a transport policy vacuum, but things are progressing north of the border.

Letters in support of the Waverley Railway Bill should be addressed to the Waverley Railway Partnership: Bruce Rutherford, Head of Network Management,Transport & Environmental Standards, Scottish Borders Council, Council HQ, Newtown St Boswells, Melrose,TD6 0SA. For further details tel 01578 730262 or web

Cambridge Trains MapCambridgeshire: Far away from the Scottish Borders, another crucial transport matter lies unresolved.The railway line from Cambridge to Huntingdon closed long ago as a through passenger route, but a branch from Cambridge to St Ives remained open until 1970 for passengers, and well into the 1980s for freight.When the last freight train left, the track was mothballed, and although some serious vegetation has overwhelmed the infrastructure in the intervening years, the track is still in place.

Meanwhile, Cambridge, and the satellite towns and villages along the route, were growing at an unprecedented pace, and the A14 road linking Cambridge with Huntingdon had become one of the busiest dual-carriageway roads in the country. As the years passed, plans came and went for waking the slumbering railway line, but with no national guidance, local arguments over cost and provision prevented progress being made.

The need for a commuter rail service was obvious, but a reinstated line to St Ives, continuing on a new alignment into Huntingdon would also provide a diversionary route for long-distance trains and form part of a rail ‘M25’ for freight and passengers bypassing London. In other words, this is infrastructure of national importance.

Sadly, none of the plans worked out and Cambridgeshire County Council decided to convert the route into a guided bus corridor. Guided buses were a briefly fashionable idea, considered cheaper and more flexible than rail by some local authorities, but experience has shown many flaws.We do not have the space to outline all of the reasons why a guided busway is such a bad idea, but briefly: buses would be slower than rail (even slower than today’s bus schedule), they would not carry bicycles, and the busway would be expensive to build – the latest estimate has passed £100 million and is still rising. Even the inventor of the guided busway, who happens to live in the area, thinks this is not a suitable candidate for conversion!

Rail could carry long-distance traffic, plus local trains across the city to the (frighteningly congested) Addenbrookes Hospital, and even Stansted Airport.Trains would also carry bicycles; one study predicting that bicycle carriage might increase revenue by 28%. Remember, we’re talking about a commuter rail service into Cambridge, one of the most cycle-orientated cities in the country.

With studies predicting at least 7,000 purely local passengers a day, no-one is suggesting that a railway would not be viable. Unfortunately, the County Council is ignoring the wider transport picture and clinging desperately to the bus scheme.

Rail campaign group Cast Iron has organised a petition in favour of rail reinstatement.You can join the petition and find out a great deal more about the issues involved at the campaign website: Alternatively, write to: Cast Iron, St Francis House, 10 Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB5 8DT, or email deadline for objections to the guided bus scheme has now officially passed, but there’s never any harm in hassling the Department for Transport:

Mail by Rail – common sense surely?


On 6th June 2003, the Royal Mail announced that it was to dismantle its entire rail distribution network by March 2004, transferring the majority of the business to road.

So what?

According to the Government, the Royal Mail’s choice of transport mode is a purely commercial decision, and moving from rail to road will save tens of millions of pounds a year.We think this is nonsense for a number of reasons:

1) The Royal Mail is not a private company, but a government-owned plc. Not only is it obliged to do as the Government says, but actions taken by the Royal Mail send messages to the rest of us about government policy. Strangely enough, the same Government is committed to an 80% increase in rail freight by 2010. If they are serious, they’d be committed to keeping their own traffic on rail, surely?

2) Following a wide-ranging review of transport options in the early 1990s, the Royal Mail decided it made sense to stick with rail deliveries, investing £170 million in state-of-the- art facilities.The move to road is predicted (by its supporters) to be worth savings of £25 million a year.We should add that the Royal Mail is claiming a figure of £90 million a year, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? But even if these figures are true (and we have every confidence in real terms that they are not) the savings will be cancelled out for many years by the capital expenditure on those now worthless rail facilities.

3) The Royal Mail currently carries 14% of all long-distance mail (including 25% of all 1st Class mail) on 49 trains. According to the transport unions, these trains will be replaced by 500 HGV lorry movements a day – a total of 122,000 vehicle miles per day, or 305 million miles a year.

Why should we care?

…over the last 18 months… 99.9% of Royal Mail services ran, and 93.5% ran to time…

According to the DETR – an arm of government, after all – the hidden ‘external’ cost of heavy goods vehicles is in the region of £28,000 per vehicle/year, but some authorities suggest 50p per kilometre might be nearer the mark.You can look at figures in all sorts of ways, of course, but on this sort of evidence, it would seem reasonable to predict an environmental and social cost of somewhere between £14 million and £244 million a year. In real terms, the cash saving has almost certainly disappeared.

Even if you’re a hardened motorist who couldn’t give a fig for the additional 15,000 tonnes of atmospheric pollution generated by those lorry movements, you’ll probably already have appreciated that from early 2004 the vehicles will be in front of you and behind you, costing you time and money.The same Government that wants freight transferred to rail and atmospheric pollution reduced, etc, etc, has also admitted that road traffic will rise by a third in the next ten years.Why add to the problem?

If you make domestic journeys by air, expect extra delays. At present Royal Mail has the option of air, rail or (tenuously) road for Anglo-Scottish deliveries.These will mostly be carried by air in future.

If you travel by rail, you can bet that fares will rise as a result of this decision.The Royal Mail contract helps to pay for the rail infrastructure the trains use. If it is terminated, those costs will fall largely onto rail passengers.

Thanks to the botched privatisation and consequent patch-ups, bodge-ups and misunderstandings, rail services are currently unreliable and slow (see Mole, page 3), but rail freight company EWS has worked hard to make the Royal Mail contract a success under difficult circumstances. Over the last 17 months, the company claims that 99.9% of Royal Mail services ran, and 93.5% of those trains ran to time.That sounds better than the M25 option, surely?

The A to B angle

We use Royal Mail exclusively, and are a relatively large user, dispatching about 1,500 items a month. As such we receive a lot of surveys from Royal Mail, but three months ago we became a little suspicious that there might be a hidden agenda, when a phone survey repeatedly asked our views on future service reductions. At what level of delivery performance would we switch to another operator? Of course, Royal Mail was well aware that performance would suffer, and it was checking with business customers to see how much traffic might be lost. At present, most A to B magazines are dispatched to major cities from the Bristol rail depot (opened in May 2000 at a cost of many millions of pounds). For the record, we’re very satisfied with performance levels, but they will obviously deteriorate if the 125mph trains are replaced by 60mph lorries.

What can we do?

Sometimes, we’re powerless to intervene, but this is a government matter, and that means your MP is obliged to take note of your views. Our leaders sometimes forget, but that is what democracy is all about.The postal and transport trade unions have established a central web-based information point, enabling you to email or fax your MP in just a few minutes. Simply visit:

Transferring long-distance mail to road is about as short-term as transport policy gets and the long-term consequences could be pretty unpleasant. In theory, post could return to rail, but in practice, this would be an expensive and complex operation. If we fail to act now, we may regret it for a long time.

PowerShift grants – available for cars, but not bikes

   Giant Lafree Electric Bike
DfT Grant Available
Jeep Grand Cherokee LPG
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
16 miles per gallon
17.8 litres per 100 kilometres
Giant Lafree*
Urban Fuel Consumption (petrol equivalent)
1,450 miles per gallon
0.196 litres per 100 kilometres

Ever heard of PowerShift? For some reason, the authorities like to keep it a bit quiet – it’s actually a government-funded scheme to encourage the use of alternative fuelled road vehicles by refunding a sizeable chunk of the purchase cost. Electric, Compressed Natural Gas (NGV), Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Hybrid Fuels… all offer better emissions than conventional petrol or diesel cars, but being rarer and more complex, tend to cost more, so PowerShift is a useful, if rather elaborate, scheme to get more owners on board and help to pull down purchase prices.Typical grants (12,000 have been distributed to date) are around £1,000 a time.

A few months ago, David Janner-Klausner of Transport 2000 asked us whether we had considered campaigning for electric bicycles to be included. Fully-powered electric motorbikes have now joined the scheme, but the Department for Transport refuses to consider electrically-assisted bicycles because:

…people who may have purchased normal bicycles would, if grants were available, choose an electric version instead.This would, of course, lead to a net increase in transport emission levels.

According to all the evidence we’ve seen, this is patent rubbish and typical of the official view that one is either a cyclist (and thus, irredeemably glued to two wheels) or a motorist – ie, a class of person who would never consider riding a two-wheeled machine.

On the contrary, there is a growing body of evidence that electric bicycles can kick- start a pronounced shift from car use. According to the Powabyke/Leeds University survey (see A to B 26), 26% of daily commuters, and 34% of those undertaking general A to B trips, would otherwise have used a car. Another important finding from this survey was that electric bikes get more use than conventional bikes, and tend to be used for more ‘serious’ – ie, non-leisure – journeys.

…it seems absurd that grants are available for… the Jaguar X Type and …

In any event, statistics can be misleading.The Henshaw family could be said to have transferred from bicycle to electric bicycle for some journeys, but these days – travelling 24 hilly miles each week towing a child trailer – we feel the need for some assistance. Had an electric bike not been available, we might well have been tempted to turn up at Alexander’s playgroup by car, just like everyone else. Electric bicycles are actually quite good at replacing the sort of short car journeys that everyone agrees should be shifted to other modes. Just the job for grant aid, surely?

Faced with this sort of evidence, the Energy Savings Trust – which runs PowerShift on behalf of the Department for Transport – caved in, but in a reply to David Janner-Klausner, made it clear that there would be no grants on electric bicycles. According to Matthew Robinson of the Energy Saving Trust:

I have looked into the matter further, and have established that our main funders (Department for Transport) decreed that only registered road vehicles are eligible for grant funding.Therefore vehicles such as fork-lift trucks, ones used at airports, and also electric push bikes are not eligible for funding.

Having read your arguments, I agree that purely on an emissions basis, if we were considering funding electric scooters then we should also consider funding electric push bikes. Unfortunately as I indicated above this would not be allowed under DfT rules.

It seems absurd that grants are only available for the 114 vehicles listed on the PowerShift register, particularly as 95 of them are using an alternative form of petroleum (LPG), and the list includes such world renowned gas guzzlers as the Jaguar X Type, BMW 5 Series and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Indeed, as LPG vehicles generally return fewer miles per gallon than their petrol-powered equivalents, we’d suggest that PowerShift is using tax-payer’s money to increase fossil fuel consumption. Only the DfT can change the rules… gentle pressure could make all the difference.

For further details, contact David Janner-Klausner, Policy Officer, Good Practice Unit,Transport 2000, The Impact Centre, 12-18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG Tel: 020 7613 0743 ex.116


Legal ways to cut rail fares (revisited)

first-great-westernWith such a breadth of subjects to cover, we do try to avoid going over old ground, but this one really was too good to ignore. Back in A to B 19 (August 2000), we outlined how to save money on rail fares by using ‘split tickets’.The theory is quite simple and perfectly legal – as a general rule, rail fares are set according to the time of day to provide maximum returns for the railway company concerned. Peak fares are known as Open Singles or Returns, and represent the legal fare for the journey concerned. On less busy stretches of line, and outside peak hours on the busier bits, there are all manner of concessionary fares available, the principle ‘walk-on’ fares being the Saver at about half the cost of an Open Return, and the cheaper, but slightly more restrictive Super Saver.These clever marketing devices were invented back in the good old days by British Rail, to maximize revenue for its shareholders (you and I, in other words), and keep as many travellers off the roads as possible, which surely, is what railways are all about? By contrast, today’s private railway companies are looking for profit rather than full trains, and this change of emphasis has seen most Open Return fares spiral through the roof (because the ‘business sector’ will pay it), with associated attacks on the conditions and availability of Savers and discount cards (because Saver fare levels are protected by law, but the conditions of carriage are not).

In a perfect world (see most countries elsewhere in Europe) the Government would be reducing road congestion by keeping fares low and investing in railway infrastructure to increase capacity, but in the UK, limited track space and shorter trains leave these crude financial controls as the only option available.

Open Return fares in and out of London at peak times can exceed 35p per mile. If you’re travelling, say, 12 miles into London each day, on busy trains over congested track, this makes sense, with the two-way fare of (12 x 2 x 35p) £8.40 representing reasonable value against the alternatives. Regular travellers can travel for much less with a season ticket, and after around 9.30am, prices plummet to 12p per mile, or even less with railcard discounts.That’s the free market – think of it as a peak-hour Congestion Charge.

However, it all becomes illogical and a bit unfair for longer distance commuters.The track and trains might only be congested for the last 15 miles of your journey, but you’ll be asked to pay the same 35p per mile, all the way from the distant shires.With some early morning trains running virtually empty for hundreds of miles, this plainly makes little economic sense, but you can be sure that someone somewhere is receiving a profitable subsidy. Like it or not, that’s the distorted market known as railway privatisation.

Split Tickets

Note the careful wording above: ‘You’ll be asked to pay X’. In fact, you are perfectly entitled to pay a cheap ‘country’ rate for the quiet portion of your journey, switching to the peak rate for the last busy miles into London.This is the principle of ‘split’ ticketing.You buy two or more separate tickets for the journey, which is within the rules, provided the train stops at the intermediate station or stations.You don’t need to get on or off, but you must obtain all the necessary tickets in advance. Free market principles, once again, but this time acting in favour of the consumer, so less widely publicised.

Phone the rail information line, and you will be quoted the full Open Return fare at peak times, but split ticket options are available on most long distance trains into London and other big cities – finding the boundaries just takes a little research. Back in August 2000, we provided Didcot and Newbury as West Country examples.Thus, instead of paying £71 for an Open Return from Castle Cary to London, the split ticket fares totalled:

Castle Cary-Newbury-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £16.70
Newbury-London (Open Single) £14.50
London-Newbury (Open Single with Network Card discount) £9.55
TOTAL: £40.75

It’s a measure of how rapidly the ticket situation has got out of control, that the unprotected Open Return fare has since risen to £83 – an increase of 16% in 21/2 years – while the partially protected split ticket combination has risen to £42.30 – a more reasonable 4%. Eventually even a company as poorly managed as First Great Western had to notice that some 400 new passengers were apparently commuting from the West to Newbury.The company may have been earning more in fares than before, but it proceeded to put a peak hour restriction on the cheap Newbury fare, killing the split-ticket option.

…Complicated? Well, yes, but probably worthwhile for a saving of £28…

The Great Western main line. Tickets are expensive close to London where trains are full, but the railway company (like most others) will charge you the most expensive fare, no matter where you start your journey. Commuter trains regularly run virtually empty from Plymouth to Newbury


The Carnet Solution

We’ve argued for years that the answer is to provide books of ‘carnet’ tickets for irregular commuters. As with a season ticket, you’d pay in advance for a number of discounted journeys, but with the flexibility to make the journeys when you wished, rather than on consecutive days. Great Western has finally and grudgingly agreed to consider a carnet solution, but in the meantime, we’re determined to help the company keep its trains reasonably profitable, so we’ve come up with a new split ticket option:

Castle Cary-Pewsey-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £13.10
Pewsey-London-Pewsey (Saver Return) £25.20
Total: £38.30

This option (yes, despite a fare increase in the meantime, it’s actually cheaper than the August 2000 version) only works on selected peak hour trains, but the following more complex option is valid any time:

Castle Cary-Pewsey-Castle Cary (Saver Return) £13.10
Pewsey-Newbury-Pewsey (Open Return) £16.00
Newbury-London (Open Single) £15.60
London-Newbury (Open Single with Network Card discount) £10.30
Total: £55.00

Complicated? Well, yes, but probably worthwhile for a saving of £28 over the Open Return fare.The problem for First Great Western (and any other greedy and unimaginative companies that might be reading), is that once customers start playing the free market game, nothing is sacred.Take the Castle Cary-London off-peak fare of £36. Can it be beaten? Of course it can! You can travel on the same off-peak trains with the following tickets:

Castle Cary-Newbury-Castle Cary (Cheap Day Return) £14.00
Newbury-London-Newbury (Cheap Day Return with Network Card discount) £9.30
Total: £23.30

There is nothing simple about rail fares any more, and with a bit of research, you can usually save quite a bit of money.For example, you can often travel on slower cheaper trains through restricted stations, then hop on to the express once you’re back in the country. Season tickets can be used as part of a split ticket package too.

If your local rail company is asking an exorbitant amount for a particular journey – especially where trains are running relatively empty – it’s worth finding out whether a split-ticket option exits. If not, you can lobby for change by speaking to the local press and/or your local Rail Passenger Council. Please bear in mind that from the moment you start doing anything complex, your morals must be self-evidently beyond reproach. Always purchase tickets before departure, and make it clear to railway staff what you are doing to avoid misunderstandings. Happy and cost-effective travelling!

All staffed stations are obliged to sell any tickets or combination of tickets. But to avoid mayhem at the ticket office, it’s better to make complex purchases over the internet.This is also a good place to check ticket prices and conditions.We’d suggest (good if there’s a bicycle involved) or which also runs internet services for some train operating companies