Monday, September 01, 2014

Commuter rail for Christchurch? Cheaper buying them each a Porsche

I'm being a little tongue in cheek here, but the proposal from the Labour Party to spend $100 million to give Christchurch a commuter rail service is so utterly ludicrous that it deserves ridicule.

Anytime a politician says he will "invest" your money, you know that you'd never see it again, and that's exactly what would happen to the $100 million David Cunliffe wants to waste on giving Christchurch a transport service that it neither needs nor is willing to pay for.  In the USA it would be called a boondoggle, a political driven project that has little basis on market demand or economic benefit.

The policy is described here, and then here and here, showing how much effort has gone into something that isn't even important.

I nearly wrote a lengthy post pulling it apart bit by bit, but it's much easier to list what's wrong in a few bullet points.

- Christchurch last had the remnant of a local rail service in 1976 when a once daily, yes once daily, service between Rangiora and Christchurch was scrapped because of lack of patronage.  The last regular service (as in all day service like in Wellington) was between Lyttelton and Christchurch, which ended when the road tunnel was opened in 1972 (the rail service only had an advantage over driving over the Port Hills).  Before that, other services were discontinued during the 1960s as bus services proved more cost effective and car ownership rose.  Christchurch's population grew by over 50% in the period between the end of these services and the earthquake, indicating it was hardly constrained by a lack of passenger rail services.

-  It wont unclog Christchurch's roads.  The Press report says Labour intends the system to accommodate 10% of commuters from the north to central Christchurch.  Phil Twyford says there are 5000 - yes 5000 commuters making this trip (10,000 trips), so it is $100 million for 500 commuters.  That comes to $200,000 per commuter, before any operating subsidies are considered.  In other words, the price of a Porsche 911 for each commuter.  Taking about 400 cars off of Christchurch's roads every morning isn't going to "unclog" them,  it hardly makes a difference, even if it did happen.

- However, what it might do is encourage more people to live further away from the surrounding suburbs closer to the city, because it subsidises living well outside Christchurch.  That's hardly conducive to reducing congestion, nor environmentally sustainable.  It would be far more preferable to focus on finishing renewing the local road network including marking out cycle lanes, than to incentivise living well out of the city.

- A commuter rail service to central Christchurch can't even go there, as the station is 4km from Cathedral Square, in Addington.

- The $100 million is to double track the line to Rangiora, and rebuild some railways stations, but not a new central station (which can't be anymore "central" than the old one on Moorhouse Avenue), nor new trains, although the ex. Auckland ones could be relocated, if a depot could be built, and sidings to put them on were rebuilt as well.

- The rail service would replace commercially viable and some subsidised bus services, but politicians don't find buses sexy.

- The service would lose money, a 1000 trip a day railway service is a joke.  Proper commuter trains in major cities carry that number on one train.  

- If there really is demand for more public transport from the northern suburbs, it could come from commercial bus services.  Clearways could be used for bus lanes and the hard shoulder of the existing and future extended Northern Motorway could be used for peak bus lanes too, if needed.  Trains only make sense if buses are incapable of handling the volumes of demand, and that clearly isn't the case.

- Christchurch was the first major city in NZ to scrap trams, because the grid pattern street network and low density of the city meant there were few major transport corridors to support high density public transport systems, like trams (and commuter rail).  It was also the first of the big four cities to scrap commuter rail altogether (even Dunedin had commuter rail services until 1982 to Mosgiel).   In short, the geography of Christchurch is as poorly suited to commuter rail as it is well suited to cycling.

So when David Cunliffe says "The long delayed recovery of Christchurch hinges on a modern commuter system for the city"  you have to wonder what he's been smoking.
Really David? Really?? Not entrepreneurs investing in businesses creating jobs, and so attracting people who want to live there?  

No, David Cunliffe wants a toy, something he can point to and say "I did that", with money taken from motorists (as he wants to divert money collected from motoring taxes from roads to this pet project).  He has no real interest in reviving Christchurch by letting business do business, but to spend up on shiny projects that polish his ego - at your expense.

UPDATE: and the Green Party idea of creating a new bureaucracy called Canterbury Transport is equally ludicrous, because there isn't a governance problem.  Christchurch City Council is responsible for all roads except the State Highways, in the city (and no central government would rightfully surrender national corridors to local politics). It isn't broken up into multiple districts or cities like Auckland was.  Environment Canterbury, like all regional councils, is responsible for contracting subsidised public transport across the region, and planning urban public transport services.  Again, there is no division here.  It's far from clear what such an entity would do that is different from this.

Unless,. of course, you hark back to the "good old days" of council owned bus companies having monopolies and getting endless ratepayer subsidies. A model that saw the near continuous decline in urban bus patronage across NZ for 30 years.  You see at the moment bus services in Christchurch are operated mostly by two companies, one owned by Christchurch City Council, another by a private firm.  They typically compete for contracts for subsidised services, helping keep costs down and providing a check on performance.  The Greens are awfully fond of state owned monopolies, because you can trust politicians and public servants to be incentivised to look after customers and taxpayers' money far better than the private sector competing for both, can't you?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Forgotten Posts from the Past: Gordon Brown's campaign of lies was failing in 2009

The campaign in Norwich North for Labour set the scene for how the 2010 British election was campaigned by Gordon Brown - quite simply that the Conservatives will cut and burn at the British welfare state, but that Labour will protect the working classes from the evil greedy ones.

Forgetting of course that Gordon Brown has systematically engaged in fiscal child abuse for nearly his entire term of office, running deficits in the good times, as Labour spent up large on welfare, with people of all incomes eligible for child benefits, for example, pouring money into the NHS while getting nothing in return in terms of productivity or better outcomes. The Labour record is a disgraceful waste of money, hiding the true cost of its spending in ongoing deficits. Its stealth taxation has meant that it uses taxes on fuel and car ownership predominantly to pay for welfare and education, with only a quarter of those taxes going on roads and nearly the same again on railways.

The record is damnable. National debt is set to climb to 90% of GDP partly because Labour did not pay off debt during the good times, but also because it wont let any banks fail, even though deposits of up to £50,000 (which would cover most voters) have been guaranteed. Labour now will not cut spending, even though its own "pump priming" of the economy has been a fizzle, because it knows the spending cuts that are needed are fierce, but if it can hold them off until after the election - it wont be a Labour problem.

The Conservatives will face spending cuts on a scale likely to be worse than that faced by Thatcher in 1979. Labour will oppose them through and through, spreading the filthy lie that Labour wouldn't have done the same - when of course it would have faced it as well. That then sets the scene for another class based election, whereby Labour is the one helping out the poor and the needy (always needy of the government), but the Conservatives protect their rich friends from higher taxes (even though the Conservatives haven't even promised to cut taxes).

Matthew D'Acona in the Sunday Telegraph describes Gordon Brown as too cadaverous to be an asset for campaigning, which is quite right. Gordon Brown paints a picture of the UK succumbing to a global recession, but fails to note why the UK is more badly hit than many other countries.

He needed only look at himself.  The supreme arrogance of a man who thought that by milking a credit fueled economy with taxation largesse to buy off the Labour constituency of public sector workers and welfare recipients, that he had got rid of boom and bust.

Now it is the supreme arrogance of one of his right hand men, who now leads Labour, who blames it all on capitalism and on banks in the US.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Libertarian Christians?

Now I'm not religious, I'm an atheist objectivist. However, it is worth noting that being a libertarian does not necessarily mean one is an atheist (and certainly not objectivist).  

I do believe that people can be both, quite simply the state can leave free people alone, some of them can be Christians and live lives according to Christianity, as long as they don't initiate force. Indeed, if people of all religions could simply grasp that, we would live in a far better world, albeit one that would still face debates about science and ethics, education and the like - but for these to be determined through persuasion not force.  

Well known libertarian oriented Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has a strong faith, and in NZ, the hard-working and outspoken Tim Wikiriwhi is a Christian libertarian, as is Richard Goode a libertarian standing for the ALCP.  Their blog has their own perspective, and it's safe to say that while we'll agree on much politically, when it comes to matters spiritual, we part company.  Evangelical Christian bloggers Matt and Madeleine Flanagan likewise, are libertarians.   There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans who would claim the same.

However, that is how a free society works.  People can proselytise their religion or atheism, they can live their lives according to religious teachings and rules, as long as they respect the right of others to do differently.  As long as the religious do not break fundamental individual rights of others (that includes ensuring children are not subjected to physical and sexual abuse or neglect), they can live their lives in peace.  

The key is for Christians to not want laws passed that break the crucial "non initiation of force" principle, which has tended to be a weakness of many Christian politicians keen to regulate what people do with their bodies.   That means not wanting the law to regulate consensual adult sexual behaviour or artistic depictions of it (I use artistic to include any media depictions at all).  The tricky area comes into what is one of the most fraught issues - abortion.  Libertarians differ on abortion, some believe that the foetus has no rights, some believe they do have rights.  This is a fertile area for debate, as it should be, but as long as it is debate based on objectively defined factors - i.e. where life begins, what sort of entities should have rights, what rights and why - then debate can be rational.  That's where I fear it gets difficult for some Christian libertarians.

Yet if only we could get to that debate.   There may be libertarians from other religious faiths, I'm keen to meet Muslim libertarians for fairly obvious reasons, but it would appear that Christianity has offered more scope than most religions to "live and let live" and grant adults the freedom to choose to believe and then to respect the right of non-believers to live their lives, as long as they do the same to others.

So whilst I'll happily argue against religion generally, and argue against some of the key tenets of Christianity, I do respect the fundamental right of Christians to hold and to disseminate their beliefs.   Moreover, Christian libertarians are allies in the wider push for individual freedom.   I'd like Jewish (as in religious not merely ethnic) libertarians and Muslim libertarians as well as Hindu and Buddhist ones. Yet, rather sadly, there doesn't appear to be too many of any of them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Forgotten posts from 2009 : Banning smoking in public places

The Standard reports, disapprovingly, that Western Bay of Plenty District Council is banning smoking in public places. One of the rare occasions I agree with the Standard.

However, it is clear it isn't actually a ban - you see I don't believe any council has the clear legal authority to do this. It can put up signs saying "no smoking", but by what power can it do this?

Bylaw making powers of local authorities are quite constrained. The Local Government Act 2002 grants many (though not all) bylaw making powers to councils. Section 145 grants apparently wide ranging general powers, but then Section 146 is more specific, and Section 147 is very specific, around alcohol. Given the similarities between how alcohol and tobacco are treated legally (both controlled drugs) it is likely Parliament did not intend to give councils power to ban smoking in outdoor locations, it may have granted them power to very specifically ban smoking in circumstances clearly applicable in Section 145, but NOT across beaches or across parks. You see bylaws against nuisance, public health and offensive behaviour are seen as about regulating berrant behaviours. This includes excessive noise, unhygienic activities or behaviour more akin to the Summary Offences Act, than smoking. Bear in mind smoking does not, per se, create a nuisance, public health problem (to others) or offence.

So, quite simply, I don't think any such bylaw is legitimate.

What IS legitimate is using property rights to ban smoking, which works in buildings of course, but on public land the question is whether the council should have the rights of any other property owner? A private park or beach should of course, ban what it sees fit, but not public space.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rotherham Council more concerned about causing offence than stopping rape

What was the first response of child protection officers and Police in Rotherham, UK, when facing evidence of organised gangs of Asian men raping, brutalising and otherwise abusing young girls of various background?

"Better be careful, we might be accused of being racist".

That's one of the damning findings of an inquiry published today which found that 1400 children were sexually exploited in the borough between 1997 and 2013, a third of whom were known by child protection officers.

It is a wanton failure by the state to do its job as

"Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers.
At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime"

but what is particularly galling is how the embrace of the doctrine of Identity Politics and fear of being found to be politically incorrect closed down enquiries.

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire
period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how
best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem,
which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the
ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction
from their managers not to do so.

In other words, they couldn't cope with the perpetrators being from an ethnic group they had deemed to be "vulnerable", "disadvantaged" or "subject to racism", so they themselves were racist in dismissing or minimise the crimes that included:

There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.
By applying collectivist Identity Politics thought to crime, they ignored reality.  Individuals had together, with a toxic cultural attitude to young girls particularly of non-Asian backgrounds, raped and brutalised victims with impunity.  Effectively protected by those too scared to call them out on it or act decisively, because they didn't want to be accused of being "racist".

It's the consequence of embracing post-modernist structuralism.  The philosophy that there is no such thing as objective reality, only power structures that need to be broken down, and which public policy and politics should reflect. 

The result is that real victims were neglected and not protected, real violent sex offenders were treated with hand-wringing anxiety and appeasement, because what mattered most was that nobody should be offended (except of course the victims who were treated as inconvenient or at worst, culpable).

Rotherham Council has been run by the Labour Party since it was created in 1974.