Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bristol bids for the KGB!


Some of you will know that I have just started to intern with Cllr Tim Kent in Bristol, and working with him on the proposed new public transport scheme for Bristol. As a train nut, the idea of more buses than trains didn't appeal to me until I got to grips with what this could actually mean.

In the case of Bristol, as in most of the Rapid Transit Systems around the UK (list of where you can find them is here), they use kerbs as guidence (as opposed to a train-like tracks or overhead wires), and this method is known as Kerb Guided Buses, or KGB for short (not to be confused with the Soviet Intelligence Agency).

Essentially these buses run, as normal buses do, but can also run in special raised kerb routes where no other vehicle can run, and are guided with little side wheels attached to their four wheels. What this means is, when on a kerb guided track, they are not subject to traffic, vehicles using their lanes when they break down for example, they, like trains, can just go. While in them, the driver just has to break or accelerate, no need for stearing, that's done by the kerbs.

Naturally, when it comes to the issue of public transport, those elsewhere in Europe are miles ahead of us. In this case, the Germans have been there, done that, and tested all the options several decades before us, as demonstrated here in Essen. The link also highlights the successes of KGBs.

The Bristol bids focus on the following routes:
1) Long Ashton to Temple Meads and the Centre
2) Hengrove to the North Fringe
3) Long Ashton to Hengrove

More details can be found here (Images wouldn't copy over clearly to this blog post)

What I am going to talk about now is the possibility KGBs raise, not just in terms of Bristol, but nationwide.

Having looked at Bus Rapid Transit Schemes around the UK and around the world, I have learnt a few things:

1) These buses can go on existing roads, and on purpose built roads
2) KGB exclusive roads create an added bonus of extra speed and freedom from other forms of traffic
3) Like trams, trains and london transport, ticket buying before boarding reduces the amount of time the buses need to be stationary and therefore decreases the travel time for commuters.

What this means is that unlike a train or a tram, or indeed a normal bus, these buses are the most flexible type of public transport vehicle, and have the potential to revolutionise public transport today, and here's why.

1) Re-opening parts of former rail lines, and rebuilding the track as was (in areas where there aren't any single track cycle paths), is in most cases impossible simply because the ground has been built on in parts, turned into roads, or has been leveled to match the surrounding landscape so that farmers owning the land can maximise their use of it.
2) Trains can only go on train lines, trams can only go on tram lines, trolley buses can only go where there is overhead wires in place for them to utilise, KGBs require kerb guidance as a BONUS, not as a necessity.
3) Buses can go up and down steeper gradients with greater ease than trams or trains.
4) Former rail lines can be used IN CONJUCTION with existing roads to create rapid transit routes that facilitate demand and reduce the use of cars.
5) As KGB legislation requires a maintenance lane (just like the channel tunnel has a maintenance tunnel), this lane can be used as cycle path when no work on the route is required, increasing the number of cycle routes.

Some of you may think that I am talking out of fantasy here, but let me prove you wrong.

Cambridgeshire, hosts the longest KGB route in the world! It opened earlier this month and it runs from St Ives to Cambridge. It utilises the former St Ives to Cambridge train line as well as existing roads. It also provides a route cyclists and horse riders on its maintenance track that runs down one side. To ensure that prices stay reasonable, three different routes with competing companies use the KGB-only section along the former train line. Details about how exactly it works can be found here.

Now it wasn't all a raving party for the KGB over in Cambridgeshire, and as a transport enthusiast myself, I can speak with confidence that there is as much unity on which direction the country should take regarding the future of transportation, as there is with the unity on the topic of the EU amongst Tories, (ie none whatsoever). Therefore unsurprisingly the groups CAST IRON  and focusing on the issues of cost and a lack of a direct link between the East Coast Main Line and Stansted Airport, without the need to go through London first. They focused on re-opening the railway between Huntingdon and Cambridge via St Ives highlighting the success of the Wensleydale Railway.

1) the Cambridgeshire KGB has covered more the distance between Cambridge and Huntingdon, than the Wensleydale line has between its two main North-South railway lines
2) There are route connecting the two stations via the Bus Guideway
3) The Wensleydale line took 8 years to be constructed and running services on its current route, compared to the Cambridgeshire KGB taking just 4 years.
4) The line between St Ives and Huntingdon has had the last mile or so built on with buildings and the A14, requiring land to be purchased and work required to simply create a bed for the track to exist on before one could be laid, however buses can utilise existing roads to connect Huntingdon and St Ives.
5) Bus companies were overwhelmed with the amount of passenger journeys made on it during its first week, and had to lay on extra buses to cope with demand.

In many cases, bendy buses are used. This offers 3 entrances/exits instead of 1 or 2, therefore making it easier and quicker to board/alight the bus. They also have 50% extra seating than double decker route-master buses. Also passengers must buy tickets before boarding, meaning stingy buggers like me don't spend three minutes counting out the pennies in front of the bus driver to prove we have the right amount of money for the fare, and don't hold up everyone else on board.

All in all, KGBs are faster, safer (as they have their own routes), greener (as the reduce the number of cars on the road), and provide a better usage of land (as in the case of former Beeching lines, create two tracks PLUS a cycle/bridle path).

Quite frankly, it would be foolish to say no.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

My Porn Stats so far

To Follow the example of Mark Cole who's blog can be found  here, I am going to report on my viewing stats for the first time.

My Blog entry views:
Tuition Fees: 77
Gender Roles Mark 1: 50
Elections: 48
Conference: 29
Gender Roles Mark 2: 11
House of Lords: 6
Wales Constituency Boundaries: 3

My peak pay views it seems was in July this year at 2,382, but it would also suggest that nobody read any particular post :S Other than that, I got 75 in November last year, 65 in September last year, 70 in May this year and the Jury is still out on August this year.

It appears particular thanks need to go to Mark Cole for providing, almost all of my traffic, from, well, since, forever He has provided me with 1 shy of 3,500 people referred from his blog.
77 come from Facebook, 32 from (More on my Russian support later), 9 from, 5 from mobile Facebook, 3 each from Google translator and and 2 each from (thank you Linden) and

Now here's the interesting part, audience:

United Kingdom
United States

And that's just the top 10 Nations. Thank-you to all those people. I am most humbled by you reading my words.

The tools used to read my blogs are as follows:

Pageviews by Browsers
Internet Explorer
1,686 (43%)
747 (19%)
699 (18%)
481 (12%)
80 (2%)
Mobile Safari
77 (2%)
59 (1%)
3 (<1%)
3 (<1%)
2 (<1%)
Pageviews by Operating Systems
2,969 (77%)
412 (10%)
175 (4%)
88 (2%)
75 (1%)
75 (1%)
9 (<1%)
9 (<1%)
Other Unix
5 (<1%)
4 (<1%)

I had never heard of a Unix, Version, Chromeframe or Ubuntu til now, so thank-you to those people for expanding my knowledge of browsers and tools.

I shall do a post later on today on my views this month. Thank-you for reading, and please continue to do so.

Constituency Boundaries in Wales

Last month, Peter Hain wrote on Wales Online here how the impending boundary review for the UK Parliament has a negative impact upon the number of MPs in Wales reducing the number from 40 to 30 and concluded that because, in his view, voters in Scotland found it difficult to differentiate between constituencies for Westminster and Holyrood, that the Assembly should move to having 30 constituencies for Welsh Assembly elections. He also concluded that because Assembly Members (AMs) are elected in two different ways and that this led to democratic imbalances between AMs who are essentially equal as AMs once sitting, that the Regional List should be done away with and all remaining AMs should be elected by FPTP.

I will argue in this blog, there is no mandate from the people nor the cross party political support to move towards such a measure.

Mr Hain, the Welsh Secretary for the new Labour government, assisted in the drawing up of the Government of Wales Act 1998 which produced the hybrid Additional Member System (AMS) system where AMs are elected both by First Past the Post (FPTP) and proportionally through the D'Hondt formula. 40 were to be, and still are, elected by FPTP and the remaining 20 through PR. He now cites the failed AV referendum as an endorsement of FPTP, and believes that this is the popular mandate required to make such a change. He also dismisses the notion that his suggestion is not for party political gain.

Lets just have a look at general election results in Wales, and Assembly election results for the 40 seats in Wales under FPTP. NB: the Welsh General Results are shown as a fraction of their overall total elected Assembly Members. The difference between the two numbers equals the number of AMs that party received from the elections of the Regional List vote.

In the UK General Election of 1997, the result looked like this:
Labour: 34
Plaid: 4
LD: 2

In the Welsh General Election of 1999, the result looked like this:
Labour: 27/28
Plaid: 9/17
LD: 3/6
Con: 1/9

In the UK General Election of 2001, the result looked like this:
Labour: 34
Plaid: 4
LD: 2

In the Welsh General Election of 2003, the result looked like this:
Labour: 30/30
Plaid: 5/12
LD: 3/6
Con: 1/11
John Marek: 1/1

In the UK General Election of 2005, the result looked like this:
Labour: 29
LD: 4
Con: 3
Plaid: 3
Independent: 1

In the Welsh General Election of 2007, the result looked like this:
Labour: 24/26
Plaid: 7/15
Con: 5/12
LD: 3/6

In the UK General Election of 2010, the result looked like this:
Labour: 26
Con: 8
LD: 3
Plaid: 3

In the Welsh General Election of 2011, the result looked like this:
Labour: 28/30
Con: 6/14
Plaid: 5/11
LD: 1/5

This changes the Labour dominance from slight to almost complete. Mr Hain's suggestion that 2 AMs be elected in every constituency flies in the face of what campaigners against FPTP (of which he is one of them), cite as a core reason for their position, its lack of proportionality. With two member constituencies, the following outcome is likely:

The four major parties in Wales will stand candidates, (8 so far), UKIP and the Green party are most likely to stand at least 1 candidate each, giving us a minimum total of 10. This means that in order to get elected, candidates could get as little and 10.1% of the popular vote. Even with the two candidates' results combined it could still be as little as 20.2% of the vote that is received for the representatives of around 70,000 people. That's not democratic.

As previously mentioned Mr Hain cites the AV referendum result. May I remind him, that that referendum was a straight choice between FPTP and AV for elections to the UK Parliament. It was not an endorsement of FPTP over all other systems for all elected bodies, it was a rejection of the choice to have AV instead of FPTP for Westminster elections. That is the only conclusion we can make from the AV referendum.

Mr Hain also ignores the fact that the Richard Commission, a cross-party Commission, looked at further powers for Wales in 2006 and recommended the change to Single Transferable Vote from AMS for elections to the Assembly. The Labour government removed it, to unsurprising opposition of the opposition parties.

I disagree with Mr Hain in all his reasons why Wales must move to FPTP for Assembly elections, as I feel the people of Wales are intelligent enough to vote within the current system and to differentiate between different sized constituencies for different political bodies. Afterall, council boundaries cross constituency boundaries at the moment, and the people and parties cope. The same goes for European Elections where Wales is one big constituency.

Some of my political friends disagree however. They agree with Mr Hain that it is more difficult for people and parties to differentiate between boarders different constituencies for different bodies. However, there suggestion, which I would accept has merit should their need to be a change, is this: an Assembly elected with 30 members by FPTP and 30 members by the D'Hondt method of PR.

The one conundrum this leaves is, how many regions should their be for the list? Assuming the notion of an equal number of constituencies in each region, the best answer is either to stick with 5 regions and have 6 constituencies within them, or vice versa, having 6 regions with 5 constituencies each.

The people at Democratic Audit have produced their projections of what the Welsh Constituencies will look like. I have taken their map, and added the regional boundaries in, on the bases of 6 Constituencies per Region. Based on this (and note they have named the constituencies just in terms of principle towns or counties within them), the New Constituencies in the North Wales region would be:
7: Anglesey and Bangor
8: Conwy and Abergele
9: Denbigh
10: Flint and Rhyl
11: Mold and Shotton
12: Wrexham

Mid Wales:
1: Brecon and Montgomery
2: Carmarthen
3: Ceredigion
4: Gwynedd and Machynlleth
5: Llanelli
6: Pembroke

South Wales West:
18: Rhondda and Ogmore
26: Bridgend
27: Neath and Aberavon
28: Swansea East and the Vale of Neath
29: Swansea North and Loughor
30: Swansea West and Gower

South Wales Central:
13: Barry and Penarth
14: Cardiff Central
15: Cardiff North East
16: Cardiff West
17: Pontypridd and Aberdare
19: Vale of Ely

And, finally South Wales East:
20: Blaenau Gwent and Tredegar
21: Caerphilly
22: Merthyr Tydfil and Ystrad Mynach
23: Monmouth
24: Newport
25: Torfaen

The change, in terms of regional make up is very similar compared to how it is now. I stress that these drawings have followed the rules on changes to the letter, but have not had the public consultation the real thing will take on. Thus the effect of this on the Assembly will be unclear until 2015, but from my perspective I see it as creating a far more politically diverse and more representative Assembly, which itself, can only serve for the good of democracy.

I will leave you to ponder on this and please do comment.