Monday, November 06, 2006

The Ftr's Dim, The Ftr's Purple...

And no, I’m not belatedly referring to Nigel Farage and the UKIP Conference (although I would like to belatedly thank Nigel personally for placing into the public domain proof of what we as Liberal Democrats already knew, that the hallowed “centre ground” means authoritarian, racist pandering to the Murdoch/Desmond agenda)

No, I refer instead to one of the great threats to the environmental aspect of English transport policy, ftr. For those lucky enough not yet to have encountered it, ftr (pron. f’ter, text speak for future) is the supposed next step for bus travel being piloted in York by First Group. (And yes, I am aware that York is Lib Dem run and that York Lib Dem councillors are on Lib Dem Blogs, but there comes a point where the level of the cock up is so great that party loyalty must take a back seat…)

Specifically, ftr is a standard Volvo bendy bus with an “improved” (read: slightly curvier than normal with an unnecessary rear spoiler and wheel covers) body shell and “futuristic” (read: grim and impractical) interior fixtures. It also has the following “features”;

  • Greater capacity (means: one more seat than the bus it is based on)
  • Fast automatic ticketing (means: automatic ticket machines on the bus that are unreliable and difficult for anyone with even mild mobility restrictions and don’t give change in order to make it pretty much impossible to use the bus unless you’ve bought a season ticket, hence more money flowing to the bus company)
  • Convenient payment options (means: tickets by mobile sounds so cool it doesn’t matter that it’ll never work while we jack up the prices)
  • New dedicated route (means: uses the same old route but with priority traffic lights that you won’t notice because the effect is statistically insignificant to anything but the most expert observer, and the same raised kerbs that only every council in the country has been installing for the last five years)

The real problem, however, is the motivation for it all. York got the pilot scheme because it is one of those places that could never use light rail (in York’s case, because of the historic centre and city walls). Then First Group show off their lovely computer-generated impressions of ftrs whizzing down priority bus lanes and the politicians squint and tilt their head and imagine it looking a little bit like a tram, and the rest is history…

Which is fine, and only a terrible waste of money in places like York. But First’s motivation is not York, it’s Leeds, it’s Bristol, it’s Swansea, it’s all the places that had light rail plans all ready to go until HMG decided to abandon light rail without telling anyone. If First can convince those places that guided busways, priority traffic lights and silly plastic body shells are as good as trams, it could kill light rail in England and ensure that the bus companies maintain their excellent record of increasing profits while reducing passenger numbers.

The environmental cost of such a decision would be despicable. With domestic energy, decentralisation is justifiable because recycling of exhaust heat increases the efficiency of the process. In transport, however, electric trams using overhead power lines supplied by the grid will always beat the efficiency of diesel engines venting that heat to the air. That the government are acting so cravenly and irresponsibly is disappointing but not exactly unexpected; that Lib Dem councillors locally are helping them do so is just embarrassing.

(Incidentally, one final note to any Labour or Conservative campaigner who thinks this entry is an excuse to have a go at York Lib Dems; if you have the unbrazen temerity to even imply that you wouldn’t have approved ftr yourselves, you’re big, fat, stinking, lying liars!)


Joe Otten said...

Yes, I was in York the other day. Posh-looking bendy buses, whatever next I thought.

Are you saying the people of York have shelled out for these things more than they would for normal buses? Don't see the point of that.

Auberius said...

First Group's own figures (at ) suggest that each Ftr costs £300,000.

The idea is that it's cheaper to build concrete guided busways than tramlines; but then, given that York is in no way conducive to guided busways, there was very little point them being the ones to adopt it.