Tuesday, 26 December 2006

New Year on the trains

I know I keep blogging about transport but in my defense, it's important, and no one reads this blog anyway. It is important because it is supremely co-operative: no matter how rich you are, you cannot build your own continent wide railway system, and you need the government to arrange the roads so you can get to the airport. The rules that constrain how the various parties interact determine the outcome and, palpably, some outcomes are better than others. Moreover this is not just about money: some countries, such as Switzerland, have a relatively efficient and low cost public transport system; others, such as us, have a high cost and inefficient one.

On the interminable journey back from Kent International Airport recently (yes, there is an airport just outside Ramsgate, and no, it isn't often used. Blame the fog.) I was thinking about this again. At least one of the issues is the mixed incentive structure for the providers of services. For a fixed amount of funding, you cannot optimise returns for shareholders and optimise services for clients simultaneously. You cannot minimise both short term operating costs and long term maintenance costs. You cannot negotiate an SLA that covers all eventualities over ten (or even thirty) years. So to hell with it: it will be a New Year soon - we need a new policy. Let's renationalise the lot of it. It couldn't be any worse, and at least we will know who to blame if it doesn't get better.



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