Categories
Miscellaneous

The Future of Public Transport Part 1: Why Tesla Hasn’t Made a Bus

Elon Musk recently tweeted that he didn’t believe public transport as it exists today is viable for the future. That’s not due to Covid. He’s always thought that personal public transport is the future. As much as I wish Tesla had made a bus, because it could have made a huge impact by now if they had, I also think he’s correct. Tesla RoboTaxis combined with Boring Company “Loop” systems of tunnels and stations could kill off local traditional offerings. Especially in countries which don’t have very good public transport.

It’s sad when you consider what Tesla could have done by now had they wanted to. But to be fair to them, if the company had gone down the route of making buses back in the Model S early days then they probably wouldn’t have generated the same hype it did and Tesla probably wouldn’t have got to where it is right now.

Luckily we have companies like Proterra whose CEO, former Tesla exec Ryan Popple probably left because he also knew that Tesla wasn’t interested in traditional buses. Companies like Proterra and Arrival will help to keep the bus industry somewhat innovative over the coming years. And combined with EV models from the traditional European makers and the huge Chinese brands that have taken over the industry in the last decade or so should keep buses relevant for a while yet. Yutong and BYD are making a lot of electric buses, but are not really innovating that much in my view. They’re basically making exactly the same buses, just with batteries. And that’s a good thing for the time being. But I don’t think that will be enough in the longer term to persuade people to keep riding the bus when far more advanced mobility solutions come along. And that’s an inevitability.

And this is all before you talk about e-bikes and e-scooters cutting into their ridership. There’s going to be a lot of change in the next decade. I think to keep ridership high, they’re going to have to invest heavily in other aspects of the business like linking in with MaaS, smartcards such as Oyster, and other helpful features to make travelling as seamless as possible for passengers. My local bus company has done it the other way round. They have a pretty decent app with live tracking, digital ticketing and a smartcard for season ticket holders. But no EVs at all. They really need to fix that quickly. But with Covid dragging on forever, they’ll be able to roll out every excuse in the book as to why they can’t ditch diesel. So who knows how this will play out.

In order to talk about trains I need a whole other post. I’ll be talking about Hyperloop and the threat it poses to high speed rail.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Cheap Bike

One of the things that frustrates me most as a cycling enthusiast is when people buy cheap, junk bikes because they think bikes are overpriced or they can’t afford one.

So I decided to do a little calculation to compare riding the bus for short journeys (5 miles or less) around town over a year to buying a bicycle, to see which comes out ahead on price (not to mention fun, health benefits etc).

I looked on the Stagecoach bus website for Worthing and found that a Worthing 52 Week Megarider season ticket costs £603 per year. Compared to buying a ticket on the bus or via the app per ride (or even compared to monthly season tickets), it goes without saying that it’s a bargain and I would get it if I was a daily bus passenger.

So if I was to ride a bicycle for all of these short trips around town instead, I could spend about £600 on it. Except you tend to keep a bike for several years at least. So I think it’s fair to say that I could spend around £1800 on bikes and equipment. And after 3 years I could keep it and continue saving, or buy another one if I felt like it.

The money adds up, but why not just buy a cheap new or used bike and save even more? Cheap new bikes generally use worse components which will end up lasting far less time than more expensive ones (up to a point where it becomes mainly about weight). This will mean more maintenance costs for you, higher likelihood of the bike letting you down during a ride, for example with a dropped chain during your commute, which no one wants. When you buy a more expensive bike, the components are more reliable, work better and are longer lasting. And that’s before you get into things like belt drives and internal hub gearing which take the benefits to a whole new level.

Buying second hand can be a good idea if you get lucky, but in my experience, I think you’ll struggle to find a bike in a good enough condition at a low enough price. You often find people selling bikes in the hundreds of pounds when they need a lot of work. To the point where it makes more sense to just buy new. I hope that as cycling matures and more people buy better quality bikes, and actually look after the bikes they own, it will become better. But for now, I would recommend to buy a good quality new one. It’ll pay for itself in the long run. And perhaps even in the short run. If you replace an Oyster season ticket in London with a Brompton you could save thousands every year.

Categories
Miscellaneous

How to Fix the UK Train Network

As I’m only a few months away now from giving back my Smart EQ electric car, my second EV, and my last privately owned car, I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to get around in future. I don’t tend to travel very far very often, and cycling works for me to get around most of the time. But when I want to go to Scotland for example, trains are the obvious choice. They’re efficient, they’re fun, and they’re electric in many cases.

As a child I loved trains, and at one point I wanted to be a train driver. Now that I’m rediscovering my love of rail, I suppose it may still be possible, but that’s something to consider in the future. As far as the train network itself, it has many problems, and as someone who hasn’t been paying much attention to it for a long time, I’d like to offer my fresh perspective on what can and should happen in order to bring the British rail network up to the level it should be.

Trains are one of those things that the British invented before they got left behind as other countries surpassed them. If you look at the Japanese or Dutch railway systems now, and then you look at our trains in 2020, you should feel ashamed and embarrassed to be British. I know I do.

One of the main reasons we’ve put ourselves in this position is because of the nostalgia people feel in this country towards those good old days. Most of the people who truly care about trains are the same people who have grown up with and have great attachment to steam and diesel rolling stock. It has prevented us from moving forward and causing this huge resistance to change. But there are other reasons too. Politically, we’ve seen awful government after awful government who haven’t been willing to invest. And because our society has fully embraced the car to the detriment of trains, buses and cycling, our ancient and crumbling train infrastructure has been left to rot. Even keeping it from disintegrating further costs huge amounts of money which is then translated to sky high ticket prices. For a service that doesn’t even come close to justifying this cost. It would surely be cheaper to just rip it all up and basically start again.

Everything about rail travel in this country feels antiquated and long overdue a total overhaul. From the track and stations to ticketing and railcards. We need full electrification, we need contactless payments and Oyster support nationally, new trains, timetables you can rely on. And most importantly, if the prices are to remain high, then the service quality has to match.

In the coming posts, I will go into more detail about each of the topics I’ve outlined here.