Une injection de tyrannie: des pass sanitaires aux cartes d’identité digitales?

L’imposition des pass sanitaires représente une extension majeure du pouvoir de l’Etat. Bien que présentés comme un outil de restoration des libertés de l’ère de la pré pandémie, en realité ils risquent de conduire à une extension des restrictions imposées à ceux qui refusent de se mettre au pas.  

Il y a aussi des indices qui suggèrent que les pass sanitaires sont en fait un des pans d’un plus vaste projet, dont l’objectif est d’introduire un système biometrique d’identité digitale. L’UE planifiait déjà les pass sanitaires en 2018, bien avant que quiconque ait entendu parler de Covid-19. Il y a aussi d’autres initiatives inquiétantes, telle que ID2020, qui ont le soutien d’influentes fondations qui bénéficient d’un accès privilégié aux gouvernments Occidentaux.

Le Royaume-Uni semble poursuivre un chemin similaire au plan domestique, en s’embarquant dans un programme d’identité digitale, qui met à mal les libertés individuelles de manière plus générale. Sous le gouvernement de Tony Blair, un projet dont le but était d’imposer des cartes d’identité avait été envisagé, et tout semble indiquer qu’au sein de l’Establishment, les initiatives high tech dérivées, aient la côte. 

Ce programme semble progresser rapidement dans les pays dits en voie de développement où des projets de carte d’identité digitale souvent financés par les fondations et gouvernements Occidentaux, sont pilotés, et consistent à contrôler l’accès aux services essentials et même à la nourriture. 

Dans un tel contexte, les pass sanitaires peuvent être vus comme un tremplin de lancement des cartes d’identité digitales, un moyen de conditionner le public à les présenter sur demande, et à les accepter. 

De telles cartes d’identité contiendront non seulement les historiques médicaux, les informations financières, biométriques, et toute autre donnée personnelle. Ces cartes d’identité représenteraient une atteinte au principe du respect de la vie privèe, mais elles pourraient devenir obligatoires pour exercer le droit de vote, accéder au marché de l’emploi, pour effectuer des transactions, et avoir accès aux services de santé etc.

Elles donneraient le pouvoir aux gouvernements d’exclure ceux qui refusent de participer au système, mais aussi ceux qui accepteraient d’utiliser ces cartes d’identité, mais dont les prises de position sur certaines questions épineuses, ne seraient pas du goût des élites. Les dissidents pourraient se retrouver à voir leur accès aux services de base bloqué, de manière à les punir et en même temps à les pousser en douceur à s’aligner. 

L’imposition des pass sanitaires serait moins inquiétante si elle avait lieu dans un contexte autre que celui actuel d’expansion rapide de l’Etat policier. Les intentions véritables des gouvernements sont d’autant plus suspectes du fait de la faiblesse des arguments avancés, liés à la santé publique, et qui ne tiennent pas debout. 

C’est un secret de polichinelle que le véritable motif derrière l’introduction des pass sanitaires est d’encourager les jeunes à se faire vacciner. Nous sommes face à une menace: si vous ne vous faites pas vacciner, vous aurez du mal à voyager, et vous ne pourrez pas fréquenter les bars et restaurants. 

Le problème avec cette approche, c’est que pour la majorité des jeunes, il n’y a aucune garantie que les avantages de la vaccination anti Covid-19 l’emportent sur les inconvénients. A l’heure actuelle, il n’y a aucune prise de recul qui permet d’identifier les effets de la vaccination sur le long terme, de ce fait, les décideurs politiques semblent avancer dans l’obscurité. Ce qui est moins clair, c’est jusqu’à quel point ces traitements sortis des sentiers battus empêchent la transmission du virus. Il y a aussi le risque que du fait d’avoir été vaccinées, certaines personnes relâcheront leur garde. 

Un scénario plausible est que les vaccins pourraient ne pas être aussi efficaces qu’on l’espère, notamment en ce qui concerne le fait de tomber malade ou de contaminer autrui. Il y a aussi le risque que les effets secondaires liés à la vaccination soient plus prononcés et plus fréquents que ce que les gouvernements et les médias admettent. En même temps, les vaccins et toute la désinformation risquent d’encourager ceux qui les reçoivent à se comporter comme s’ils ne peuvent pas attraper ou transmettre le Covid-19. De telles évolutions pourraient avoir un effet négatif sur les objectifs cités, et les pass sanitaires en seraient partiellement responsables. 

Finalement, toute évaluation des pass sanitaires devrait se pencher sur leur impact économique. On peut assumer qu’une partie de la population va refuser de se faire vacciner, peut-être parce qu’elle s’estime à faible risque d’attraper le Covid-19, ou d’en tomber sérieusement malade.

Disons que 10% des adultes font partie de ce groupe, en plus d’un pourcentage considérable d’enfants (ces chiffres pourraient être bien plus élevés dans certains pays). Une partie des commerces forcés d’exiger des pass sanitaires comme condition d’entrée pourraient en voir leur chiffre d’affaire réduit. Beaucoup de clients ne voudront pas subir les tracasseries qui consistent à se faire tester, si telle est l’alternative. De plus, la distribution des non vaccinés risque de ne pas être la même en fonction des zones géographiques, des groupes d’âge, des communautés, et de ce fait, certains commerces dans certaines zones geographiques sont plus à risque d’être affectés. 

Certains commerces pourraient par contre estimer que le jeu en vaut la chandelle, et estimer que cette option est préférable à un retour au confinement et autres restrictions. Et pourtant, présenter les pass sanitaires comme des alternatives au confinement et à la distanciation sociale s’appuie sur des postulats que l’on peut facilement remettre en question, notamment concernant l’impact des vaccins sur les infections, la transmission et les attitudes. De toute façon, au vu de la récente trajectoire autoritaire des gouvernements, il est très probable que cet hiver, ils décident d’imposer simultanément les pass sanitaires et les confinements draconiens. 

L’impact des pass sanitaires sur le marché de l’emploi risque d’être sérieux. Il semble que certaines personnes ne pourront plus travailler dans certains secteurs d’activité du fait de leur refus de se faire vacciner. Ils auront aussi beaucoup de mal à voyager à l’étranger. Certains patrons devront donc faire face à un vivier réduit de talents et d’expertise, ce qui pourrait conduire à des difficultés au niveau du recrutement et à des pénuries de personnel. Ça risque de devenir de plus en plus difficile de trouver le meilleur candidat pour un poste. 

Les opportunités pour les entrepreneurs et pour les échanges avec les partenaires  internationaux vont être réduites. Certaines personnes non vaccinées pourraient aussi décider de réduire leur activité économique, en réponse à ces nouvelles tracasseries et discriminations. Ce qui risque d’avoir un effet négatif sur la productivité, et de contribuer à réduire la croissance économique, et aussi à compresser les finances publiques dans le même temps. 

Pour conclure, il est difficile d’établir que les bénéfices des pass sanitaires l’emportent sur leurs inconvénients. En effet, si l’objectif des pass sanitaires est de protéger la santé, tout en réouvrant l’économie, dès lors, le raisonnement avancé pour leur mise en oeuvre semble biaisé. Il est difficile d’imaginer que les leaders politiques, ou du moins les conseillers et les fonctionnaires n’aient pas conscience des désavantages. Ceci renforce les soupçons qu’il y a autre chose qui se cache derrière les pass sanitaires. Se pourrait-il que leur introduction vise à conditionner le public à accepter l’utilisation de masse des cartes d’identité digitales, destructrices du principe de respect de la vie privée?

Richard Wellings

Translated by Jamila Nana

Image: Shutterstock

HS2 is not a cost-effective way of increasing rail capacity

The government’s policies to increase rail capacity are looking increasingly foolish when Covid-19 is already leading to long-term changes in travel habits.

Office workers may choose to waste less time commuting and work a day or two each week from home. Business people will increasingly use video conferencing software rather than wasting the whole day travelling down to London for a routine meeting.

At the same time, the government’s finances are likely to be strained over the next few years. Rather than wasting roughly £100 billion on High Speed 2, policymakers should consider more cost effective ways of addressing rail capacity issues. This would be a far less reckless approach to spending taxpayers’ money than a horrendously risky megaproject that is already massively overbudget.

Here is a list of alternative measures. A big advantage is that unlike HS2, they can be implemented incrementally, specific to locations where they are practical and cost-effective, offering far more flexibility in the context of huge uncertainty over future passenger numbers.    

  • Introduce more flexible pricing to flatten the peak. Passengers would have greater financial incentives to travel during the “shoulders” of the peak, or indeed off-peak, thereby making more efficient use of existing infrastructure and rolling stock.
  • Phase out government subsidies and price controls so that fare levels better reflect industry costs.
  • Convert first class carriages into standard class carriages to accommodate more passengers.
  • Introduce high-capacity “economy class” coaches with more standing room instead of seating, offering lower fare options. (This is only likely to be a practical option post-Covid).
  • Lengthen trains by adding more carriages and extending platforms. Double-length trains could even be used on busier sections and then split part-way through the journey.
  • Deploy improved signalling technology to reduce the necessary gap between trains.
  • Consider using double-decker trains where the engineering costs would not be prohibitive.
  • Address bottlenecks by re-engineering junctions: relatively expensive but still much cheaper than building brand-new infrastructure.
  • Divert freight onto quieter routes, enhancing loading gauges where necessary. For example, intermodal traffic from Felixstowe to the Midlands and North can be sent via the Ipswich-Nuneaton route rather than the southern West Coast Main Line.
  • Allow full vertical integration to end the artificial separation between track and train, and between different franchisees and open-access operators. This should improve the financial incentives to make more efficient use of spare capacity.
  • Finally, in some locations there may be a strong economic case for lifting the railway tracks and converting the route into a busway or road, the former typically providing higher capacity at much lower cost than rail transport.

Richard Wellings

Image: Shutterstock

An injection of tyranny: from vaccine passports to digital IDs?

The imposition of vaccine passports represents a major expansion of state power. While they are portrayed as a means of restoring pre-pandemic freedoms, in reality they will extend restrictions on people who refuse to comply.

There is also evidence that vaccine passports form part of a wider agenda to introduce biometric digital identity systems. The EU was already making plans for vaccine passports in 2018, long before anyone had heard of Covid-19. And there are other disturbing initiatives, such as ID2020, backed by powerful transnational foundations with deep links to Western governments.

The UK appears to be following a similar path domestically, embarking on a digital identity programme and undermining civil liberties more generally. There was a previous attempt to impose ID cards under Tony Blair and support for their high-tech successors clearly remains strong within the establishment.

The agenda is proceeding particularly quickly in developing countries, where – often funded by Western governments and foundations – digital ID systems are being rolled out to control access to essential services and even food.

In this context, vaccine passports can be interpreted as a stepping stone towards comprehensive digital IDs, a way of getting the public and businesses used to presenting and accepting them.

Such IDs will hold not just health records, but also financial information, biometric details and other data on individuals. They will obviously be terrible news for privacy, but they could also be made mandatory for voting, access to jobs and bank accounts, to rent housing, conduct transactions, obtain health services etc.

They would enable governments to exclude people who refuse to take part in the system and also people who carry the IDs but upset the “elite” in some way. Dissidents could find their access to basic services switched off, both to punish them and nudge them to comply.

The imposition of vaccine passports might be less worrying if it wasn’t taking place in the context of rapidly expanding state surveillance. Suspicions about governments’ real motives are raised further by the weakness of the health arguments for the policy.

It has now been openly admitted that a key reason for vaccine passports is to encourage young people to get injected. This is basically a threat: if you don’t get jabbed you won’t be able to travel easily and you won’t be able to go to bars and restaurants.

The problem is that for the vast majority of younger people, it is far from clear that the benefits of the shots outweigh the costs. At present no one knows the long-term effects of either the jabs or Covid-19, so policymakers are groping around in the dark. It’s also unclear to what extent these unconventional treatments prevent transmission. And there’s a further danger that the jabs will encourage people to behave more recklessly.

A plausible scenario is that the injections prove less effective than hoped at preventing illness and transmission. It may also become clear that the side effects are worse and more frequent than initially acknowledged by governments and the media. At the same time, the jabs and related misinformation may encourage recipients to behave as if they can’t catch Covid-19 and can’t pass it on. Such developments could at least partly undermine the stated policy objectives, and the vaccine passports agenda would be partly to blame.

Finally, any assessment of vaccine passports should examine their economic impact. It might be assumed that a certain percentage of the population will refuse the injections, perhaps because they are at low risk of either catching Covid-19 or falling seriously ill with it.

Say 10% of adults fall into this category, plus a significant percentage of children (the figure is likely to be significantly higher in some countries). Many of the businesses forced to require vaccine passports as a condition of entry will face reduced revenues. A lot of people won’t bother going through the hassle of testing, if that is the alternative. Moreover, the unjabbed won’t be distributed evenly across areas, age groups and subcultures, so certain businesses in certain areas are likely to be particularly badly affected.

Some businesses may, however, see the trade-off more positively if they view the alternative as a return to lockdown or other restrictions. Yet presenting vaccine passports as alternatives to lockdowns and social distancing relies on highly questionable assumptions about the effects of the shots on infection, transmission and behaviour. In any case, given their recent authoritarian turn, it is possible that governments will simultaneously impose both vaccine passports and draconian lockdowns this winter.

The impact of vaccine passports on the labour market is likely to be particularly serious. It looks like certain jobs will be denied to people who refuse the injections. They will find it difficult to travel overseas too. Certain employers will therefore face a reduced pool of skills and talent, potentially resulting in recruitment difficulties and staff shortages. It will be harder to get the best person for a particular role.

The opportunities for people to engage in entrepreneurship and exchanges with partners in other countries will also be diminished. Some of the uninjected may decide to reduce their economic activity in response to all the hassle and discrimination. These effects will tend to have a negative effect on productivity and therefore tend to reduce growth in output, harming government finances in the process.

In conclusion, it is far from clear that any benefits of vaccine passports will outweigh the costs. Indeed, if the objective of vaccine passports is to protect health while opening up the economy, then the reasoning behind the policy appears to be flawed. It is difficult to imagine that political leaders, or at least their advisors and officials, are unaware of the downsides. This strengthens the suspicion that there is more to vaccine passports than meets the eye. Could their real purpose be to condition the public into accepting the widespread and routine use of privacy-destroying digital IDs?

Richard Wellings

This article is also available in French

Image: Shutterstock.

HS2 and the “Great Reset”

High Speed 2 never made any economic sense. In commercial terms it was always going to make heavy losses. Ballooning budgets mean the costs are now likely to outweigh the benefits. And it’s crystal clear that alternative transport investments would deliver far higher returns.

So, why on earth is the project still going ahead?

One theory is that transport policy was captured by powerful special interests. Construction firms, train manufacturers and an army of consultants stand to cash-in from the scheme. They certainly haven’t been shy about lobbying MPs and ministers over the last few years.

Councils in the North and Midlands will use HS2 to grab yet more taxpayers’ cash to fund their pet “regeneration” projects around the new stations. No wonder they’re backing the line so strongly.

Then there are the senior bureaucrats. HS2 provides them with some of the best-paid jobs in government.

But there are compelling arguments against the special interests hypothesis. This is not to deny their influence on policy, but to question whether it is strong enough to be decisive.

Looking at political incentives, HS2 has been unpopular with the public, those against typically far outnumbering those in favour. The scheme has also been an endless source of embarrassment and bad publicity for successive governments, with numerous negative media stories on cost overruns, deception, incompetence, protests and the ill treatment of businesses and residents along the route.   

Having said this, the current government’s levelling-up agenda undoubtedly plays into the hands of the HS2 lobby. They could now argue that ministers were abandoning their pledges to boost the North should the line be cancelled or scaled back.

But earlier on, it would surely have made political sense to scrap HS2 and instead lavish the money on regeneration schemes in individual towns and cities across the region, including local transport upgrades. This would have been a quicker, more effective and less risky way of “buying” votes.

So, neither special interests nor political incentives seem to fully explain why HS2 is going ahead – which brings us to another possibility.

During the pandemic, awareness has grown about the so-called Great Reset agenda, often marketed by politicians as “Build Back Better”. This set of policies, promoted by transnational “elite” institutions such as the World Economic Forum and the European Commission, is being imposed across the Western bloc and its satellites.

At the heart of this shift is radical environmentalism – at least when taken at face value. In transport policy it translates into a ruthless war on drivers. This assault was ramped up in 2020 with the government paying councils to close large numbers of roads to through traffic and narrow main roads to install (often empty) cycle lanes.

Ministers also announced a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. The cost of electrification is likely to run into the high hundreds of billions, with motorists picking up much of the bill. The government is also considering introducing a national road pricing scheme, ostensibly to replace the vast revenues currently stolen from motorists via fuel duty.

It isn’t difficult to discern the direction of travel. Ordinary motorists will gradually be forced off the roads by a combination of regulation, tolls, taxes and closures. Driving (and also flying) will increasingly be the preserve of the rich.

So, how does this agenda relate to HS2?

At the moment a significant proportion of people travelling from the South East to the North or Midlands, or vice versa, choose to drive. Rail makes most sense for city centre to city centre journeys, particularly trips involving central London, which is car unfriendly to say the least. But if the journey starts and finishes in the suburbs, if other stops are planned en route, or if heavy luggage is carried, the car is often quicker and more convenient than the train.

However, if the Great Reset agenda is enforced, most people won’t have this choice in fifteen or twenty years’ time.

Imagine someone driving from Yorkshire to London in the not-so-distant future. He struggled to afford an expensive electric car and rapid charging socket, and is saving up for the eventual battery replacement.

He incurs heavy tolls as the government tracks his drive south. On entering London, the surveillance system levies an additional hefty “congestion charge” tax. He’s then delayed by 20 mph speed limits, cycle lanes, road humps and chicanes. The route he used to take is no longer possible due to road closures and he has to make a long detour.

On arriving at his destination he struggles to find a parking space. One side of the road has been turned into a cycle lane and the other is permits only. When he finally finds one, the charge is prohibitive. He decides that he won’t bother driving next time. He will use video conferencing or if absolutely necessary take the train.

So, the transport market is going to be so heavily rigged that most people will have little choice but to travel by rail if they make these kind of journeys – assuming they can afford it (these policies are likely to bring a major reduction in overall personal mobility, with negative knock-on effects on job opportunities, business costs, productivity and wages).

This authoritarian agenda may explain politicians’ attachment to HS2. Senior officials and ministers have been aware of and signed up to Great Reset-type policies for years. They knew a big crackdown on private motoring was coming and were just waiting for a pretext to impose it. In the meantime, the true scale of the shift and its implications would deliberately be hidden from the public.

HS2 will prove very useful to government ministers during the coming assault on private transport and mobility. They will deploy it to deceive the public that they are speeding up journeys and improving connectivity when for the vast majority of travellers the exact opposite is true.

It is no coincidence that the EU, together with the UK and US governments, are all now promoting uneconomic high-speed rail and very similar transport policies more generally. This is a top-down agenda, ordered by an unaccountable transnational “elite” and imposed by its lackeys in national governments. Both liberty and democracy are being crushed in the process.

Opposing this railway is therefore about far more than saving taxpayers’ money, protecting private property and halting environmental destruction. If HS2 is stopped, or even scaled back, our leaders will find it harder to undermine people’s freedom to travel.

Richard Wellings

Paul Withrington, R.I.P.

Paul Withrington was one of transport’s visionaries. His ideas promised a transformation in connectivity, with rapid, low-cost journeys right into the heart of the largest cities. The vast subsidies pumped into public transport would be consigned to history. And commuters could all be comfortably seated, ending the ordeal of standing cheek by jowl on railway carriages.

Paul’s key insight was that railway lines were often an inefficient use of transport corridors. Rail routes could typically carry far more passengers and freight if they were concreted over. The nature of their re-purposing would depend on the location and ideally a market discovery process. In the big cities, they might become high-capacity busways during peak hours. Shorter braking distances compared with heavy rail meant that a greater number of passengers could travel along a single track/lane.

A conservative estimate of 600 buses per hour, with 50 seated passengers on each, gives a throughput of 30,000 people – similar to high-capacity subway systems but at far lower cost. And relatively simple new technology could reduce the gaps between vehicles much further, indeed beyond plausible demand levels for any route in the UK. Importantly, Paul explained, the buses would be able to use the existing road network both before and after using the converted track-bed, eliminating much of the inconvenience and delay of having to travel significant distances to and from railway stations.

Several developing countries understood the benefits of achieving Tube-style capacity on the cheap. The busway networks of Bogota, Canton, Curitiba and Istanbul suggested the logic was sound, as did the Lincoln Tunnel’s Express Bus Lane in New York City. And these case studies did not enjoy the full benefits of redeploying rail paths that were fully separated from the existing road network.

In rural areas, smaller towns, and in big cities at off-peak times, buses might make far less sense due to insufficient passenger demand. The converted railways could then be used for conventional road traffic, but with the routes managed and indeed priced, Paul suggested, to prevent congestion. As well as much faster journeys, this promised to take heavy traffic away from overcrowded, stop-start residential roads and urban high streets, bringing major environmental benefits too.

Paul founded the think tank Transport Watch in 1994 in order to conduct, publish and publicise research into these ideas. The organisation expanded on the work of the Railway Conversion League. Drawing on his long career in engineering, transport planning and academia, Paul conducted rigorous statistical analyses on the comparative efficiency of rail and road.

His work attracted the attention of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which published Paul’s articles in the journal Economic Affairs, as well as on the IEA blog. With the support of Lord Vinson, the IEA later created a dedicated transport unit, and in 2015 we co-wrote a comprehensive report based on Paul’s ideas, Paving Over the Tracks: A Better Use of Britain’s Railways? It was a big success in terms of media coverage, with stories in the national newspapers and plenty of TV and radio interest. The editorial column of The Times praised the report for its innovative thinking. But it was ignored by the politicians. The hold of the rail lobby was too strong.

Paul also became a familiar face on the transport conference circuit. Despite his expertise, the organisers did not invite him to give presentations – after all, they depended on sponsorship by the rail industry. But he did get the opportunity to challenge ministers and officials during the Q&A sessions. He managed to bypass the gatekeepers again by publishing full-page adverts setting out the case for railway conversion in magazines such as the New Statesmen, Private Eye and The Week. He also found an outlet through his long and frequent letters to Local Transport Today, a rare example of a transport publication tolerant of open debate.

More recently, Paul focused on opposing High Speed 2, which he memorably described as “a fraud upon the nation”. In his transport planning days, part of his job was giving evidence at public enquiries into major road schemes. This mastery of detail was now deployed to analyse HS2. He contacted officials to try to get to the bottom of the project’s dubious cost-benefit analysis. But in the end, he had to back-engineer the calculations to uncover the assumptions behind them. It turned out that as HS2 costs ballooned, the government had adjusted upwards its forecasts of high-value business travel on the line, thus inflating the benefit-cost ratio. He shared his findings by submitting evidence to parliamentary inquiries, but their technical nature was not conducive to media interest.

Inevitably Paul’s research and campaigning activity attracted the ire of the rail lobby and its army of internet trolls. Rather than engaging with the arguments and debating them, they hurled abuse and tried to smear his character. But Paul shrugged off the nasty attacks with his characteristic good humour.

Transport policy headed in what Paul thought was the wrong direction from the mid-1990s onwards, with massive rail spending central to successive governments’ approach. Paul consoled himself with the knowledge that this policy would eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions – not just rail’s high cost base and inflexibility, but also its fundamental impracticality outside big cities and densely populated corridors. Despite ministers’ rhetoric, it was never likely to carry more than a small percentage of passenger and freight traffic, with attempts to expand beyond this facing a cliff of diminishing returns.

The railway’s finances were indeed already in trouble before Covid-19 hit. The big increases in Network Rail debt, which effectively hid the true level of subsidy, had begun to raise major concerns at the Treasury. Paul lived to see the shift to working from home and virtual business meetings – and its disproportionately negative effect on rail travel compared with road.

If these changes are permanent, even for quite a small fraction of the workforce, it could be catastrophic for the rail industry. A combination of high fixed costs and a significant fall in fare revenue could coincide with a government debt crisis in which subsidy increases face strong resistance. If railways become unaffordable, Paul’s ideas may finally get the attention they deserve.

Richard Wellings

This article was originally published on the Institute of Economic Affairs blog.

COMEAP’s particulates advice deserves to be questioned

This letter was originally published in issue 811 of Local Transport Today.

Alan Wenban-Smith’s categorisation of my exposure of the flimsy and contradictory nature of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution’s analyses on particulates, as that of a “conspiracy theorist”, is inappropriate.

It was the committee not me, that pointed out the extraordinarily wide 75 per cent plausibility limits (one-sixth to double the values cited) and the committee, not me, that published Professor Hopke’s view that policy decisions should not be based on the (in my view disgraceful) use of the process of elicitation as used by the committee.

Where COMEAP went wrong was to press on with providing a quantified estimate of deaths linked to particulates, instead of telling the government that after years of work it could not establish a relationship between deaths and particulates with enough confidence to justify policy. Readers may care to make their own mind up about that in the light of the following:

1. The COMEAP reports generally refer to all anthropogenic particulates, not just to those from road traffic.

2. The COMEAP report of 2010 says anthropogenic particulates caused 29,000 premature deaths in the base year 2008 but with limits ranging from one-sixth to double that number. The report also says eliminating these (anthropogenic) particulates would save between 5.8 million and 66.2 million life years over 106 years, a vast range.

3. In 2014 I asked COMEAP for the mortality burden savings attributable to particulates from road traffic. Dr Sarah Robertson replied: “A number of sources, of which traffic emissions is only one, contribute to PM2.5 background concentrations in urban areas across the UK. Based on the modelled figures underpinning the COMEAP 2010 report, PM2.5 from local traffic sources contributes to approximately 16 days of the approximate 200 days loss of life expectancy in the UK attributable to anthropogenic PM2.5 in 2008. However, this does not represent the total contribution of traffic emissions to PM2.5 concentrations at UK urban background sites. Traffic is also a contributing source of regional primary and secondary PM2.5 concentrations. Detailed figures for traffic contributions to these aspects in 2008 are not available. However, extrapolating from modelled data for 2012 suggests that regional primary PM2.5 concentrations from traffic emissions equates to an additional seven days loss of life expectancy in the UK.” So, particulates from local and regional traffic contribute just 23 (in a range of four to 44 days), or ten per cent to the overall mortality burden of 200 days.

4. Particulates from exhausts are now a minor component of all particulates from traffic, which itself is a minor contributor to all anthropogenic particulates.

5. The LTT report of 2 October says COMEAP can find no “compelling narrative of adverse health effects from non-exhaust particulates from road traffic”.

Against that background, is it not reasonable to ask why COMEAP did not draw the same conclusion as at point 5 above with regards to particulates from exhausts? Namely, although it is reasonable to assume particulates are not good for us there is no compelling narrative linking particulates to premature deaths.

Of course, COMEAP was caught between a rock and a hard place. It may have sabotaged its very existence or been politically unacceptable for it to present such a conclusion. Heaven knows how much these studies have cost, but the cost to the nation of a policy that scarcely has any basis is vast.

As to Alan’s point about nitrogen oxides being the main concern associated with diesel, COMEAP concluded in 2018 that the effects of NOx could not be separated out from those of particulates. There is a very good summary of that by Air Quality News (https://tinyurl.com/y6x8sg3r). It cites COMEAP as finding, “The methodology of this present report allows for calculations to be made on the basis of either particulate matter known as PM2.5 or NO2, and using the higher of the two estimates. The results should not be added together as this would lead to an over-estimation of the effects. Using these two approaches, the range of estimates of the annual mortality burden of human-made air pollution in the UK is estimated as an effect equivalent to 28,000 to 36,000 deaths.”

Lastly, no one seems to have tackled the environmental damage that electric cars will do – all that lithium and those rare earth metals mined from sea beds and the difficulty of recycling 30 million toxic electric car batteries.

Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion and a certain Swedish school girl caught the world’s attention by saying the world would burn in ten yours unless something is done. Bah, it’s been far warmer in the past and the world did not catch fire.

Strangely, I am a ‘green’ but I believe the greens have the wrong focus, possibly driven by a hatred of cars. In order of magnitude, the threat to the environment and human survival are: demographics, wars, plastics and effluent of all sorts tipped into the sea, pesticides, and habitat destruction.

Paul Withrington, Director, Transport-Watch

The war on road traffic particulates is based on junk science

Forgive me for following up my letter. I do so because, in the same issue, we have (a) two experts disagreeing almost violently as to the efficacy of battery electric vehicles (“The route to zero emissions, or over-hyped”) and (b) under the headline, “No compelling evidence that brake and tyre dust harm health”, we have COMEAP declaring that there is “no compelling narrative of adverse health effect of exposure to non-exhaust particles from road traffic”.

Recapping, my previous letter: the “Great dirty diesel scare” was sparked by the COMEAP report of 2010. It claimed particulates were causing “29,000 premature deaths”. The same report says that the 75% plausibility limits range from one sixth to double the cited numbers. I pointed out that the finding was akin to a scientist stating that the average height of a man was six feet but with a plausibility range of one foot to 12 feet. Worse still the numbers depended on the disgraceful procedure of elicitation – asking experts, with no data, for their views as though there can be any “experts” with no data.

I go on to point out that the COMEAP report, “UK Plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations”, of July 2017 has, under the heading “Estimating the mortality burden attributable to current concentrations of air pollutants”, the following admission: “Some Members do not think it appropriate to try to calculate an overall burden of the mortality associated with the air pollution mixture”. They were right, but overruled. 

In any event, the 2010 report contains a figure showing that particulates from local traffic are a minor contributor to the overall particulate burden. Worse still Engineering and Technology, March 2017 and the Air Quality Expert Group’s report, “Non-exhaust emissions from road traffic”, dated 2019 find that by as early as 2022 hardly any of the particulates from road traffic will be from exhausts! By that date it is unlikely that the battery electric vehicle will have made significant penetration. Hence the data represent a largely internal combustion engine powered fleet.

So, given the very wide plausibility limits cited by COMEAP, the technical disagreements, and the vanishingly small proportion of particulates which are from exhausts, the honest conclusion should be that there is insufficient evidence to justify any policy designed to reduce these, or any other particulates

We now have the amazing statement by COMEAP reported above, namely, “There is no evidence that non-exhaust particulates cause harm”. How on earth would they determine which particulates harmed health, I ask? I go on, if these non-exhaust particuates do not damage heath, and if particulates from exhausts are a vanishingly small proportion of the whole and if their impact on heath is entirely uncertain, why on earth are they destroying the diesel industry?

I conclude that COMEAP makes its claims in the knowledge that they play well with the often data free, anti-car and Green lobbies which have such strong but misguided influence on policy.

Paul Withrington, Director, Transport-Watch

A version of this letter was published in Local Transport Today on 16 October 2020.

The great dirty diesel scare and other nonsense

Letter published in Local Transport Today, Issue 808, 2 Oct 2020.

The great dirty diesel scare was sparked by the COMEAP report of 2010 which claimed particulates were causing “29,000 premature deaths” with an average loss of life of six months across the nation. The same report says that the 75% plausibility limits range from one sixth to double the cited numbers.

Well, if a “scientist” estimated the average height of a man as six feet but with  plausibility limits ranging from one foot to 12 feet, would we take any notice of him? So, why does anyone take notice of the COMEAP finding – especially when the statements depend, in part or whole, on the disgraceful process of elicitation, namely asking “experts” for their best guesses, presumably in the absence of data? Indeed Professor P. K. Hopke in an appendix to that report says, “I find the elicitation of experts to be an approach that involves too much subjectivity and is likely to be unreliable. I would suggest one be very careful using the guesses of experts as the basis of policy decisions.”

Worse still only about 50% of particulates come from exhausts with the rest from road, tyre and brake wear. These other items could be magnified by electric cars because of their greater weight.

Meanwhile we have Professor Michael Kelly and Gautam Kalghatgi pointing out the folly of the electric car in your columns.

Despite all that, the report has led to the virtual demise of the diesel industry.

 

Paul Withrington

Journalists lose the plot

Letter to Ben Webster, Environment Editor, and Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent, at the Times, copied to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister:

Dear Ben and Graeme,

On 28th January Ben had a column with the laughable headline, “Track-side wind farms could power HS2 trains”, and on Thursday Graeme had an equally laughable one, “Solar trains timetabled to replace diesels”.

Laughable or not, the diagram below, from Cm 7176: Delivering a Sustainable Railway, July 2007. illustrates that, even if the entire railway could be run that way and even if the emission was then an impossible zero, the effect on the nation’s emissions would be vanishingly small.

Those columns of yours, and the nonsense about hydrogen power, do nothing but promote the quite false impression that the railways are uniquely green when nothing could be further from the truth.

Why do you waste your time on such trivia and to such damaging effect?carbon-kellyWith regard to hydrogen; have you not noticed that there are no hydrogen mines! The bulk of the gas is made by “gas reforming” e.g. heating methane and steam to 700 degrees centigrade, thereby producing hydrogen and, yes, you guessed it, CO2, let alone the emission from producing the energy for the process.

Even worse – storing hydrogen is tricky, to put it mildly. At 10,000 psi, or roughly 700 atmospheres, a tank giving a range of 350 miles would be three times the weight and nine times the volume of a tank of diesel… There are, of course, “fuel cells” but I remain amazed that anyone seriously pursues this route – except perhaps as a publicity stunt, driven by subsidy voted through by those who do not know their arses from their elbows or their multiplication tables.

http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/consumer/hydrogen/basics/storage-compressed_gas.htm

Click to access task2_gaseous_h2.pdf

Lastly – here is a diagram illustrating the trivial nature or rail’s contribution to the nation.untitledOutside London a rail journey is a rarity. Meanwhile all London’s crushed surface rail commuters could have seats in express coaches at less than one quarter the cost of the train. Those coaches would occupy around one seventh of the capacity available if the railway were paved, offer journey times better than the train’s for all but the longest journeys, whilst using half the fuel…… See the text, map and pictures here http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/topic-15-london-waste-battersea-and-north-marylebone etc. and Facts Sheet 5 here http://www.transport-watch.co.uk/facts-sheet-5-fuel-and-emissions-trains-compared-replacement-express-coaches-and-lorries-november-20

Best

Paul W BSc MSc MICE C.Eng.

HS2, the deficit and Integrity

In this note all references to HS2 are to the network out to Leeds and Manchester.  Financial data are at the 2011 price and discount base except where stated or obvious from the context.

The deficit

Cancelling HS2 would reduce the deficit otherwise arising by £4-£5 billion every year for 15 years, let alone the losses thereafter.

Integrity.

The Willingness to pay calculus

The, so called “Willingness to Pay Calculus”, used to “justify” HS2, compares the vast financial loss, with the supposed social benefits.  The same theory could be used to support every loss-making enterprise in the land; a high-speed way of bankrupting the nation. It’s barking mad, or more bluntly, a fraud on the nation.  See here

Instead the decision should depend on common sense.  Namely, if it makes a loss, especially one in the tens of billions of pounds, DO NOT BUILD IT. 

(If, for perverse reasons, they must do this Cost Benefit analysis, they should compare the resource costs with the supposed benefits.  For HS2 the resource costs amount to £62 billion.  Subtracting fares from those costs provides a loss of £31 billion, halving the cost to Government. Hence, using resource costs, the £62 billion, instead of the financial loss or cost to government, £31 billion, would double the cost appearing in the benefit to cost ratio, destroying the case for HS2 at a stroke).

How big is the Loss?

the actuarial loss from the network out to Leeds and Manchester, faced by those standing in the opening year, 2033, will be close to £70 billion at 2011 prices, not counting the cost of links to the HS2 stations etc. and supposing the fares come in as forecast, and the cost does not escalate out of sight, as with other rail schemes.

Here note (a) HS1 carried one third of the originally forecast passengers (b) the West Coast Main Line Modernisation Programme was at least four times over the original estimate (c) the cost of electrifying the Great Western seems to have doubled.

The (vanishing) user benefits

The user benefits put forward by HS2 Ltd amount to £59.8 billion see table 11 of the Economic Case for HS2, October 2013.  Half are from savings in train time.  However, it turns out that time on a train is spent nearly as productively as is time in an office.  Similarly, we suspect non-working time (commuting and leisure) on a train is enjoyed as much, or nearly so, as is time spent anywhere else.  Why else does the rail industry advertise for days out by train?  Hence half the user benefits should be struck out.  Another £12 billion (20%) of benefits are derived from peculiar sources, e.g.:-

  • Improved reliability, £5.50 billion, as though they cannot make the trains run on time without building a vastly expensive high speed rail network.
  • Reduced walking, £1.33 billion, overlooking that the trains are up to 400 metres long.
  • Better interchange, £4.15 billion, again ignoring the train lengths, and in any case why would interchange be better.
  • Better access 1.15 billion. Ha, Ha. All of these should also be struck out.

The remaining benefits would then amount to less than one third of those pretended to by HS2 Ltd.

Wider economic benefits, the WEBs

HS2 Ltd claim these will amount to £13.3 billion over the 60 year evaluation period.  However, the firm studiously ignores the damage done to the economy by the vast subsidy this scheme will require.

For example, the scheme is supposed to generate 100,000 jobs.  However, with a financial loss of between £70 billion and £100 billion the cost per job amounts to between £700,000 and £1 million, or the lifetime wages of a working man.  How many jobs will that destroy in that part of the economy which makes a profit?

KPMG claimed WEBs of an astounding £15bn per year.  These can only come from generated business and commuting trips.  If KPMG’s £15 billion is to be believed each generated round trip for those purposes would have to produce nearly £4,000, which is ludicrous see here, but apparently swallowed whole by the Government and the Transport Committee.

Transforming the economic geography

It’s a commonplace for Ministers and HS2 Ltd to claim that the scheme will transform the economic geography of the nation.  However, whatever the transformation may be, it can only be derived from generated trips, since the transformation from existing trips is clearly already with us.  Well, generated trips amount to only 1.5% of all surface rail trips and to only one in 2,000 of all passenger journeys.  How on earth can that be transformational?

Percentage on business

Between January 2012 and October 2013 the value of business time, accounting for the majority of in-train benefits, was reduced by 30%, costs were increased by 20% and passenger forecast decreased by 15% yet the benefit to cost ratio was substantially unchanged.  How on earth was that achieved?

Answer, among other, by shamelessly inflating the percentage on business far above the previous value or that available from survey data, exploiting the fact that business time is five times as valuable as other time.  Here note that savings in business time account for £40bn amounting to 66% of user benefits.

Conclude

This scheme is a huge loss-maker for the nation.  Its effect has been shamelessly misrepresented to the Government.  Our view is those responsible should be prosecuted and the scheme abandoned with immediate effect. How else may the nation secure honesty in future proposals put forward by lobbyists?