Tag Archives: fuel

Repost: Held to ransom

I’m on the road. Therefore, rather than write anything new, I’m fobbing you off with something I wrote a year ago, before anyone much read this blog…

Thirty-six years ago, the streets were empty.  The National Union of Mineworkers had spent half-a-year working to rule; coal-stocks had slowly dwindled and the power stations had all run out.  Factories and offices shut down; everything stopped.  Twenty-six years ago, the NUM walked out completely, and stayed out for a year.  But nothing except the mines themselves shut down.  Thatcher had pre-empted the strike.  The mines had been sent into overproduction long before and the power stations all had stockpiles.  The country had the means to import coal.  And in the mean time, power generation had shifted further into oil, gas and nuclear.  The government had made sure that the industrial action could not cripple the country.

Ten years ago today, the streets were empty.  The Road Haulage industry, with the support of the petroleum industry, had blockaded the oil refineries and fuel distribution network for eight days, and the country’s petrol stations had been dry for four.  The private stockpiles of companies with fleets were running out, and the little that was left had been reserved for the emergency services.  Train companies operating non-electrified lines cancelled services — and this time they even had an excuse for it.  Tesco began rationing food, and the post went uncollected and undelivered.  Hospitals ran out of blood, and Surrey stopped responding to emergency calls.

The air was clean, the birds sang, and the children played in front of their houses.

But as Motorists and hauliers like to remind us in the comments thread every time another bike-vs-truck Grauniad article gets published, we all rely on the roads; you may ride your bicycles and walk around town in your sandals, they say, but those lentils and that tofu still got here in a truck.  And indeed, the Institute of Directors promoted the impressive and comprehensively meaningless statistic that the blockades had cost the economy a biiiilion pounds.  Our economy and our way of life — for every one of us, even the lentil eating sandal cyclists — is entirely dependent on road transport and road haulage, and they can completely shut it down — the post, the trains, the hospitals and our food — in a week and a half.

After the Battle of Orgreave, when police set upon the striking miners, Thatcher said of the industrial action:

I must tell you … that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. [CHEERS] It must not succeed.

The miners, Thatcher said, were attempting to impose their will on a country that did not want it; they were holding the country to ransom, and that was unacceptable.  She had a simple solution that prevented them from ever doing that again.  She destroyed them by completely cutting the country’s reliance on domestic coal — by destroying their power and their industry.

On the 14th September 2000, Tony Blair said of the refinery blockades:

No government, indeed no country can retain credibility in its democratic process or its economic policy-making were it to give in to such protests. Real damage is being done to real people.

The hauliers were attempting to impose their will on a country that did not want it; they were holding the country to ransom, and that was unacceptable.  Those sound like the words of the sort of politician who would take serious action to reduce the dangerously bloated power of a single industry — an industry on which we all rely, but on which we do not need to rely.  You would expect that the fuel protests would have added extra urgency to the already compelling case and myriad reasons in favour of reversing the harmful growth in car and road haulage dependency.

Perhaps you would expect them to have electrified all the mainline railways by now?  Maybe they would have constructed a new high-speed north-south rail artery to free up the saturated West Coast Main Line for freight?  How about new rail freight distribution infrastructure in urban goods destinations?  You would certainly have expected them to look at reforming the planning laws, transport infrastructure, tax and regulation that were making it attractive for cities and businesses to carry on creating new dependencies on cars and hauliers, and unattractive to reduce them — the sort of reforms that would reverse the absurd development that now makes it easier for food stores to create national mega-distribution hubs than to stock the food made down the street.

You certainly wouldn’t expect to see a great shift in modal share towards road haulage.  You wouldn’t predict rail freight stagnating for want of line capacity and end-to-end infrastructure.  You wouldn’t expect supermarkets entrenching their dependency on long-distance road haulage with ever greater centralisation.  You’d never believe that the Royal Mail would abandon those few things that did keep the post moving during the blockade — the Travelling Sorting Office trains, London’s awesome underground Mail Rail, and the simple delivery bicycle.

Trend 5.2 – Domestic freight lifted by mode: 1980 to 2008
Million tonnes
Road
Rail
Water Pipeline
2000 1,693 96 R 137 151
2001 1,682 94 R 131 151
2002 1,734 87 R 139 146
2003 1,753 89 R 133 141
2004 1,863 100 127 158
2005 1,868 105 133 168
2006 1,940 108 126 159
2007 2,001 102 126 146
2008 1,868 103 123 147
Coverage: Great Britain
Source: Department for Transport (road and water), Office of Rail Regulation (rail), and Department of Energy and Climate Change (pipeline)

The 2000 fuel crisis was a wake up call.  Happily for the contently sleeping politicians and planners, it came with a snooze button.

Advertisements

“Britain pays more for fuel than anywhere else”

It’s another frequently raised fact in comment threads and pub agreements.  Everybody knows it’s true.  If it wasn’t true, why would everybody know it and repeat it all the time?  They can’t all be wrong.

You would think though that such a fact, with all of the resources of the tabloid media and interested industry lobbies behind it, would have some readily available evidence to support it.  You would think that all these petrolhead websites would be falling over themselves to present the data showing off our great national achievement scandal.

Here’s the data:

Retail petrol prices in the past few weeks in Euros: EU countries from AA Ireland, US from DoE converted to Euros/litre with Google converter.

There are six EU countries with more expensive petrol right now; two others that match us.  The rest clustering around.  In Norway petrol is 20p per litre more expensive than here.  In Spain it’s 20p per litre cheaper.

Obviously relative fuel prices between countries fluctuate according to international and national events, our various national tax schedules, and, where applicable, currency fluctuations.  The order of countries on the list changes all the time.  I’d quite like to assemble a timelapse of the graph for the past 20 years, to see whether there were any interesting trends — perhaps it was true for a while that the UK was paying a noticeable amount more?  But there are a lot of other things I’d quite like to do more, so I’m not going to.

The best source I can find for the claim is a uSwitch “survey” from 2008: PDF. As you can see, uSwitch take researching their “surveys” even more seriously than I take researching blog posts.  They put some keywords into Google, found various sources of data, and put them together in Excel.  I recommend going to page 5 to follow their quite fabulous method for calculating the annual national spend on petrol.  Apparently we don’t have the real data, so they had to make it up.  Only they forgot the Peter Snow “just a bit of fun” disclaimers when they prepared the press release and accidentally got their made up facts printed in every newspaper.

The “survey” did show that Britain was paying more per litre than other European countries in 2008 (when the pound was noticeably stronger against the Euro).  In many cases it was only by a hair’s breadth, and thus it was not a particularly interesting fact, but it was true nonetheless, according to the data given.   So a press release was prepared and the newspapers mangled some impressive sounding numbers out of the data, which have become part of the collective wisdom of the British people.  Interestingly, even though the “survey” itself pointed out that we do not pay the highest rate of tax, this didn’t prevent the Daily Mail declaring that it is so in their headline.

But enough of that.  The basic conclusion is that, currently, the claim is not true.  And when it was true, it probably wasn’t interestingly true.  And the other conclusion is that, for such a common claim, there doesn’t seem to be any good quality well presented and well publicised data on this.  I’d love to see such things as:

  • Price-per-litre trends over time for these countries, with and without taking into account inflation and currency fluctuations.
  • Amount and proportion of the price-per-litre that is tax, with trends over time.
  • Total national spend (not made up numbers), with population, number of cars, etc, for comparison.  (Because paying more for petrol is not the same as spending more on petrol, and the latter probably says far more interesting things.)

And probably more.  But I looked in the obvious places and found nothing, and I will obviously not be compiling the datasets myself from each individual data point.  Surely there must be databases for this sort of thing?  I’m a science guy.  This sort of basic data is what scientists have free and publicly accessible databases with powerful querying tools for.  I’m used to having silly ideas and being able to instantly try them against the vast databases of already collected data.  I want a database for this sort of thing.  Is there one?  If it exists, it’s well hidden. I know all of the data exists, it’s just not accessible and easy to use…

“Driving has never cost more”

End to the war on the motorists?  No, driving’s never cost more,” declares Mark King, Money Editor, in The Observer today.  To be fair to King, he doesn’t actually say anything as absurd as that driving has “never cost more” in his article — but newspaper headline writers have never let reality or the actual content of an article get in their way.

Why would a headline writer, having glanced at a boring but reasonable article about saving money, think to write “driving’s never cost more”?  Where did they get that idea from?

Are cars more expensive than ever?

You would guess not: the manufacturing process has become vastly more efficient over the decades.  But it was really difficult to find data on this.  By difficult, I mean Google, Google Scholar, Wikipedia and WolframAlpha all failed to find anything useful with my keywords (thanks perhaps to the hundreds of excellently search engine optimised spam sites), and I’m too lazy to do proper research.  Instead, I pulled out a quick and crude graph of the US consumer price index for new cars compared to that for all items, showing how the cost of purchasing a car has fallen compared to general inflation in the cost of living.  (Obviously there is a plethora of caveats with this data and the contributory factors to the cost of living over here are quite different to the US — if anybody can find a more appropriate data set, please let me know.  Data from the UK for 1997-2009 is given further down the page, and shows a massive fall in the price of a new car even over that short time.)

Is fuel more expensive than ever?

Mark King could have read his own newspaper to find out that, no, fuel is not more expensive than ever.  Fuel prices are high, and Motorists can’t hide from the fact that dwindling resources are ever more difficult and dangerous to harvest.  They’re at the top-end of the post-war range, but not outside of the range that we should be used to:

That must be because oil is getting cheaper, right?  Because everybody knows that fuel tax is always going up.  Actually, as Mark King’s own editor pointed out in October, thanks to repeated freezes in fuel tax to appease the tabloids and roads lobby fuel duty remained 11% down on 1999 rates when inflation was taken into account.

So the price-per-litre is high but not exceptional.  But during all that time, the amount of distance you can get for that litre has been rising as cars get more fuel efficient.  Wikipedia has a graph for average fuel efficiency of car models available in the US.  (Average fuel efficiency of cars on the road, in the UK at least, will be higher and may not follow exactly the same trend, because we purchase more cars at the high end of the fuel efficiency range.)  You may be paying a little bit more each time you fill up, but unless you are driving further, you should have found yourself filling up less frequently over the years.

What about the other costs?

Is it more expensive than ever to pay your “road tax“?  Only if you have a really absurd car.  You could pay £950 in the first year of owning a car that emits over 255 g/km CO2.  But only expensive SUVs and sports cars fall into that category — if you own such a car, you are already rich enough to not notice the tax.  Normal cars fall in the top three or four tax bands, where tax has fallen and owners will pay only a token amount of tax, if they pay anything at all.

I couldn’t find much information on maintenance and insurance costs — though I didn’t try very hard, since these are not a significant proportion of overall costs anyway.  If anybody can find good data, I’ll add these to the post.

One area where “costs” might be rising is in depreciation — the decline in resale value.  People aren’t buying second hand cars so much, for all sorts of reasons — because new cars are so cheap (especially during the scrappage scheme and with all the other government subsidies) to the fact that nobody who buys second hand cars wants an old inefficient SUV.

So driving is more expensive than ever?

Mark King (or his headline writer) could have read his own newspaper to see that the Department for Transport estimate that the cost of driving fell 9% between 1980 and 2007.  Alternatively they could have read the Economist last month, which estimated an even more dramatic fall in the cost of driving — especially compared to the rise in disposable income — even during Labour’s famous “War On The Motorist”:

A lot of things happened in the past 18 months, but it’s not plausible to suggest that this trend has completely reversed.

Why do so many people think driving is more expensive than ever?

I don’t think they do.  Most people who are complaining are trying their luck.  Some of it is recall bias — they just don’t accurately remember how expensive cars and fuel used to be.  Some of it is the fact that the costs which are falling — annual VED and upfront vehicle purchase — are one-off or rare payments that one forgets about, unlike the weekly payment at the petrol pump, even though for most people the cost of the vehicle still makes up the bulk of the cost of driving.  Some of it is the Daily Express, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, and the rest of the roads lobby talking bollocks about the poor hard done by Motorist.  But, really, most of the car users I know are complaining about the costs no more or less than they always have.

What is probably true is that motoring is a painful cost for many people.  But paradoxically, it’s the fall in the cost of motoring that has caused this problem.  During the good times of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, more and more people have built themselves into a car dependency.  Car ownership is higher than ever because the cost has been falling for so long.  And so, with everybody owning a car, our houses have moved further from our work places, our village shops and services have closed, and the bus service has been withdrawn.  This in turn pushes more people to buy and run a car, even if they can not really afford to do so and were quite happy living without one until the shops closed.  And when the good times turn bad — when wages are frozen, when office locations are merged, and when redundancies are handed out — you can not simply give up the car.  The world changed.

Driving is not more expensive than ever.  Fuel is not more expensive than ever.  Not even fuel tax is more expensive than ever.  Claims that they are don’t even come close to reflecting reality.  And for most people, the fall in the cost of vehicles is far more significant than the cost of fuel.

Rather, ever more people who can not really afford it have been conned by false promises of the aspirational and “liberating” car lifestyle or forced into car dependency against their will.  And the tabloid media and Motoring lobby want to capture the few who are left.  Our politicians and planners should be liberating poor and rural people from that expensive car dependency, not keeping them captive right on the threshold of what they can afford.

This is a hastily thrown together blog not a scholarly article — if you spot something not quite right, do let me know so that it can be corrected.

The golden age of the motorway

“The great highway will never look empty again.”

When they opened, the first motorways were the sparsely populated playgrounds of the privileged few — the few who could afford a car.  They could drive as fast as they liked and would never meet a jam.  But perhaps they could see even then that the motorways would create the traffic to fill themselves, and that this was a solution that wouldn’t scale.

But it will not be many years before they look this way again.  It is currently a matter of faith amongst electric vehicle proponents that we will make the technology and/or infrastructure breakthroughs that would make them suitable for long-distance journeys, and nobody even dares think about post-oil long-distance haulage.  (The aeroplane and the jetpack should serve as warnings to everyone with blind confidence in the impossibility or inevitability of a breakthrough, though.)  But however it is powered, whatever happens, the private car — and building your whole life around using one — will never again be the attractive choice it was (or people thought it should be) in the eighties and nineties, and whether you think that’s a good thing or not, no amount of tabloid whining will ever change it, politicians will never have the power to prevent it, and new generations are growing up for whom the car is increasingly irrelevant.

A lot of individuals and businesses will invest in adapting to the way the world now is.  Other individuals and businesses are being born unburdened by investment in the old world, and they will flourish.  And a few individuals and businesses will carry on whining and blaming the government for their ever more expensive lack of change.  Those privileged few will enjoy a new golden age of the motorway.  And then they will be gone.

(Video via the absolutely delightful BBC Four series, The Secret Life Of The Motorway.)

Get help.

Henry Ford is often quoted as saying:

If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”.

VAT and fuel duty have just risen, while petrol prices continue to rise as it becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous to source at the same time that global demand rises.  The press seem to think that it’s time to make another fuss about the pains that come with the death of the oil age — to pretend that they could somehow be avoided.  What must be done to relieve our pain?  Fuel prices should be lower: customers want it, hauliers need it, The Daily Express Says So.  Labour think that the government could be “doing more”.  If only the government were to be fair and reasonable with the poor motorist, everything would be alright and the motorist would live happily ever after.

Henry Ford’s advice is not to ignore these cries and let things carry on as they are.  Nor he is telling us to arbitrarily impose things on people against their will.  But he is advising us to be cleverer than to simply provide the stupid and short-sighted solution that the consumer thinks he wants.  His maxim is accepted basic business practice: you don’t ask the client or customer exactly what they want, you ask what the customer is trying to achieve — what they need to do, what problem they are trying to solve, what ultimate outcome they are hoping for.  The obvious solution to a problem is often not the best.  Sometimes it’s not even a solution at all.

So what are the people crying over their fuel bill ultimately trying to do?  What people actually need to do is get to their place of employment.  They need to be able to get their food, and pick up their pension or get their kids educated.  They’d like to be able to see their friends, have days and nights out, and buy the occasional unnecessary luxury.  And they’d like their businesses to be able to source materials and ship products.  They would like to be able to afford to do all of these things.  Increasingly people are unable to do these things because so many have been lured into an expensive and destructive car habit, often entirely against their own will.  A tax cut, if it helps at all, is never going to help for long.  Fiddling with the cost of fuel is not the clever solution for getting people to work and to school; it at best puts off the crisis.

Unfortunately, like smokers and gamblers, car addicts get very defensive about their habit.  One very common theme is to cite their circumstances: there simply is no alternative for them but to drive.  It’s too far to walk, the railway was ripped up decades ago (just before the village shop and school closed), the buses go to the wrong place at the wrong time of day, and the roads are too dangerous to cycle on.  The excuses are all true, and mostly they’re used legitimately. The problem is that, like all addicts with their feelings of powerlessness, car addicts use these as excuses to do nothing except fantasise about a scenario in which their addiction is not a problem — a perfect world with lower fuel prices and a magical future in which the car can survive all of the problems that it has created for itself.  The car addict is never going to benefit from a financial break that further encourages their habit.  Fuel is not going to become more abundant or easier to source or less in demand.  Anybody who can’t kick the habit is ultimately going to get destroyed by it.

If you have no bus to a town with shops, if your schools are closing, if there is no safe route to cycle, if you are forced into expensive car dependency, why aren’t you outraged about that?  Those are outrageous things.

If it’s true that fuel prices are becoming a major problem for a significant portion of our population then it is an outrage that the government isn’t doing more to correct the failings that have forced so many powerless people into this expensive dependency.  If it’s true that fuel prices are such a problem for you then it sounds like it’s time for you to stand up, admit that you have a problem, and scream at the government not for another short-lived high, but for the help that you need to kick the habit.  If it’s true that this is such a big and urgent problem for so many people, then it’s time for Philip Hammond to put down the high-speed train set, stop pretending that this is a little unimportant job that our broke borough councils or the Big Society can handle, and come up with the big and urgent solution it needs.  It’s time to seek help, and it’s time for the government to provide it.

If it’s true.

Weekly War Bulletin, 1 Jan

A rollover bulletin…

Apparently some people had holiday journeys disrupted by snow?  The civil servants are having fun suggesting technical solutions to the third-rail problem — some more expensive than others.  (Not that the overhead-electric east coast route did any better: the lines came down under the weight of ice; I have vague memories of being told that the line was built with a larger than recommended distance between gantries to save money, in the knowledge that this would mean the cables would fall down more readily.)  Guess it’ll be another fares hike to pay for that, if it ever happens, then.  Can’t have anyone suggesting that we should instead be investing in arranging our lives and economy in a less mobility-reliant way.  Meanwhile, from his bunker, the mayor boasted about London’s resilient transport network even as it predictably ground to a halt.

The weather turned out to be awfully convenient for SouthEastern, who, having called an emergency and cancelled their trains, had the snow days struck from their performance records and subsequently just happened to meet their targets by the tiniest sliver, thus avoiding compensating season ticket holders.

Philip Hammond’s Department for Transport don’t care about the thousands of known dangerous drivers on the roads.  Our judges seem to think that it’s their job to facilitate the truck driver training careers of convicted road-rage attackers.  And the police seem to think that pushing somebody under an oncoming vehicle is fine if they’re a cyclist.  That’s The War On The Motorist, that is.  Just compare the authorities’ actions to those in The War On Drugs.

And the latest reform of road safety initiatives mean that you will no-longer get fined if you only go 10%+9mph over the limit — because what harm could you possibly do at 41 in a built-up area?  As one Daily Mail reader points out, this is “yet another money-gouging racket at the motorist’s expense”.

The Western Extension Zone is no more: Boris promised to obey the people’s will, and 41% of people wanted the WEZ to go, so the numerically challenged mayor (elected by the will of 24.1% of the electorate) obeyed.  The removal of the WEZ, and loss of its £55m revenue, will be funded by the £60m raised by another bus fare hike.

It’s time for those fares increases.  Up to £5,000 season tickets on some routes — though frankly, if you find yourself in the situation where you need to do a £5,000 commute, I think you might be doing something wrong.  Predictions are for a shift from rail to private car,

Fuel duty and VAT also go up this week, though, so it’s still a good time to leave the car behind.  The Express are desperately trying to stir up the resistance.  The Institute of Advanced Motorists is suggesting that, gasp, Motorists might be forced to drive at responsible speeds in order to save fuel, while RMI beg us please won’t somebody think of the petrol stations?

Fake ban on cycling to be enforced by fake police on the South Bank.

Government to publish data on where most people are recklessly breaking the law they are having greatest success at bleeding the poor innocent hard done-by Motorist dry. (c) All Newspapers.

Awww.  Poor Motorists can’t even terrorise sick people by taking short-cuts through hospital car parks without getting hassle some jobsworth.  It’s The War On The Motorist, I tell you.

Absurd solution of the week: Maria Eagle thinks we should pay Motorists not to break the law.  I think there is great potential here for basing all of post-New Labour’s manifesto on this concept.

Speaking of absurd transport solutions, last Bulletin we noted that the absurd Royal Docks cable car would not be entirely privately funded as Boris had originally promised.  Now our suspicions have been confirmed: upon further investigation, estimated costs jump from £25m to £40m, and there is no chance of being built before the mayor’s Olympic deadline.

Could we please drop this folly now and divert the money to keeping our existing river crossings open?  Greenwich Tunnel, the nearest existing crossing (excluding tubes and the motor-only Blackwall Tunnel), is plagued by unscheduled closures due to maintenance problems, with the council and contractors providing a customer service that they surely learnt from SouthEastern.

People got to travel on the tube for free last night, courtesy of a loans company that charges 2,689% interest.  When grilled by LBC, Boris called it extortion, as he happily took the money that they had obtained by extortion.

Humankind has reached the stage where it has developed computers that can be aware of the emotional state of the people using them.  What noble purpose should we find for this technology?  Satnavs that don’t upset their poor sensitive drivers, of course.  Somebody get one for this guy.

Following the earlier news that ELL passenger numbers have risen fast, and the recent introduction of the full timetable, Ian Brown — the man who organised London Overground and had great visions for the public takeover of all suburban rail in London under TfL — is honoured.

Tory campaigners are trying to distract from Boris Johnson’s failure to resolve the problems that unions are striking over by accusing the unions of calling strikes merely to make the mayor look bad.

That Oxford coach that turned over on the motorway? A drunk passenger done it.

The police have been visiting the people selling stolen bikes at Brick Lane.

Careful now.  Cabbies have learned dozens of new ways to kill you.

More plans for congestion relief at Bank.

New York consider adding bicycle training to their driving test.

This “news” is written by “Ian Onions”, which is a delightful combination of syllables.

Held to ransom

Thirty-six years ago, the streets were empty.  The National Union of Mineworkers had spent half-a-year working to rule; coal-stocks had slowly dwindled and the power stations had all run out.  Factories and offices shut down; everything stopped.  Twenty-six years ago, the NUM walked out completely, and stayed out for a year.  But nothing except the mines themselves shut down.  Thatcher had pre-empted the strike.  The mines had been sent into overproduction long before and the power stations all had stockpiles.  The country had the means to import coal.  And in the mean time, power generation had shifted further into oil, gas and nuclear.  The government had made sure that the industrial action could not cripple the country.

Ten years ago today, the streets were empty.  The Road Haulage industry, with the support of the petroleum industry, had blockaded the oil refineries and fuel distribution network for eight days, and the country’s petrol stations had been dry for four.  The private stockpiles of companies with fleets were running out, and the little that was left had been reserved for the emergency services.  Train companies operating non-electrified lines cancelled services — and this time they even had an excuse for it.  Tesco began rationing food, and the post went uncollected and undelivered.  Hospitals ran out of blood, and Surrey stopped responding to emergency calls.

The air was clean, the birds sang, and the children played in front of their houses.

But as Motorists and hauliers like to remind us in the comments thread every time another bike-vs-truck Grauniad article gets published, we all rely on the roads; you may ride your bicycles and walk around town in your sandals, they say, but those lentils and that tofu still got here in a truck.  And indeed, the Institute of Directors promoted the impressive and comprehensively meaningless statistic that the blockades had cost the economy a biiiilion pounds.  Our economy and our way of life — for every one of us, even the lentil eating sandal cyclists — is entirely dependent on road transport and road haulage, and they can completely shut it down — the post, the trains, the hospitals and our food — in a week and a half.

After the Battle of Orgreave, when police set upon the striking miners, Thatcher said of the industrial action:

I must tell you … that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. [CHEERS] It must not succeed.

The miners, Thatcher said, were attempting to impose their will on a country that did not want it; they were holding the country to ransom, and that was unacceptable.  She had a simple solution that prevented them from ever doing that again.  She destroyed them by completely cutting the country’s reliance on domestic coal — by destroying their power and their industry.

On the 14th September 2000, Tony Blair said of the refinery blockades:

No government, indeed no country can retain credibility in its democratic process or its economic policy-making were it to give in to such protests. Real damage is being done to real people.

The hauliers were attempting to impose their will on a country that did not want it; they were holding the country to ransom, and that was unacceptable.  Those sound like the words of the sort of politician who would take serious action to reduce the dangerously bloated power of a single industry — an industry on which we all rely, but on which we do not need to rely.  You would expect that the fuel protests would have added extra urgency to the already compelling case and myriad reasons in favour of reversing the harmful growth in car and road haulage dependency.

Perhaps you would expect them to have electrified all the mainline railways by now?  Maybe they would have constructed a new high-speed north-south rail artery to free up the saturated West Coast Main Line for freight?  How about new rail freight distribution infrastructure in urban goods destinations?  You would certainly have expected them to look at reforming the planning laws, transport infrastructure, tax and regulation that were making it attractive for cities and businesses to carry on creating new dependencies on cars and hauliers, and unattractive to reduce them — the sort of reforms that would reverse the absurd development that now makes it easier for food stores to create national mega-distribution hubs than to stock the food made down the street.

You certainly wouldn’t expect to see a great shift in modal share towards road haulage.  You wouldn’t predict rail freight stagnating for want of line capacity and end-to-end infrastructure.  You wouldn’t expect supermarkets entrenching their dependency on long-distance road haulage with ever greater centralisation.  You’d never believe that the Royal Mail would abandon those few things that did keep the post moving during the blockade — the Travelling Sorting Office trains, London’s awesome underground Mail Rail, and the simple delivery bicycle.

Trend 5.2 – Domestic freight lifted by mode: 1980 to 2008
Million tonnes
Road
Rail
Water Pipeline
2000 1,693 96 R 137 151
2001 1,682 94 R 131 151
2002 1,734 87 R 139 146
2003 1,753 89 R 133 141
2004 1,863 100 127 158
2005 1,868 105 133 168
2006 1,940 108 126 159
2007 2,001 102 126 146
2008 1,868 103 123 147
Coverage: Great Britain
Source: Department for Transport (road and water), Office of Rail Regulation (rail), and Department of Energy and Climate Change (pipeline)

The 2000 fuel crisis was a wake up call.  Happily for the contently sleeping politicians and planners, it came with a snooze button.