Azara Blog: August 2011 archive complete

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Date published: 2011/08/22

Cycling allegedly generates £3bn a year for the UK economy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy, a report by the London School of Economics has found.

The figure takes into account factors such as bicycle manufacturing, retail and cycle-related employment.

The report says £51m was raised for UK manufacturers from the 3.7 million cycles sold in 2010 - a rise of 28% on the number of cycles sold in 2009

More than a million people also started cycling last year, bringing the total number of cyclists to 13 million.

Last year more than £1.5bn was spent on bikes and another £850m on accessories, with the LSE estimating that the cycling industry is now worth some £2.9bn a year.

There are now 23,000 people working in cycling, contributing more than £600m to the economy in wages and taxes.

The report also says rising fuel costs, improved cycle networks, concern for the environment, and the pull of the Olympics are all possible factors for the increase in popularity for cycling.

And it says a 20% increase in cycling levels by 2015 could save millions of pounds in reduced congestion, pollution levels and NHS costs.

The report says that regular cyclists take 7.4 sick days per year, compared with 8.7 sick days for non-cyclists, saving around £128m through reduced absenteeism, with projected savings of £2bn over the next 10 years.

Dr Alexander Grous, of the LSE, who conducted the research, said: "The good news is that structural, economic, social and health factors seem finally to have created a true step-change in the UK's cycling scene."

Stewart Kellett, of British Cycling which is the governing body of UK cycle sport, said: "This report is further evidence that when more people get involved in cycling there are measurable benefits to the individual, their family, their employer, the environment and the economy as whole."

This is a typically poor BBC article. The last decade or so the chattering classes have decided that cycling is some kind of holy activity (it is not, it is just another form of transport). Thus we have to have perpetual pro-cycling propaganda in the press, of which this is one example.

The worst thing about this BBC article is that they do not mention that British Cycling helped fund the LSE report. (The LSE press release says: "The study was commissioned and published by Sky and British Cycling.") Instead the BBC just quotes Kellett as if British Cycling is some kind of neutral observer. And because a cycling lobby group part funded the report, nothing about the report should be taken at face value, because the results were almost certainly spun to make British Cycling happy. That's the way this "consultation" business works.

Imagine how little the BBC would trust a report about, say, the alleged benefits of oil to the global environment, if Esso had helped fund it. Yet here the BBC just accepts the LSE report without any critical analysis at all, because BBC journalists accept without question that NGOs are saintly organisations who never spin or mislead to advance their cause.

Even the first sentence of the article is misleading: "Cycling generates nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy". If cycling disappeared tomorrow, that money would not disappear tomorrow, but instead it would be spent on something else. That money was mostly generated by some other activity (i.e. work by people who cycle) and then spent on cycling. And it would be interesting to see how much money the LSE would claim that driving "generates" for the UK economy (if the report was part paid for by the AA or the RAC).

The report claims that there is "a significant relationship between frequent cycling and absenteeism, with regular cyclists taking 7.4 sick days per annum, compared to 8.7 sick days for non-cyclists". Well, what they have found is a correlation, not a causation, and needless to say the LSE has not done enough research to even come close to proving a causation. But the causation is what they want everybody to believe is true, and this is in effect how the BBC spins this aspect of the report. But you could equally claim that healthier people are more likely to cycle (duh), so the causation could easily be backwards.

It really is unfortunate that the BBC continually publishes such misleading articles to spread propaganda for special interest pressure groups, at least when those special interest pressure groups are run by people with the same middle class mentality as BBC journalists.

Animals and plants are moving as expected because of global warming (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Animals and plants are shifting their natural home ranges towards the cooler poles three times faster than scientists previously thought.
Analysing the range shifts of more than 2,000 species - ranging from butterflies to birds, algae to mammals - across Europe, North and South America and Malaysia over the last four decades, they show that organisms that experience the greatest change in temperatures move the fastest.

The team found that on average organisms are shifting their home ranges at a rate of 17km per decade away from the equator; three times the speed previously thought.

Organisms also moved uphill by about 1m a year.

But what about the animals that already live at the poles, or at the top of mountains?

"They die," said Dr Thomas. Take the polar bear, it does most of its hunting off the ice, and that ice is melting - this July was the lowest ever recorded Arctic ice cover - it has nowhere to go.

However, the loss of this one bear species, although eminently emblematic, seems insignificant when compared to the number of species that are threatened at the top of tropical mountains.

The general idea is all as predicted, but the quantification is useful. On the other hand, both rates leave plenty of time before doomsday. And it is unfortunate that climate change gets so much press, at the expense of almost everything else, that it has become all too easy to ignore bigger problems for species survival, e.g. non-climate-related habitat loss.

Date published: 2011/08/16

Train passengers whine that they have to pay more (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Rail commuters are facing ticket rises of about 8% next year, following the release of July's inflation figures.

Regulated fares, such as season tickets, use formulas based on the RPI figure - unchanged at 5%.

This means the average season ticket in England Wales will rise by about 8%. Some fares might cost more.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers said "difficult decisions" had been taken due to the budget deficit. Campaigners called the rises "a disaster".
For the past few years the formula for fare increases has generally been RPI inflation plus 1%, but for the next three years it is RPI plus 3%.

The formula affects regulated fares, such as season tickets and long-distance off-peak tickets. Some fares will go up by far more than the 8% average, because train companies are allowed to increase fares by another 5% on top, as long as that is balanced with reductions elsewhere.
A combination of more people travelling, above-inflation fare rises and cost-cutting has led to rail users' contributions to the railways rising from £5bn in 2006-07 to £6.6bn in 2010-11 - over the same period the amount contributed by taxpayers has fallen £6.3bn to £4bn.
"Affordable rail travel is vital for passengers, for the environment and for our workforce," said Alexandra Woodsworth from the Campaign for Better Transport.

"These massive fare rises will be a disaster for people already struggling with rising costs, and risk pricing those on lower incomes out of jobs in our major cities.

"The country simply can't afford fare rises on such a punitive scale. It's time to burst the bubble on inflation-busting fare hikes."

Even with these increases, rail passengers are having their journeys subsidised by over one third. Unfortunately rail passengers have been led to believe that the rest of society should subsidise their life style, and so are unhappy. But rail passengers, in particular London commuters, are far wealthier than the average UK citizen, and it is bizarre that they should be subsidised at all. The main effect of these subsidies is to encourage commuters to live further from their work place than they otherwise would.

Of course some rail passengers are in effect subsidising other rail passengers. In particular, a lot of money is now supposed to be sucked into a vanity project called HS2. If that money has to be spent, it would be better spent on ordinary rail services. There are also undue subsidies for rural areas, in particular for Scotland and Wales. So once again, the English are subsidising the English haters.

The so-called Campaign for Better Transport is really just the Campaign against Cars. Needless to say, their alleged concern that "these massive fare rises will be a disaster for people already struggling with rising costs" never seems to be a concern for them when it comes to drivers, and indeed they perpetually want drivers to subsidise train passengers ever more. The CBT is just a typical middle class special interest pressure group pleading for special subsidies for their pet life style choice. As such they should just be ignored, especially, as here, when their proposals involve massive transfers of money from the less wealthy (drivers) to the more wealthy (train passengers).

Unfortunately, the MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, has not surprisingly chimed in his support for London train commuters:

MP Julian Huppert has expressed his concerns about increasing rail fares which will leave Cambridge commuters facing an eight per cent rise on their season tickets.
He said: "Commuters in our city will find these rail increases incredibly difficult to absorb. It will just make it even harder for them to afford to get to work. If we are really serious about getting our economy back on its feet, it makes little sense to put obstacles in people's way when they are trying to earn a living.

This is about as hypocritical a statement as could be made. So Huppert and basically all of the Lib Dems are happy to extort more and more money out of drivers by calling for ever increasing tax (in particular fuel duty) to be paid by drivers. So evidently Huppert does not really believe that "it makes little sense to put obstacles in people's way when they are trying to earn a living", except when it comes to rich train commuters.

London train commuters are a problem for Cambridge, as for any other city within reach of London. In particular they push house prices up, and any new housing development anywhere near the railway station is immediately swamped with yet more London commuters. This would be acceptable if they paid the cost of their journeys, but they do not.

Huppert is sucking up to London commuters because they have a large number of votes in Cambridge, and he is hoping that ordinary Cambridge residents do not notice that his policies are costing them more money, to the benefit of these rich London commuters.

Nick Clegg has no clue about economics (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has suggested the 50p top rate of income tax should stay despite growing Conservative hostility to the measure.

Mr Clegg said the coalition's focus in tough financial times was on helping those on low and middle incomes not "a small minority at the very top".

George Osborne has said the tax rate is "very uncompetitive" as top-earners can avoid paying it by moving abroad.

Clegg is not very bright. If it is the case that less, or hardly any more, money is coming in with the 50p tax rate then it is trivially obvious that it is pointless. Presumably the Treasury is doing some sums to estimate the actual impact. Unfortunately Clegg is not the only overly politically opportunistic cabinet minister. Osborne is as well, so he might well skew the results in order to appease the Tory right.

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