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How to further wreck the country: Fianna Fáil does it again August 16, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Transport.
14 comments

Reading today’s Sunday Times as I do most weeks (at least until the great Rupert locks it behind a firewall anyway), I was somewhat stunned to see this story about government plans for CIE. You would think that the fact that blind faith in the private sector has just destroyed the economy might register. Or at least the lessons of Britain’s experience of transport privitisation, never mind say France or Italy’s excellent public train services. But no. Apparently not.

According to the paper, the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, will bring a bill before the Dáil in the autumn that will provide for fines or the putting out of routes to tender to private firms if legally-binding targets are not met. This from the same government that is cutting Dublin Bus services. Hypocrisy and shamelessness of the highest order. In case the minister is reading, the consequences of privitisation in Britain has been huge hikes in prices on trains while safety standards fell. So far did they fall, that New Labour had to take Network Rail back into public ownership. At the same time, private firms have had their licences revoked so poor has been their service. So this has been the worst of all worlds for the public, who have lost out as taxpayers and as individual consumers as well.

Now, I am not against government putting pressure on publicly-owned companies to get results and deliver an efficient service. From each according to his means and to each according to his needs is not a recipe for laziness and inefficiency (not that I am suggesting CIE workers are either). Quite the opposite. Efficiency lies at the very heart of the socialist project – the efficient use of society’s material and human resources in the interests of all. But scapegoating public sector workers as an excuse to give private companies a licence to print money bears no relation to socialist plans for an efficient public sector. This bill will have the effect of demoralising workers in CIE in already difficult times. In it, we can see that the PDs may be dead, but their ideology remains dominant in this government. Profiteering is a recipe for disaster, not efficiency.

And what of the junior partners in the coalition? We’ve already seen them disgrace themselves numerous times over green issues, but the thought of allowing the profit motive to be the determining element in the delivery of an already shaky public transport system should surely be enough on top of everything else to start some serious hardball tactics with FF to insist on some progressive policies. I won’t hold my breath.

Ciaran Cuffe responds to Michael O’Leary – and raises the possibility of slow travel rather than aviation… July 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Transport.
13 comments

Nice piece by Ciaran Cuffe of the Green Party in the Irish Times yesterday in response to Michael O’Leary’s bilious article on ‘eco-loons’ (which was considered here), I mean, I mean of course those who suggest aviation has a part to play in reducing emissions. Oh no, he meant eco-loons.

Anyhow, Cuffe notes:

IT’S HARD to know whether Michael O’Leary is in the denial or the anger stage of facing up to climate change. Clearly he took some satisfaction in his recent rants on the letters pages that accused columnist John Gibbons of belonging to the “eco-loonie” camp. Like a latter day Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, he has failed to realise that the world has changed, and he must learn the new rules of the game. He was at it again on Wednesday, addressing an Oireachtas Committee on Transport. Ironically next door the Climate Change Committee listened to submissions on the European Union’s proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And further to the figures suggested by O’Leary – which were wrong – he argues:

As regards the science, O’Leary’s suggestion that aviation is only responsible for 2 per cent of emissions in Europe is incorrect.

According to the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research EU 2005 aviation emissions were approximately 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), representing 4 per cent of total emissions, and they are increasing fast. This figure does not include indirect warming effects, such as those from nitrogen oxide emissions, contrails and cirrus cloud effects, so the overall impact on climate may be as high as 12 per cent.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated aviation’s total impact at twice or as much as four times the 4 per cent figure. Whatever way you look at it, O’Leary is clearly playing down the figures.

Moreover Cuffe notes that aviation is:

Remarkably … not subject to many of the taxes that apply to road or rail users. Due to a loophole, jet fuel has historically been exempt from taxation, creating an anomaly in the market that favours airlines. Indeed, under Ireland’s Essential Air Services Programme, some of Ryanair’s routes such as the Dublin-Kerry service receive a handsome annual subsidy.

On mainland Europe Ryanair has also been given financial support by regional governments to fly to their airports. Thankfully the European Commission decided last week to address the free ride that O’Leary has enjoyed over recent years.

It really is entertaining to hear O’Leary’s rhetoric about ‘free markets’ on this when underlying it all is an de facto massive subsidy from public funds. And not just our state but all states.

Almost any remedy, but particularly that proposed by the Commission to include aviation within the Emissions Trading Syste, can only rectify what – under a cold analysis – would be a major distortion of the market to tilt it away from other forms of transport towards air travel. And the costs of all this, at least initially? Well, as Cuffe notes, these will only kick in under the new proposals in 2012 and range from €5 to €40 a return journey. Now perhaps on the margins RyanAir operates under that spells the end of international ‘cheap’ aviation, but beyond those circles… it’s not outrageous.

I also agree entirely with Cuffe as regards some measures to reduce emissions:

Unlike other emissions, most flights are not as necessary as activities such as heating your home or growing food. Our greenhouse gas emissions are increasingly a contributory factor to the weather extremes that cause drought, flooding and the loss of lives in the developing world.

Airline emissions exact a high price on the planet, and jobs in the industry come at a high price. O’Leary stated that it takes a thousand flights a year to sustain a single job. At a rough tally that’s 100,000 kilos of CO2 emissions.

We must rethink airline subsidies, and concentrate more on creating employment in the new sunrise industries that use less carbon to create more jobs. O’Leary feels a switch to nuclear power might save the day, but even a doubling of nuclear power worldwide would only lead to a 5 per cent reduction in global CO2 emissions, and his arguments distract from the need to conserve energy and use it wisely.

There are measures that can be taken to reduce airline emissions. Changes in the amount of air traffic control areas could ensure aircraft are not forced to zigzag around Europe. Reducing the military air space currently out of bounds to commercial planes could allow straight line flights between destinations and save fuel. Distributing aircraft loads more efficiently can also reduce emissions.

That said while I like his final thoughts there is a small problem with them. For he suggests that:

There are alternatives to flying. I’ve rediscovered the art of slow travel over the last few years.

You can take a late morning ferry from Dún Laoghaire, and connect with a Virgin train at Holyhead that has you in the centre of London by early evening. Should you wish, a 10-minute walk from Euston to St Pancras railway station allows you to catch a Eurostar train that takes less than two hours to central Brussels.

This is true. I have done it myself from Dublin to Rome and back. The Eurostar is a joy, sleepers comfortable, although not necessarily the best way to actually fall asleep in. And he is absolutely right,

On the train and ferry you can enjoy a full meal, get some work done or enjoy the view. You can even stretch your legs without disturbing fellow-passengers. You never have to remove your shoes, stand in line for more than a few moments or empty your drink into a bin before you board.

If you reserve a seat on some trains you’re greeted by name at the carriage door. The lower carbon option is a remarkably pleasant alternative to plane travel.

But… there is a problem and that is one of cost and time.

It’s not cheap to travel trans-Europe by train. It’s not horrendously expensive, but it is more expensive than flights – although a caveat, I’m talking here about flights from Ireland to other points. How much more expensive? Well consider the following…

A useful resource, and one I’ve turned to in the past is Seat61, which is arguably the single best means of determining how to travel overland by train and ferry anywhere on earth. For those of us apprehensive about flying, although I’m more or less over that, it’s great. For anyone who is just interested in thought experiments, experiencing something a little more visceral in terms of the travel experience or more environmentally friendly transport it is essential.
Using their links it’s easy to calculate the costs of travelling on any given day, so how about we decide we’ll travel tomorrow Sunday 20th of July.

By RyanAir (incidentally, an airline I’ve never used… for various reasons) it would cost to fly to Paris return on the 20th July and returning 27th July €296.14 for a flight (07.05 outbound to Paris, 22.50 inbound to Dublin the following Sunday). €296.14. Quite a bit of money.

Let’s travel sloooowwwww….

Dublin Ferry Port – London Euston 44 euro

0845 – 1627 (change Crewe)

Walk down the road to St. Pancras keeping in mind the 30 minute minimum check-in time for the Eurostar.

Eurostar

St. Pancras to Paris Nord

18.00 – 21.20 149 GBP

And returning…

Paris Nord to St. Pancras

09.13 – 10.36 (earlier train at 8.07 if you’re frantic to ensure the connection is made) 69.50 GBP

London Euston – Dublin Ferry Port 44 euro

1146 – 1904 (change Crewe)

The total costs?

Eurostar is €275 (218.50 GBP)
Dublin – London – Dublin €88

€363 total

So, almost €80 more expensive than flying.

If one were to book say months in advance, September non-flexible fares drop to £80 return on the Eurostar… clearly moving this into a more reasonable €188 in total.

However, if you book RyanAir it would cost for the same dates in September no more than €51.15.

There are obviously other fares to be taken into account. Transport from airport into city centre, cost of food on day long journeys by train. And then there is always the possibility of delays and cancellations. In 2004, once again trying to make it to the Eurostar I had a most – ahem – interesting day travelling to London after the Stena ferry was out of action. This included a dash to Dublin Ferry Port, a wait while Irish Ferries decided whether or not to accept the near mutinous passengers from Stena, then, due to refurbishment a remarkable journey across central and eastern lines to get to London, barely on time to make a connection with the Eurostar. Not something I’d be keen on replicating.

Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but it is a process dependent upon a number of elements working smoothly at every stage of the journey. Travel further onward from Paris and one is then dependent upon other national transport services doing likewise. That said, if the money is there it is worth every cent.

But this links into a broader discussion about working hours/holidays and so on. Even if the money is there a whole day from a limited holiday allocation is a whole day. An instinctive, if partially unwarranted, aversion to train travel is in part based on the sense that it is ‘slow’. And that makes me wonder, in the absence of high speed links, and indeed the lack of geographic proximity to Europe whether slow travel will catch on in quite the way it might be hoped. Because if it effectively takes a full day to get to Paris, as against 90 minutes by air, then what of Barcelona or Rome (start at 9 on a Saturday, arrive in either around the same time the next morning). And if you really want the sun, and if you have a large family and are dependent upon discounts and suchlike well then these sort of proscriptions are probably so far off the scale as to be Utopian…

Which suggests that shifts in modes of transportation, time usage, holiday allocation and suchlike would be necessary before even beginning to see some change in public behaviour. And that makes me think that should the worst come to the worst people will simply be priced out of the market, and we would see much more localised travel on holidays, perhaps akin to the situation in the late 1960s before the package holiday boom took off. Oddly enough that’s the sort of world, avoiding air travel much of the time, that I’ve lived in for decades now, but I’ve never noticed any great appetite amongst others to join me…

It doesn’t have to be that way, and Cuffe implicitly appears to acknowledge that aviation will continue into the foreseeable future – nor do the proposals from the Commission ban aviation. But it’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? Not so much slow travel as almost no travel.

Fear of flying… the US Federal Aviation Administration goes before hearings… Yikes! April 10, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Society, Transport, Uncategorized, US Politics.
7 comments

For those of us who have at one time or another pondered the safety features of air transportation, in that curiously focussed way that one does as a jet moves down the runway on a takeoff roll, there has always been comfort in the sort of statements which adorn numerous books and websites that seek to
take some of the fear out of flying. And indeed statements like the following have been enormously reassuring to … well, me, to be honest.

Today’s jetliners whisk through satelite-defined jet routes forty thousand feet above the ground at speeds nearing that of sound. Flown by hundreds of thousands of dedicated pilots, and assisted by countless other traffic controllers, mechanics, and engineers on the ground, these mechanical marvels carry millions of people safely across the world every day.

Yay!

The important thing to learn from this lesson is that though nothing is perfect, flying has very high standards, intense training, strict regulations, backup systems galore, and most of all, in this lesson we’ll explore just how a plane does stay up in the air and why the word “near miss” is overused.

Brilliant!

…most U.S. and European air carriers have excellent safety standards

Alrighty…

Every FAA regulation was written in blood. If they tell you to bring your tray table up, & seat back upright, its because someone in the past got injured or worst for not following it.

Gulp!

Safety will not be compromised. Airlines in financial difficulty might cut back on the food service, administrative jobs, and even the number of flights to reduce costs. There may be fewer baggage handlers, baggage handling equipment might not be repaired, service might generally be worse, but the plane will be safe.

Flights still scheduled will have stringent regulations, top quality people and well maintained planes. Safety is always the predominant concern and everyone working on a flight wants it to land safely.

Great again!!!

But…what are we to make of the following?:

The Federal Aviation Administration may know considerably less about the state of airline safety than it claims, a parade of witnesses and lawmakers said at a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

Three F.A.A. inspectors testified that their agency had allowed Southwest Airlines to fly uninspected planes, and that the airline had continued to fly the planes even after it later found cracks in some of them.

This isn’t good, but it gets less good…

The inspectors said that when they complained, their bosses threatened their jobs and discouraged them from pursuing safety problems.

One was removed from his job as an office manager and another was encouraged to apply for a transfer. A third, Charalambe Boutris, was temporarily removed from his role overseeing Southwest after complaints from the airline.

Hold on. Surely the airline shouldn’t have a role in this process at all? Well, it shouldn’t…

Beyond the problems at Southwest, the hearing focused more broadly on the quality of the government’s oversight. Southwest and other airlines have suspended hundreds of recent flights, seriously disrupting travel, while undertaking inspections that critics say were long overdue.

Long overdue… so… all those comforting words about standards… the gentle soothing noises about safety… the comprehensive testing…and the inspections were overdue?

Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, asked how the F.A.A. could claim to have made progress on safety when it allowed more than 1,000 flights using planes with cracks in the skin.

“You’re looking at safety as a system, and the system itself has cracks,” he said. The F.A.A. now refers to airlines as its customers, he said.

I think, in all seriousness, that this is where we begin to see an example of a regulatory framework buckle under distortions imposed by a sort of ‘chilling effect’ as regards the necessity for standards and the impulse to allow business operate as unimpeded as possible. That the supposed free market operation of air transport is already massively supported (and in any classical reading consequently distorted) financially by tax structures regarding fuel agreed and imposed by states is telling. That we have a scenario where those who are to be regulated are seen as ‘customers’ is… bizarre.

“We can’t have a situation in which the customer calls the F.A.A. to complain about their service person, Mr. Boutris, to get him removed,” said Mr. Oberstar.

Entirely correct. The absurdity of this is self-evident. The airlines are being monitored for breaches in their conduct. Not the opposite way around. And they’re being monitored to ensure public safety. Any delay in inspections and checks is more than problematic in an industry which depends upon the highest possible standards of safety both to permit it to function correctly and to allay any negative public sentiment. And the raw and unpalatable truth, whatever the boosters of this supposedly free market may suggest, is that business has a dynamic which can (and often does) cut directly against safety concerns…

Granted the issue was fairly localised… but already siren voices argue that there isn’t a problem…

“These systems were abused in one F.A.A. office,” he said. “That has to be fixed, but a wall must not be built between the F.A.A. and airlines that stops the flow of information. This would set aviation safety back 20 years.”

But that’s not the point. There shouldn’t be a wall because the dynamic should go from FAA to the airlines. It is they who are being judged, not the other way around. Now, of course, this is the US, but I think it tells us something of a discourse about business more broadly and regulation as well. For many of us hopeful that there might be a march forward but aware that this will take time and involve compromises there is a seductive pragmatism to reform and regulation as a means of progressing our agenda. Indeed we’ve seen tranches of the left peel off in just that direction as they became enamoured of business as an end in itself.  That’s okay, as far as it goes. Which isn’t that far. Business is a tool for us, a means to an end. And regulation is of absolute necessity across a range of areas. I’m not trying to suggest this invalidates regulation, as I say this instance is specific (although not unfortunately as an example of some intriguing examples of how the Bush government has rolled back on such things over the past eight years – consider if you will the example of the EPA). But it does mean that extreme caution should be used in order to avoid a sort of gullible approach by leftists to business. After all, if an industry where safety is paramount and regulation and inspection comprehensive can have such goings on occur within it, well, what of other more widespread but less well known areas out of the gaze of state or public. As weird, but indicative of a prevailing mood where getting away with it appears to be the norm, at least in matters commercial (and once more is a function of the current ideological dispensation in the US) in its own way is the following…

One committee member, Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat, asked Mr. Sabatini if the manager who had told Southwest to keep flying was still being paid. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“What do you have to do to get fired, then?” she asked.

What indeed?

Straws in the wind… Nationalisation returns in the UK, Fianna Fáil drop plans to privatise bus routes in Dublin. February 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Irish Politics, Trade Unions, Transport.
40 comments

transport2168.jpg

Good, or at least pragmatic, news in relation to transport in the capital city. As the Irish Times reported:

Plans to introduce competition to the bus market in Dublin to improve services for the travelling public have been shelved by Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey.

Reversing what had been the policy of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government for at least eight years, Mr Dempsey has decided not to privatise bus routes in Dublin, in a move that has been welcomed by transport unions.

Proposals to introduce competition to end Dublin Bus’s monopoly in the city were published by the PDs in 1999, at the same time that they proposed the deregulation of the taxi market. The proposals were put forward as PD rather than government policy.

That this was a PD driven policy is important. The Progressive Democrats unyielding allegiance to a privatisation policy has, when faced with the soggy morass that is our public sector, foundered quite comprehensively. One might, with justice, point to co-location of hospitals, with private ventures being built on public hospital grounds, as one that has succeeded in implementation, and yet I wonder. The number of locations for co-location has been cut and cut again.

And this is something we see in the remarkably tokenistic approach to privatisation of the bus routes. Consider that:

In 2002 the then minister for transport Séamus Brennan published proposals to privatise up to 25 per cent of bus services in Dublin from January 2004. Industrial action by the National Bus and Rail Union and Siptu followed in the shape of half-day stoppages and a “free fare day”, during which drivers refused to collect fares.

Following the cabinet reshuffle in September 2004 the new transport minister Martin Cullen resumed talks with Dublin Bus and unions and in 2005 proposed the privatisation of just 15 per cent of the market.

This sort of salami slicing of the policy must have sent a message out loud and clear almost from the start.

Simply put if it is not feasible to privatise in a single sweep then chances are that inherent inertia will dampen down forward movement. Big single purpose corporate entities, such as gas or telecoms were always going to be easier to remove from the public sector. But while the concept of plurality of transport services is tempting – to some – it is surely telling that most metropolitan centres cleave to the single unitary authority model. There are such things as efficiencies of scale.

These proposals were published in 2006 and were linked to the delivery of 100 extra buses to Dublin Bus, with another 100 to be provided by the private sector.

However, the privatisation plans never materialised. Private operators were given licences to run some specialised services in Dublin, such as the Swords Express, which uses the Dublin Port Tunnel to access the city centre, but these account for a tiny proportion of the market.

Mr Dempsey has said he believes that the current public transport operators offer the best prospect of improving the service.

I think he’s right (and incidentally I’m also viewing his driving license strategy more favourably these days than when it was announced. I have it on good authority that the backlog in testing of provisional license holders has been radically decreased and is well ahead of schedule. If that can be maintained through to June 30th he might find, as Michael Martin did before him with the smoking ban, that tough decision making can in the long run reap political dividends).

It would be nice to think that the appetite for inappropriate privatisations may well be on the wane. But I suspect we’re going to continue to see ducking and weaving on the issue. And let’s not forget that the architects of the policy remain in government…

PD senator Fiona O’Malley said yesterday she was disappointed by Mr Dempsey’s decision. “The small number of private operators who are already on different routes have enhanced the service. I am disappointed by the decision and we will have to see what it will mean for the public transport user.”

The move away from competition could be part of a trade-off with Dublin Bus to ensure that it does not block the establishment of the Dublin Transportation Authority, she said.

Which, of course, feeds straight into a discourse whereby unions and semi-state companies are regarded as an inherent problem rather than as part of the solution. Consider that it is unlikely that Senator O’Malley (for whom I have some time as it happens) often has to avail of the services of Dublin Bus or encounter their employees on a regular basis. But note also that these same employees have, as was reported last week, to deal with significant dangers while driving such as being stoned on isolated routes late at night.

Now, lest it seem like this is the return to a more sensible agenda let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is one decision out of a myriad which operate in the opposite direction. But… if we look across the water to the East, what do we see?

An editorial in the Guardian notes that:

the most striking aspect of nationalising Northern Rock is how readily it has been accepted in most quarters. No City financier has fulminated against the chill wind of socialism blowing around Whitehall; and even the Daily Mail, which tried to work up the traditional lather, conceded in its leader that nationalisation was probably “inevitable”. Ministers came in for stick – but largely for taking so long to get to a destination that almost everyone else had already reached.

This is a very important point. Somehow the public mood (in the UK) has shifted. Now, perhaps this is pragmatism (that word again), combined with long years since the Thatcher period where interventionist policy was simply off the table. It is possible that the proposed short length of this privatisation allied with the demonstrable need to support the UK banking sector – or rather its credibility – had some small part to play. Perhaps too, counterintuitively, a certain cynicism about the might of the state follows on from the disastrous prosecution of the Iraq War – a cynicism which sees anything of a lower level as essentially harmless.

Although as the Guardian also noted, joy was not entirely unconfined:

Apart, of course, from the Conservatives. If Mr Brown wants to play down the momentous nature of taking a high-street bank into public ownership, the Tories want to make not so much a meal out of it as an epic banquet. Their attacks border on the personal: shadow chancellor George Osborne yesterday jibed that Mr Darling was a “dead man walking”, while David Cameron called on him to resign, despite the fact that Northern Rock’s near-collapse was hardly the fault of the chancellor. If the Tories do vote against the bill to nationalise the Rock, it will be the first time over the six months that they have actively opposed government policy rather than carped at it. Even now, their proposals are barely different; merely nationalisation by another name, with the Rock being taken into public administration and the Bank of England running the show. Not having an alternative policy did not hurt the Labour opposition after Black Wednesday, of course. But the heavyweight attack came from the Liberal Democrats’ Vincent Cable, with his questions about how much the government would have to pay its advisers at Goldman Sachs.

But to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I lived through Black Wednesday and the nationalisation of Northern Rock is no Black Wednesday. It is, at worst, a timely and rather cautious intervention. The Conservative attacks were – frankly – hyperbolic to the point of parody (and entirely hypocritical as noted above). Presumably they hope to wipe out any sense that the Labour government is capable of organising such matters confidently. And yet, that seems curious. Because, Northern Rock, unlike the situation on Black Wednesday, was at least two steps removed from the state and government oversight. One might argue that those institutions that should have been testing the water may have failed, and the architect in part of the current structure of those institutions is one G. Brown, but that’s a difficult message to sell and comes with all manner of hedging. If anything this calls into question not the economic competence of government, but of the private sector.

Good.

And these are odd times. The Guardian points to the fact that:

Even the normally Scrooge-like International Monetary Fund has called on governments to spend more and cut interest rates. If arguing over the fate of a mid-sized mortgage lender seems like small beer in comparison, that is because it is. Much of the modern orthodoxy in economic policy is up for re-examination. Even the Financial Times, the house bulletin of the bankers, has been conducting a fierce debate about whether bankers are overpaid.

And further.

By rights, this should be a fruitful time for progressives to shape the debate about how economies are run. Now Labour has admitted that even nationalisation can sometimes be the best option, other formerly off-limits areas in economic governance should be breached too.

They are right. The problem is that far too few left progressives have a good understanding (and I’ve previously noted that I’m no better) of contemporary economics. Perhaps that’s in part because many feel they know the road map. Well, sure, but a map is – at best – a representation. To deal with the reality, such as it is, demands something a little more profound.

Now in the Irish context, if only we had a party from the progressive end of the spectrum in government, one that might tilt the dial that was pushed so emphatically to the right in the past decade or so, somewhat back to the left. It doesn’t have to be an overtly left-wing party, as I say progressive will do. And vision would be better. It doesn’t have to be that big. We saw how the PDs managed on less than 10 TDs to frame a societal discourse rooted in economic liberalism. Because for once the tide might be running to the left both in politics, economics and globally. If only such a party were in the coalition. I hope one is (and in this is something I go some way with analysis by Conor and chekov in their previous comments without necessarily sharing their conclusion), but I’m remain to be convinced.

SWP’s new webpage September 17, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Design, Marxism, media, Media and Journalism, Socialist Workers' Party, Transport.
2 comments

The comrades at the SWP/PB4P/AFA/Globalise Resistance have relaunched their website with a new design format. It makes much more use of white space, a bit less cluttered than the old site and they’ve put ‘SOCIALIST’ in about as big letters as is feasible.

Some nice use of menus for ‘most popular articles’ and links to SWP press releases though their last one deals with the Danish newspaper publishing the cartoons about Muhammed, suggesting the SWP Press Office is a little behind the times.

People Before Profit is not given quite as big a plug as I would have thought, being one of a number of campaigns the SWP are involved in, or in the case of one or two like Shell to Sea, claim to be involved in despite carrying out little or no activity. The angry little red fist thing seems to have been taken out as well and it seems quite graphic lite though good use of photos.

Finally, don’t seem to be able to read the Socialist Worker in pdf anymore, which is a little annoying. Overall, a slight improvement I think. Shame about the party.

EU Commission to investigate subsidy for public transport July 19, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, Trade Unions, Transport.
26 comments

The Irish Times reports today (Sub required) that the EU Commission has begun a formal investigation, on foot of a complaint from the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of private coach operators, into State supports for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

Subsidies last year amounted to E69.8 million for Dublin Bus and E26 million for Bus Éireann in the form of a Public Service Obligation (PSO) payment. To expand on the Dublin Bus figure, this covers about 27% of the company’s operating costs, one of the lowest in Europe.

In a statement published yesterday, the EU Commission highlighted three areas of concern. Firstly, whether the payments respect existing EC State aid rules. Secondly, whether capital grants used to upgrade or repair public transport infrastructure such as garages and repair depots are legitimate as they are not available to private competitors. Thirdly, a lack of clarity over how and why the Irish Government provides training subsidies.

Bus Éireann is saying that it has yet to receive a communication from the Commission and is confident it will be fond to be obeying the rules. No doubt the company will, along with the unions, be making submissions to the EU Commission’s investigation.

What this highlights again is the true nature of the EU Commission, an organisation designed to operate as a policeman on behalf of the private sector, pushing free market thinking and the liberalisation of existing markets in any way that it can. The same concepts are bedded down in the coming revised EU Constitution, yet it will be backed by the Labour party and the unions.

Despite the old saying, turkeys never have voted for Christmas. It’s bewildering that public sector workers do.

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