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Our transport system needs more competition not better plans

(Next Magazine, 2017/6/28, A002, Second Opinion, Bill Stacey)

Our government thinks the people are sheep. My grandfather was a sheep farmer. He complained, in colorful language, that sheep were the least intelligent animals, incapable of making decisions and even of trying to save their own lives. So sheep are herded between paddocks for pasture, herded away from danger, and herded to shearing sheds or to slaughter. Sheep do not make decisions for themselves.

Our government has designed a transport system that treats the people as sheep. They have outlined this approach in the Public Transport Strategy Study, released last week. It is an approach devoid of citizens as decision makers, and devoid of choice, human behavior, and market as well as cost considerations. It is an exercise in careful central planning worthy of the controlling institutions in an Orwell novel.

The singular goal of the government’s strategy is to crush the private car and any form of transport that is not controlled by the plan. The private car is the enemy, a monster that if not controlled will consume us all. To be fair, its strategy does allow for a choice: the planners, oblivious to our climate and ageing population, will encourage us to walk more.

Save perhaps for walking, every permitted mode of transport is controlled and planned. The most favored is the railway system. Our shepherds love their perceived efficiency, predictability, and total controllability. Franchised buses, whose routes, rules, and fares are all firmly in the planner’s grip, come next. Public light buses are tolerated, but with a lesser role in this farmyard hierarchy. Near the bottom is the taxi, providing “personalized, point-to-point” services for those troublesome few who stray from the flock. Not that our planners like the taxi – they are full of complaints that perpetual licenses limit their legal scope for control.

Every mode of transport has its place in the plan. There might be private ownership in form, but not in substance. There is some competition, but strictly guided and controlled. Room for innovation is strictly proscribed. Private cars are simply a nuisance to be minimized. They cause congestion and pollution and demand space.

So as a result, there is no room for modern ride-hailing apps (Uber, Lyft, or Didi Chuxing) or their business models. They are not in the plan.  For these innovative services, pricing varies with demand by the second; the number of vehicles in service goes up and down during the day; existing resources are better utilized; people may find a new income source; services are closely monitored by users and improved; inferior providers are weeded out of the industry; and rides can easily be shared.

That is just the start of a transport revolution. These AI-coordinated, algorithm-driven services prepare for a future of “transport as a service” that might involve some private cars or even driverless vehicles in complex networks controlled by private and corporate ownership. That future could keep vehicles on the road all day and night, with far less need for parking and better coordinated traffic. These could be private and point-to-point services with variety, class, flexibility, and much lower costs.

This is perfect for Hong Kong, but it is not in the plan. Instead there is some crack-brained scheme for more expensive taxi “franchises”, giving monopoly rights to three franchise owners to operate 200 vehicles each in a simulacrum of a modern ride-hailing service.

There are some pretty good elements in our transport system. The MTR is a good service, kept honest by competing internationally. Trams and ferries are part of our heritage. However, the private cars of today, or the market-driven personalized transport networks of tomorrow, are not the enemy. What we need is competition, flexibility, and fair prices, not better plans. That might mean some services fade away. The taxi might not be the future. Licenses and franchises might lose value.

Planners say what is not permitted is prohibited. This is not liberalism. This is not freedom. This is not Hong Kong.

Bill Stacey

Director

The Lion Rock Institute

(壹週刊, 2017/6/28, A002, Second Opinion, Bill Stacey)

我們的運輸系統需要更多競爭而不是規劃

我們的政府都以為人民是羊群。筆者父親曾經是牧羊人。他常抱怨羊是最為低智的動物,不能為自己作出決定,甚至未能維護自身安危。所以羊都是能被趕到不同牧場、被趕離危險、被趕去剪毛、甚至被趕去屠宰。而羊是不會為自己做決定的。

我們政府設計的交通系統,就以牧羊一樣的方式對待市民。他們早前發報了”公共交通策略研究”,是一份沒有諮詢市民及漠視人類行為、選擇、市場甚至成本考慮的文件。完全就像奧威爾小說內中央控制的計劃一樣。

政府的策略就是把私家車及不在管制計劃內的交通工具排擠。他們假設了私家車就是敵人,如不加以控制便會把我們的資源消耗掉。如果硬要為這個計劃說一說好話,他的確為環保、為人口老化給了我們一個選擇,就是鼓勵我們多走路。

可能除了步行之外,所有特準的交通都是被控制及規管的。尤其是鐵路系統。羊民起愛鐵路的效率、可預計及可掌握度。專營巴士包括路線、車費都緊緊被當局控制。小巴則較少限制,但對整個系統影響輕微。最自由應算是的士,為少數人提供 “個人化,點對點” 服務。但絕對不是因為當局喜歡的士,他們也因為永續牌照的法規限制而有很多投訴。

每種運輸方式都在系統內佔一位置。有些可以是私人擁有,但非替代。他們之間在競爭,但又受及引導及操縱。創新空間被禁止。私家車被討厭至最小。罪名是擠塞、污染及佔用了路面。

結果,共乘程式(優步、來福車 或 的的出行)或其他商業模式便沒有空間。他們都不包含在交通規劃內。這些創新服務能因應使用需求及車輛上線數量而自動調節價格,能更有效運用資源,車主能增加收入來源,服務會因使用者緊密監察而提升質素,評分制度把劣質服務提供者去除,行程容易共享。

這只是運輸革命的一個開始。這些由人工智能協調的演算方式為未來的”運輸服務”由私家車及民營機構參與,甚至能發展出無人駕駛車及複雜的交通網絡。到時,車輛可以因為能日以繼夜的在路上行駛而減低車位需求。這能讓市民享有多選擇性、高級、靈活、低成本的度身訂製點對點乘車服務。

這絕對是有利於香港。可惜不在現時的交通計劃內。取而代之是腦殘的專營計劃,只容許三個財團壟斷合共二百輛的士提供昂貴的服務。

我們現時的交通系統有好的元素,包括:港鐵的國際水平服務、電車及渡海小輪的傳統集體回憶。但同時我們不應敵化今天市場需求的個人化交通服務。我們需要競爭、靈活及合理價格,而非所謂更好的規劃。潮流只有陶汰較差的服務。我們的將來不一定需要的士。牌價及專營權也應降低其價值。

當局稱現時未合乎法例是禁止的。這不合乎自由主意。這並不自由。這並不是香港。

Bill Stacey

董事

獅子山學會

翻譯:Joe Chan