Sunday, 7 September 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 42

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 42

Wed 3 September 2014

On Day 42 of the Public Enquiry we got deep under the bonnet of the NGT scheme.  Mr Chris Cheek, a specialist consultant for First Bus was on the stand all day, first with the completion of his examination by Gregory Jones QC for First Bus and in the afternoon by Neil Cameron QC for the Applicant NGT.

Audio recordings of all the day’s sessions are linked here and commentary follows below.

In the first morning session of Day 42 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Wednesday 3rd September 2014 Gregory Jones continues to examine Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire on the viability of the NGT trolleybus proposals.

In the late morning session of Day 42 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Wednesday 3rd September 2014 Gregory Jones concludes his  examination of Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire on the viability of the NGT trolleybus proposals.

In the early afternoon session of Day 42 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Wednesday 3rd September 2014 Neil Cameron QC commences his examination of Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire on the viability of the NGT trolleybus proposals.

In the late afternoon session of Day 42 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry Wednesday 3rd September 2014 Neil Cameron QC continues to examine Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire on the viability of the NGT trolleybus proposals.
This was a fascinating and extremely in depth analysis which we were shown today. 

I’ve made copious notes on the cross examinations which I shall have to seriously condense if I am to prevent this from getting too long!

In short, for the first half of the day Mr Cheek continued to take the opportunity to cast serious doubts upon the NGT proposals.

He detailed a series of shortcomings demonstrated for trolleybuses in general shown in the Price Waterhouse report on the Wellington trolleybus system, which is now to be replaced.

High cost of supply of right hand drive vehicles, high maintenance costs of both vehicles and overhead cables were shown to be problematic.  Where such systems had an abundant hydro electric supply, as in Canada, or where there is an existing system, he acknowledged that there could be value in retaining them.  But with the continuous advances in hybrid and battery bus technology, it would be risky and inflexible to introduce a trolley system in Leeds.  Also because it would be the only system in the whole of the UK, there would be a strong probability of difficulties with maintenance supplies and low volume costs.  The installation of a ‘micro-fleet’ of trolleybuses was a serious weakness.

The potential for nightmare congestion in the event of breakdown or accident was identified by Mr Cheek with respect to articulated trolleybuses and said that the industry view on articulated buses had changed considerably in the last decade and that most operators would be unlikely to renew a fleet of ‘bendy buses’ since problems had been identified, chief amongst which were preference among passengers for having a seat as opposed to standing.  They might be suitable on long wide roads, but the narrow old world streets of North Leeds were not suitable.  Hence he also identified that the scheme was poor value for money due to the fact that so much needed to be spent on infrastructure to make it function.

Simply put, as a layperson it is clear to me that Metro is attempting to shoehorn NGT into a shoe which is too small.  I am reminded of the fairy tale of Cinderella when the Prince came with the glass slipper and her sisters tried to squeeze their own large feet into it, and if I recall correctly some of the more gruesome versions of the tale have the sisters cutting off their toes or their heels in order to be able to get their feet into it.  This is an apt metaphor when you think that Leeds City Council would sacrifice some of the finest and most mature heritage in order to fit in this inappropriate system.  The only difference being, that we do not want to cut off any part of our community in order to be able to shoehorn the trolleybus into our streets, but would have it imposed without consent, fitting the established community to the newcomer, not adapting that to the established conditions.

The assault on the NGT proposals continued with a lengthy analysis of the Stated Preference (SP) test which the Promoter used to justify their choice for a trolleybus.  Mr Cheek was scathing about their methodology.  Regular listeners will recall that Professor Bonsall made a very detailed and lengthy examination of Mr Chadwick over this when examining the business case.  Mr Cheek drew attention to the unrealistic, and I would say, biased, nature of the test methodology in showing a bus which went out of service in 1990 (which would have been in service 1970-1990) against a brand spanking new bus.   Apparently it had been agreed that this survey should have been redone, but it was not, because, as Mr Chadwick said, it was considered a disproportionate expenditure. 

In view of this, Mr Cheek suggested that in respect of the fact that £10million had already been spent, and that potentially £250million might be, a few thousand or even tens of thousands of pounds would have been money well spent if it clarified the likely preferences and demand from the travelling customers upon whom the success of the project relies.

This was a lengthy examination, but it was vital to clearly demonstrate the atrocious methodology in order to fully rid us of any belief in the assumptions of the SP test or the notion that they could provide a valid model, and fully hammer the nails into its coffin lid.  Mr Cheek went so far as to say that the assumption of these bus comparisons was ‘Not a credible assumption.  Not a remotely credible assumption.’  The gap shown in the survey would simply not exist.  ‘It is completely false and the idea that that gap will remain in force for 30 years…. Words fail me.’

Having listened to quite some few hours of examination on the subject of this SP test, which if I recall correctly, even by their own criteria did not prove a clear preference for trolleybuses, it seems fairly clear to me that the basis on which this test was made is a total fantasy.  I have some experience of the scientific method from my degree, and it is obvious to anyone with scientific training, and indeed any sensible layperson of average intelligence, that the kind of comparisons that were used are bordering on the scientifically fraudulent, or, to be kind, at least incompetent.

The onslaught continued with Mr Cheek stating that NGT had exaggerated their assumptions and thereby produced unreliable and speculative data which could not be supported by actual evidence, again bringing the methodology into question.

A particularly sharp accusation he made was that Metro wanted to regain control of public transport and that the TWAO was their means to gain this legal control, so that a trolleybus system had been necessary since now that the tram had been dropped, it was the only legal way to do so.  I know for a fact that Dave Haskins, Project Director of NGT said about two years ago, that Metro was ‘up for it’, when it came to regaining complete control of public transport in West Yorkshire.  So, the trolleybus has been chosen not because it is the best solution, but because it gives the political power to the local authority to get into the public transport game, at least in Mr Cheek’s view, and I am inclined to believe him.  Why else would such a problematic and expensive system be chosen?

We have seen, again and again, that the Applicant failed to make proper consultations with local residents who would be affected (eg, Thursday 17th July late afternoon session) 
or that, as I believe I clearly demonstrated in my own cross examination of Mr Thomas Walker earlier that afternoon, the photomontages have been purposely doctored to suggest more positive connotations to the trolleybus.  I would myself, as a qualified Art Therapist with a training in the scientific method, would suggest that this amounts to falsifying evidence, and we are perilously close that that scientific sin with the deeply flawed SP test.

Again and again, Mr Cheek highlighted the extremely risky nature of the proposals.

When it came to cross examination by Neil Cameron QC it would seem that he worked very hard to demonstrate that the demographics not only could work, but that they supported the scheme.  There were problems with the data in that First has been reluctant to disclose its passenger data on the basis that it would be commercially sensitive, and so the results of their own forecasts could not be properly substantiated, but I have to admit, that while I am confident with the standards required for good scientific method, this advanced statistical section left me with my eyes glazing over as a fog descended on my brain.  As Disraeli so famously said ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics’.

It may be that some of the statistics claimed by NGT on demographics are sound, but even if the available population which might use the trolleybus is correctly estimated, all the other problems remain.  And those demographics must be questioned as Mr Cheek did with the claims that users of Burley Park station would walk (mostly uphill) to NGT stops rather than use the train as they have previously done. 

Simply for Mr Cameron to rely on the fact that the scheme has reached the point that it has and argue that all the requirements set by the DfT are thus likely to have been met is not really sound in my own view, but rather a legalistic view which seeks to avoid taking account of the many practical realities (of which I have not exhausted the list, so I would urge listeners to catch his two morning sessions) and just force it through on formalities.

A brief attempt at scraping the barrel occurred when the objection to the visual pollution of the overhead wires came up.  When asked of his qualifications to make this judgement, Mr Cheek replied ‘I know what I like’.  And so do most people.  But Mr Cameron asked if he had any qualifications to make this judgement, which I found somewhere between amusing and laughable.  Simply put, most people don’t like the prospect of overhead cables.  It is an acknowledged downside of trolleybuses, and yet his judgement that they were unsightly visual pollution was called into question.  Well, I myself am qualified in the subject of visual perception and aesthetics, and I can say confidently that the intrusion of overhead cables is unaesthetic for various reasons such as impeding open views of trees, sky and local architecture.  That it creates a feeling of confinement and even probably claustrophobia in some sensitive people.  That frankly it is obvious and that anyone who calls such a view into question should have themselves questioned as to why they believe so.  I am reminded of Mr Haskins, who apparently likes standing on buses, likes maps with North pointing to five o’clock, and who apparently prefers cloudy winter skies and bare trees to blue skies and trees in full summer leaf.

The obligatory attempt to cast aspersions on the motivations behind First’s objection of course had to be endured.  The end to a long exchange was simply that in Mr Cheek’s view it is ‘Not a good scheme’.

If you can find the time to listen I can highly recommend an absorbing few hours.  The difficult bit on demographics was in the early afternoon session mostly, and if anyone wants to comment on this I should be interested.  However, in the light of all the clearly demonstrated, and frankly, obvious, downsides and risks to the trolleybus scheme, I would bear Mr Disraeli’s opinion in mind and treat that argument with a generous measure of caution.

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