Monday, 8 September 2014

Leeds Trolleybus Enquiry Day 43

Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry

Day 43

Thursday 4 Sept 2014
Links to the audio recordings for Day 43 are shown here and commentary follows below.

In the first morning session of Day 43 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Thurs 4th Sept 2014 Neil Cameron QC, counsel for the Applicant NGT cross examines Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire from the TAS Consultancy on his evidence, dealing with matters around the viability of the proposed NGT trolleybus scheme.

In the late morning session of Day 43 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Thurs 4th Sept 2014 Neil Cameron QC for NGT concludes his examination of Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire, focussing in this section largely on operation matters comparing buses with the proposed NGT trolleybus scheme.  This is followed by a short section of questions from the Inspector.

In the early afternoon session of Day 43 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Thursday 4th September 2014, Gregory Jones QC re-examines Mr Chris Cheek, expert witness for First West Yorkshire on his overview of the NGT trolleybus scheme.

In the late afternoon session of Day 43 of the Leeds Trolleybus Public Enquiry, Thursday 4th September 2014, Gregory Jones QC examines Mr Paul Turner, First’s regional head of commercial on operational matters comparing NGT trolleybus to the existing bus services, some of which have run continuously since the 1950s

If the previous day was a fascinating in depth look at the problems with trolleybus, today’s examinations began with an immensely complicated examination which I frankly found very difficult to understand.  I will acknowledge that Neil Cameron QC for NGT did seem to make some headway against Mr Chris Cheek’s case, but I rather had the feeling that this was not a substantial as it may have appeared. 

For example it may well be that a trolleybus has certain advantages such as less vibration from its drive train than a diesel bus, or that if it has priority at traffic lights then it will be more reliable, but these are isolated factors which are only part of the big picture that the NGT witnesses keep telling us that we should look at ‘in the round’.

Or is it not the pot calling the kettle black for NGT to find and criticise Mr Cheek’s decision not to include quality of bus stops in his model because he didn’t think it was significant enough, when the level of assumptions taken by them are vastly greater in extent, not only on this kind of small detail, but on the very basis of claimed public demand for a trolleybus, such as the extremely detailed analysis of the Stated Preference (SP) tests we have seen.

The SP research and its methodology was strikingly absent from Mr Cameron’s cross examination.  Yesterday Mr Cheek had aimed an extended and withering blast onto this when examined by Mr Jones, and it would seem to be a cornerstone of the case against NGT, but unless my mind wandered off for a nanosecond or two, I don’t recall Mr Cameron making any attempt to retrieve it.  If he didn’t, isn’t it obvious why?  That he would rather move on as fast as possible from the subject and hope the Inspector forgets about it as he nitpicks over minor flaws and legalistic technicalities.

Other problems such as potential for congestion from articulated trolleybuses, the massive and uneconomic cost which would be required for the infrastructure, and not least the problems with passenger preferences for seats, were entirely overlooked and ignored. This latter especially could be a serious problem for NGT if it went ahead, as when it came to thinking about which bus stop to go to, conventional or trolleybus, that will be a major determinator for many if they realise that would not be able to get a seat on NGT and does not seem to have been either acknowledged or addressed. 

It was not surprising to hear Mr Cameron attack First’s motivations and attempt to tarnish their image.  Mr Paul Turner, local head of Commercial for First did something to defend their reputation when he later came into the witness box and stated that First had been realigning their policy away from being strictly shareholder profit driven, and backed up the rationale behind this in explaining that profitable routes such as the A660 allowed the company to maintain the less profitable.  If revenue from a route like the A660 were reduced due to passengers being poached by NGT, and their services consequently cut, then the less profitable routes would suffer as a result.  Simple economics.  And this harks back to Mr Cheek’s point about the likelihood of the 28 and 97 services being reduced as these would be the most vulnerable to loss of passengers.  Many people, myself included, will take a 28 or 97 from the city to Headingley as if it were a 1 or a  6 and barely notice the difference.  But if the trolleybus took 60% of the passenger traffic from the A660, then the passengers who do actually travel on to Adel or Guiseley would probably not be sufficient to justify the service at current levels and thus it would become less frequent.  And so commercial and community benefits coincide.

There was a lot of detail I simply don’t have time to go into, but I will list some of them, questions by Inspector on how hybrid buses work, which was some welcome information, the proposed First New bus for Leeds, and faster ticketing methods.

The general feeling amongst objectors was that Mr Turner was solid in his knowledge of his evidence and was successful in retrieving some of the ground that may have been perceived to have been lost in one or two places by Mr Cheek due to the sophistry involved in the examination against him.  But I only have time for a short blog today, and it was hard fought all day on both sides.  I can only recommend a close listening to one of the most difficult days I have heard so far if you want to be able to make more detailed judgements on what went on.  In summary, Mr Cameron seemed to avoid the difficult stuff, and stick to distracting us with less important material of immense and confusing detail that might give the impression of turning the field against First, but which in reality was secondary to those major battles that NGT are tacitly admitting they have lost by the simple action of not coming back to fight over them, but rather leaving  them well alone.

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