Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/18/speed_camera_swindon/

El Reg tells you what the Highway Code can't

Traffic wardens turn to calculators, clampers target ambulances

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Law, 18th July 2008 12:06 GMT

This week’s big motoring news has to be Swindon Borough Council’s decision to look again at the use of speed cameras. Or is it? El Reg is not so sure, as we explain below.

Meanwhile, peculiar parking practices continue to hit the headlines. Red faces all round in Torbay, where one parking enforcement officer attempted to tell the time using a calculator. Very simple, he thought: his victim parked up at 14.49 and paid for 75 minutes. So that’s 14.49, add .75, which equals 15.24. We trust we don’t need to provide any further explanation of the flaw in this logic.

Apparently, this genius is now destined for some re-training. Or should that be re-programming?

Parking life

Consternation, too, at Kings College Hospital, where one NHS trust has started clamping ambulances. Has NHS free marketry finally gone too far? Not quite. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that these are private ambulances occupying hospital ambulance bays AFTER they have dropped off non-urgent cases. Its still not something we like the sound of: but it’s far less headline-worthy than it sounds.

Bigger issues are in play over in Nottingham, where the local council is pushing ahead with plans for a Workplace Parking Levy. The basic idea is that employers who provide parking for their staff or certain types of business visitors would have to pay a yearly levy.

This is expected to start in 2010 at £185 per liable parking space and then rise over time to £350. The council believes that by penalising individuals who park in the city, they will encourage greater uptake of public transport.

This brainwave is one to watch. Like congestion charging, it is attractive to councils looking for new ways to raise cash, and once one council does it we should expect others to follow.

Still, it doesn’t yet come close to rates in London. A report out yesterday revealed that London Parking Charges are the most expensive in the world. The monthly rate for parking in the City is top of the list at £586 - exactly double that of New York's midtown area - followed closely by the West End, at £568 per month

More charges are on the way, as Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly wonders aloud about the possibility of turning the hard shoulder on some motorways into a toll road – and charging motorists £5 a time for using it.

Back in Swindon, the silly season started early with a hissing spat between Tory leader of the Council, Roderick Bluh and local Labour MP and PPS to the Transport Minister Anne Snelgrove.

In fact, all that the council has done is suggest that it makes sense to review whether the £400,000 a year spent on speed cameras represents best value for money. It is intending to report back and take a decision by September.

This, according to Ms Snelgrove, is “playing politics with lives”. Noting the approaching school holidays, she thunders: “By trying to remove the speed cameras in Swindon the council has effectively invited every boy racer in the country to come here.” Given the pace at which local government works, the thought that they might actually make a decision and have the cameras switched off in time for this summer’s holidays seems highly improbable.

In an exemplary piece of no-commentry, Ms Snelgrove’s office ripostes that she has nothing to add – before adding that “people reading the story in the national press will think the cameras are due to disappear tomorrow”.

More fun, as it is revealed that Mr Bluh was himself once banned after an encounter with a speed camera.

Much more serious, though, is the way the camera policy continues to be rammed down the nation’s collective throat without a full debate on the statistical evidence behind it. The great and the good (including the Department of Transport and Ms Snelgrove) all make much of claims that cameras reduce deaths on the roads by about 100 per year.

How mean can you be

Look more closely at the research they cite, and you will notice that this does not take account of selection effects such as “regression to the mean” – although another report (pdf) states that the latter was considered and cameras still had an effect. But presumably not quite as large.

The problem is that cameras are sited in places where the death toll in preceding years exceded some notional guideline. That might be because that spot was intrinsically “unsafe” – or it might be no more than a random fluctuation. This is the "selection effect" the DoT obliquely refer to – and without decent analysis of precisely how it affects figures, precise claims remain dodgy.

Not that this stops the government from making them.

Still, not all is doom and gloom on the motoring front. Lotus has just announced “project eagle” – its first new sports car in more than a decade. The official name will be announced at the British Motor Show next week. It seats four, has a top speed of 160mph and can go from 0-60mph in less than five seconds. If you happen to have a spare £60,000 or so to spend, you should put your name down now to buy one next year. ®