Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why does the UK come to a stop when it snows?

It gets asked every time usually in comparison with other countries - why does the UK grind to a halt when it snows when others seem to be able to carry on? Here are my thoughts on the subject.

I'll start with the obvious - how much snow does this country get in a year? Maybe a couple of weeks worth if that. It is quite probable that the cost of dealing with the snow on a more permanent basis far outweighs the cost of dealing with the amount we get. Should say a third of a council's budget be spent on something that only affects it for 1/26th of the year and causes little permanent damage (unlike flooding)? So comparisons to any country that has almost constant snow and ice is a false one.

The next argument I present dates back to the 70s and 80s with changes in both social structure and government policy. People used to work closer to home, there was less commuting or less distance commuting. The greater the distance needed to travel the more likely that a problem can occur in inclement weather. By itself though this is not a main cause it's only when combined with two other factors that things start to fall apart. Namely the rise in use of private transport and the diminishing (and privatisation) of public transport.

Prices on public transport have increased (severely in the case of rail travel) and services cut due to decrease in demand. For example if I were required to reach Worcester from Stourport for 9am would require me to leave at 7:30 by bus or 7:00 by rail. Miss either or suffer a delay on any of the (unsynchronised) legs and I'd be late. However it is this 70s thinking that still determines grit and clearance routes.

The refrain I here during these periods is "The main roads are clear if you can get to them" and therein lies the problem the conditional "if". The final shift in social structure is with housing or to be more precise housing estates. Entire sections with their own warrens of streets normally only connecting up to the main road at a single point. These don't get cleared, I'll call this the Beeching Effect. Keeping the main roads clear only works if the traffic can reach them; which they can't.

If the public services operated with decent timings and in concert with each other this wouldn't be a problem; simply walk through the uncleared estate to the cleared road, use the public transport system, and then walk to the place of work. Delays wouldn't be too much of a problem due to the frequency of the services. Except we don't get that.

So in summary - Infrequent weather, longer distance travel, use of private over public transport, separated uncleared housing estates.

Look to other countries that have a much more widely used (and simply better) public transport system and who don't corral houses into their own little areas and their ability to cope with weather that stymies the UK becomes obvious.