This is a guest post by Colin Allen.
The Department for Transport (DfT) say it is ‘not their job’ to consider how the internet will affect their future rail passenger projections in the HS2 business case, which are purely trends from the past projected forwards. So here are the effects of the internet as considered by taxpayers.
In the next twenty years we expect the internet to savagely strip away a third or more of our rail passenger industry destroying the Department for Transports (DfT’s) link between rail-passenger numbers and GDP, the core argument for HS2.
In five to ten years the internet and all our computers will have evolved to bring us High Definition (HD) Video Links offering virtual meetings over the internet at 1/1,000th of the connection time of travelling by train to see someone all for 1/1,000th of the cost of an HS2 return rail ticket.
This ‘virtual revolution’ will give us near universal access to these HD video links which will then be at both ends of almost all rail users’ journeys. This allows every rail passenger a new choice – either to see any person or group of people on their computer (or projected on a wall) in High Definition at the click of a mouse, for almost free – or to continue travelling on the very expensive and time consuming trains to visit them in person.
Those who choose, or are commercially forced, to switch to using the HD virtual meetings over the internet are lost as rail passengers. This sector of the industry is being permanently lost to new technology, as has been, and still is, happening today at Royal Mail.
Royal Mail whose letter volume growth had for decades shown a strong link to GDP, (adjusted for population), faced a similar level of threat when the internet brought access to websites and e-mails delivered at up to 1,000 times the speed of a letter, some for as little as 1/1,000th of the cost of a stamp.
What happened? – The effect had a slow start as in 2000 34% of households were connected to the internet without any measurable effect on letter volumes, but as the number of households connected moved into the majority the link to GDP broke and letter volumes started to freefall. The 2010 Hooper report to government expects worldwide letter volumes to drop a further 25 to 40% in the next five years as customers are still continuing to choose or be commercially forced to exploit the low cost internet. Beyond that no-one is even predicting.
It is certain this ‘virtual revolution’ is starting in the 5 to 10 year timescale, giving all rail passengers this new virtual choice.
It is certain that some are going to choose it over travelling by train, and be permanently lost as rail passengers.
It is certain the virtual choice saves so much time and money that, over a decade, a significant percentage of rail passengers will choose, or be commercially forced, to adapt their behaviour to exploit it.
This makes it certain that rail passenger numbers will fall in the next 20 years.
Royal Mail is expecting to lose a third or more of their letters in a decade. We believe the rail-passenger industry is equally vulnerable to the internet threat. So we expect one third or more of rail-passengers to permanently switch away from being rail passengers in the ten years after having their new virtual choice.
We are now just five or ten years before the ‘virtual revolution’ starts the internet’s first ever massive wave of change in passenger behaviour that will take rail passenger numbers from an upward trend to a downward trend (as happened at Royal Mail letters), and having no need for HS2.