Saturday, January 16, 2010

BraveRocks? Brave Lochs? Curling and Congestion in Scotland

Last week it looked as if the Royal Caledonia Curling Club (RCCC) would be able to host a Grand Match of curling on Lake of Monteith near Aberfoyle, Scotland. The Grand Match is a gigantic curling competition in which as many as 2000 curlers compete, and the weather has co-operated so little that it has been held only 38 times since 1837; it was last held in 1979.

This year the temperatures had been below freezing for several weeks leading up to the planned event and the ice was forming nicely on Lake of Monteith, which has nice ice for curling when the weather conditions hold up. The last time the Grand Match was held, there were over 6000 people attending, and it was anticipated there would be as many as 10,000 in attendance this time.

And that caused a problem.

A week before the planned event, the RCCC called it off, citing safety issues. The safety concerns were not due to ice conditions. Rather, the RCCC was concerned about access and congestion. From The New Scotsman [h/t Brian Ferguson]:

Colin Grahamslaw, chief executive of the national governing body, defended the decision of the Grand Match Committee.

He said: "Since Monday, we have been working with the police and the emergency services and the local authorities to try and achieve this and make it work, but, in the timescale, it has just not proved possible.

"You are talking about trying to move 2,000 curlers and an unknown number of spectators on and off the site safely. There is only one road in and one road out, and the police and emergency services were really concerned that you could get one snarl-up and there would be gridlock."

Mr Grahamslaw stressed: "We weren't worried by the ice, because the ice would have been thick enough by next week, if it isn't thick enough already."

Mr Grahamslaw said it would have been "irresponsible" to ignore the advice of the emergency services and that the decision to call off the match was deeply disappointing.

I'm not persuaded by these arguments. When I look at the map, I see access from several different directions. I'll admit that access to the site is likely limited, but probably no more so than for other large events in rural areas.

But more importantly, this would have been a perfect time to institute temporary congestion charges. If the RCCC doesn't have the authority to charge for the use of the roads, then it could charge high admission fees for contestants and spectators.

But if it is too costly to monitor and exclude people from the event itself, then with some planning and co-operation, temporary congestion fees could easily be implemented by the local authorities, possibly in the form of temporary toll charges for non-residents. After all, according them, "There is only one road in and one road out..."

What I am saying is that fears of congestion are not necessarily a good reason for having called off the event. Good old Pigouvian taxes could easily have been implemented to reduce congestion. And with the examples of the congestion charges in the city of London, people would likely have a reasonable understanding of why and how they work.

Even though the RCCC declined to sanction the event, and against the advice of local authorities, many curlers still planned to show up for an unofficial version of the Grand Match:

Some told The Scotsman that many enthusiasts were already making plans to stage an unofficial match on the Lake of Menteith within the next few days in protest.

One Glasgow-based curler said: "There are an awful lot of angry curlers who want that match to go ahead with or without the RCCC. I am certain that some sort of Grand Match will go ahead.

But in the end, temperatures rose, the ice had lots of water on it, and very few people showed up.

Ian Fleming, owner of the Lake of Menteith Hotel, said he has been monitoring the situation over the last 24 hours.

"The ice is solid enough just now but the water on it just makes it treacherous to walk on. It's the first time I've ever seen a curling stone causing bow waves.

"There are a number of hardcore curlers out there now, around 28 to 32 players but it's hard to see the rinks under all the water.

Cross-posted at EclectEcon and at The Sports Economist



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