Notes from Big Ben Ö
A Curmudgeon in the Parking Business Ė Not Possible
By Peter Guest
JVH tells me I am a curmudgeon. This surprises me, first of all because I donít think I am, and secondly, because I did not think John could do big words. Perhaps I am wrong. Anyway, a curmudgeonly thought:
As I write this, itís coming up to Christmas. It starts in the UK around mid-September as soon as the kids are back at school for the autumn term. In my ďotherĒ home, Christmas starts the first weekend in December, and this is great. The kids have something to look forward to, and the parents donít have three months of whining to listen to.
In the UK, shops start with the stuff that you canít possibly do Christmas without, and the most amazing things (bathroom cleaner?) are advertised as must-have Christmas presents. OK, itís nasty and venal, but itís been a tough year, and I am prepared to overlook this over-hyping of very ordinary stuff for Christmas for people who are hanging on by their fingertips.
What I canít stand, and think should result in an hour in the stocks for the suits that thought of it, is the pre-selling of perishable foods, packaged and over-priced just for Christmas.
This isnít the small guys who will take your order and get you what you want just before Christmas (customer service, remember). Itís the mega-marts that sell things like ďChristmas cheese plattersĒ with a best-before-date of Dec. 3 and charge 50% more than if you picked the cheese individually. Bah, humbug!
Itís a Service, Stupid
Yet another example of common-sense failure, this time in Worthing on the south coast. The council provides residentsí parking and has to periodically suspend the parking for a day to sweep the streets and clean out the drains. They planned to do this on Nov. 24, but when they turned up at 7 a.m., most residents were still in bed.
So, Option A, go get a coffee and give the residents time to leave. Option B, recognize that whatever mechanism you had used to tell residents about the sweeping hadnít worked (one or two, OK; thatís people being awkward Ė but all of them?). Option C, ticket everyone in sight.
Option C was the winner, and in the ultimate ďI have my foot in my mouth but I am going to carry on speakingĒ performance, a council spokesperson admitted that the residents had been given less than 24 hours notice (who can see a tatty paper notice stuck on a post late at night?) and they could appeal the ticket.
How about the council unilaterally cancels all the notices on that street on that day and doesnít make the locals bear the cost and inconvenience of its stupidity?
Robotic Car Parks in India, Um?
I worked in India some time ago, and it truly is a remarkable country. The people have their own approach to things and have developed a unique way of making things work. I think one of the most remarkable examples of this is the Tiffin Wallah system in Mumbai.
Every day, tens even hundreds of thousands of Mumbai housewives send hubbies off to work and then prepare their lunches in a Tiffin box. The metal canisters are collected from all over the city by so-called Tiffin Wallahs who make a few cents by carrying the boxes. All the boxes are taken to a central distribution point, where they are re-sorted into delivery loads and the Wallahs then head out to take the meals to their eager recipients.
The thing is, most of the Tiffin Wallahs are illiterate and rely on simple color codes to get the right box to the right hubby. There is no automation, nothing is written down, but it works with a very few boxes being lost or miss-delivered.
So what has this to do with robotic car parks? India at one extreme is a very highly developed and sophisticated country. They do space and they have nuclear weapons, and they have some of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet.
The problem is that this technical sophistication really only scratches the surface. I think that the desire for robotic parking is an attempt to be ďmodern,Ē and I fear that when they get one, they will not know how to keep it working or have customers who can deal with the operation. You expect a guy to put their car in a precise position in a country where someone will happily park their car in the middle of a road junction in the rush hour to go shopping? Could be interesting.
One of the selling points of a robot is that the car is unattended and so safe. In an Indian city where thousands of people live on the streets, it will be only a matter of time before people move in to the car park and set up home. So good luck to the robotics people, but I kind of think that you will have a short and unhappy experience if you go there.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is planning to invest in a program to develop subways, trams, parks and car parking in the city of Yerevan in Armenia. Thatís all, just thought you would like to know.
Nottingham has decided to introduce a workplace parking levy. We looked at this in London a zillion years ago and binned it because it was stupid. Nottingham has, however, relentlessly plowed on, not bothering with facts or analysis or, indeed, any understanding at all, as far as I can see. And with government support, they are just about ready to go but have delayed the scheme because of the state of the local economy.
Imagine my surprise to read that now they are collecting data. The reality is that we have an election in 2010, and the party most likely to win has pledged to kick it into touch. (Look it up if you donít understand the reference).
Peter Guest is PTís correspondent on all things European and Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from January, 2010