Thursday, November 05, 2009

Public transport headaches

In an echo of my previous posting, this morning I attended the Lord Mayor's Muli-Faith service in City Hall, an annual event instituted after 9/11 to enable the city's faith communities to express their commitment to work together for the welfare of the city and all its citizens. It's a well crafted formal event that allowing people of many different faith backgrounds to express good will towards every aspect of public life.

It's an event that succeeds in bringing together a significant body of people from the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities, and people from established mainstream Christian communities. Still thin on the ground is representation from the black led churches, and new evangelical church communities that have marked growth and success in the life of the city. But, it's still a worthwhile occasion for meeting and greeting - not that this necessarily leads to different faith groups working together.

I sat next to a lady from City United Reformed Church, who expressed her surprise that I was in the audience, and not playing an active role representing the traditional 'civic' church of Cardiff. I said it was good that three of my Anglican colleagues were actively involved in the event, so I'm content that my engagements with the city are mainly in the background. It would be impossible to be committed to running big public events as well, especially without the support of a Curate. In fact, I had to rush off at the end, to celebrate the midday Eucharist. I'd been unable to find a substitute, as is often the case. Today's the day for a special retired clergy lunch, so the chances of getting a substitute were very thin.

After the Eucharist, I was off to the Castle for a Countdown 2009 Focus Group meeting of the Transport, Wayfinding and Access Group. I hadn't intended to go, but a phone call this morning asked if I could make a special effort. One of the items on the agenda was to consider the complexities of providing information about city centre buses, and how this can be addressed. Apparently each bus company is responsible for its own signage and can change services when it wishes. The City endeavours to gather and display relevant information, but achieving this is a perpetual moving target under these conditions. Add into this the recent re-location of bus stops and poor re-direction services for passengers (about which I'd expressed an active concern, both privately and in the press), then it was clear why my presence at this meeting was requested. Getting critics on board is a respectable enough strategy!

Yes, it is very complex - therefore requiring a lot more advance planning. Except that in the case of Cardiff we're still sorting out the messes caused by the failure of transportation planning back in the seventies to resolve contemporary problems. We're still paying the price for that, so that much planning time has been taken up with problem solving, admittedly with better techniques, new research and innovative ideas to hand. Suggestions emerge in discussion, and one hears the grey heads say "Interesting, we thought of doing that years ago, but couldn't get it approved."

The new video information signposts in the St David's Centre already have Arriva train times live broadcasted on them. There's room on the system for the buses to do likewise, except that with different bus companies, there are different information policies at work, and different technical solutions to information distribution. Players in the bus service game haven't yet realised that it's in their best interests to make all their information live and accessible all the time. They're as hard to organise coherently as the legions of taxi drivers, and the City has no powers of sanction to insist that all work urgently to achieve an obvious objective.

The press doesn't seem to understand this either. It's good at moaning, sometimes misinforming the public, but not so good at proposing a unifying solution. There are entrepreneurs out there whose specialism is providing an overall integrated transport information service to the public on the internet, which can be better than some of the individual travel companies' internal systems. We have all the information tools one could possibly want to manage the complexity and high demand which public transport services require, but no grand ringmaster able to unify all, and scant will to achieve it in a hurry. The Greater London Council has special powers to achieve integration between service providers. Why not Cardiff? For now, we just muddle on, and try to find ways of grasping the nettle.

Tonight, being bonfire night, the air's been alive with the sound of rockets bursting with crackling noises. Fewer bangs than I recall in former years. Fewer fireworks all round, for that matter. There was a big display in Bute park on Saturday night. At six pounds per head entrance fee, that works out a lot less costly than family fireworks, and a lot safer, but it's very much a sign of the times. I can't remember when last I saw any kid touting a totemic figure around and calling out 'Penny for the Guy ?' It seems quaint to recollect now - but it disappeared when my own children were small, a quarter of a century ago, already.

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