Sunday, January 11, 2009

On her back with her legs in the air

Many years ago I was hobbling (That's moonlighting if your not from my 'hood) for a private bus company. I had a bus full of old folk, mostly women, on a Welsh countryside tour. We stopped at a pub for a little drink and then headed home. Not too long after leaving the pub I got approached by one of them telling me that about a dozen of the old dears needed to pee.

It was going to be about 20 minutes before I could get to the next Town, Carmarthen if I remember correctly, and find some place for them to go. That was going to be too long. I was on a country road with no lights so I pulled over. There was a small bank at the side of the road, so I suggested that if they were that desperate they could slip out of sight and do whatever they needed to do. About a dozen of them took the offer. Desperation is a great motivator.

Before long a couple of them came to me for help. One of the old dears had slipped on the bank and they were too nervous to try and go down there to help her. I went over and there, on the bottom of a not very steep or deep bank, was the unfortunate lady. She was wearing those leg irons, the kind that Forest Gump wore in the movie when he was a kid. She was lying on her back, with her legs in the air, her draws around her knees and she couldn't move. I had to help her up because the other old biddies were afraid to go down in case they slipped and joined her.

I was more embarrassed than she was. I helped her to her feet and said something like "I'll help you up the bank missus, but you'll have to handle your knickers yourself." She just stepped out of them and I got her back to the bus. To the cheers of the old folk and the amusement of everyone because I was the only one blushing.

Ever noticed how public transport frquently makes an ass of itself. Falls down and just lies there with it's butt to the world and says;
"I only need a little help and I'll be back on my feet."
Back on it's feet yes but still with the leg irons strapped on. What I'm referring to in this little analogy is that no mass transit agency anywhere can truly be run like a business. The leg irons are the political pressures that management has to deal with before making any real decision. The result is that very few decisions, certainly no major decisions, are ever business decisions. They are political decisions and the only solution to difficulty is to cut spending and look for a hand-out from the government. It's like working for a boss who himself is on welfare.
Many of the decisions are themselves counter -intuitive. If we are short of money we have to look for extra work to make up the shortfall. The bus company answer is to cut service, reducing it's ability to earn. If a bus route has few passengers the common wisdom is to remove the service. What is wrong in making an attempt to attract passengers to the line. If any of us had a product to sell and were truly committed to that product, we would do all we can to promote it. If feedback showed flaws we may tweak it to improve customer desire. Finding alternatives to generate revenue makes much more sense than constantly reducing an ability to earn.

The constant search for more and more government funds is also a weak strategy. In times of fiscal shortfall the monies that have been so relied upon become scarce and the old lady starts down that slippery slope that ends up with her legs in the air asking for more help.
It's worth pointing out that if she didn't have the leg-irons on she probably wouldn't have fallen and even if she had she would have been able to get up with minimum assistance.
These are not the failings of one bus company but a general failing in mass transit concepts all over the world. A point I've made for more years than I care to remember is; Financial crises and corporate challenges present the opportunity to change a system, not the excuse for perpetuating it.

I don't believe I'm the only one who sees this so why doesn't meaningful change take place?
It's those damn leg-irons again. If we accept government cash then we are at the mercy of politicians. The people elected to scrutinize and regulate now dictate. True business decisions are over-ridden by political constraints. The ambition and agendas of individuals, the notion that to accept an idea that isn't mine will hamper my advancement, the fear that change will put me in the back of the room instead of up front where I am now. Someone who has friends in high places and can negotiate extra funds wouldn't want the company to stand on it's own feet.

So innovation and creativity are squashed. The only suggestions considered are those that tinker with the system. "Turn off your computer." "Recycle paper" etc. may be worthy reccommendations of themselves but they are treating symptoms not the disease. If someone has smallpox an ointment to relieve the irritating sores, while giving some relief, does not fight the sickness.

So lets strengthen the legs, get rid of the irons and show the old girl how she can get back to the road on her own. Then no one needs to be embarrassed.

1 comment:

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