Road Signs, Oxygen, Automated Parking, And if it Ain’t Broke …


Road Signs, Oxygen, Automated Parking, And if it Ain’t Broke …

 We here in the UK have a national road sign design system that dates to the 1960s. The basics haven’t changed, but designs have been added for stuff such as cycle lanes and bus priority. 
Just recently, a lot of noise has been made about these signs being too difficult to understand, and it seems that, increasingly, municipal engineers struggle to get the signage right. Inconvenient where if the signs and markings are wrong, the rules can’t be enforced. 
 Anywho, the government has decided to review the system toward making it simpler and clearer, and to reduce the number of times that judge can, in effect, say, “No sign, no crime.” 
Just one thing: For the last 50 years, politicians of all stripes have been interfering with the state education system and telling us how they have been raising standards. So, even though some kids now leave school without being able to read, they are all immeasurably better educated than their predecessors. Then how come they can’t understand the road signs that their grandparents could?
Wasting Oxygen
Network Rail is the state-owned organization that manages Britain’s national rail network infrastructure. It recently moved to a new headquarters building in Milton Keynes, and they are griping about not having enough carparking for their staff, “(because) 50% of our existing workforce does not live on direct public transport routes.” 
Is it just me or should perhaps the biggest public transport undertakings in the country have thought this through before moving? Perhaps, if more of their staff had to use the rail network that they manage, the dismal standard of service would improve. Cull them, I say.
Biggest (in Europe), So Far
Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark, has just opened an automated 1,000-space, three-level, underground carpark as part of its Dokk1 waterfront redevelopment. The robotic machine, which uses a pallet-less system and claims to be Europe’s biggest, was developed by Lödige Industries of Warburg, Germany. 
The redevelopment project is multi-use, with a library (Scandinavia’s largest), retail, media and “cultural space,” whatever that is, and so on. This automated system seems to have a genuine innovation with a “shoppers drop-off” capability. 
One criticism that I have of robotic parking is that the sellers so often do not address the limitations of their systems. And in a retail environment, a key one is the inability to take stuff to the car and then go back and carry on shopping. Lödige, however, seem to have thought of and addressed this need. 
A parker can call up their car, put the bags in the trunk, and then send it back while they carry on shopping.
As is so often the case with robotic carparks, some of the numbers seem a little fuzzy. Figures on its website say that vehicles can be recovered in “under 200 seconds,” but make no mention of the effect on this figure when the facility is busy.
The clue, perhaps, is in its statement that the machine can handle an average of 235 cars an hour. Does this mean that if the carpark is full and everyone wants to leave at about the same time, say, after a concert in the cultural space, the last driver has to wait about four hours? Surely not. (See a related article on Page 20 in this issue of PT.)
‘Change’ and ‘Improvement’ Are Not Synonyms 
Unfortunately for us peasants, too many people in positions where they
can screw up our lives seem to think that “change” and “improvement” are synonyms. 
This is no more apparent and more obviously not true than in the British government’s mindless rush to computerize public services, despite the fact that their own statistics tell them that about 20% to 25% of people have no Internet access. To be clear: I have no problem with adding the capability of doing something via the Internet. My complaint is when this becomes the only option regardless of what the customer wants.
In doing this, however, there does seem to be a fairly large element of low cunning. Where the government used to send a letter telling people that they needed to do something — usually pay the government money — now it’s done “online.” However, there is no reminder, and if you’re a day late in replying to the letter, you no longer get “that will be a £100 late charge thank you very much.” 
This is a general and resented irritant, but in one application, the level of dysfunctionality has reached an unsustainable level. 
We pay an annual tax to have our vehicles on the road, and a year ago, payment was recognized by issuing a small paper disc that was displayed on the windscreen/windshield. The disc was to be issued only if the car were insured and had a roadworthiness certificate. 
Every year, the government would send you a form, and you could post it back, do the renewal online, or take the paperwork to a post office. If you sold a car, the tax disc went with it. Apart from anything else, a policeman walking down the road could immediately see if a vehicle wasn’t properly licensed. It’s worked for more than a hundred years.
The government decided to improve things. It eliminated the paper disc, so no vehicle has physical proof that the tax has been paid. Surprisingly, untaxed, uninsured and unroadworthy vehicle numbers
have soared. 
Now, when a car is sold, the tax is immediately canceled and the unused element is repaid to the original owner, and the new owner has to re-tax the vehicle. However, since the government refunds only full months of tax every time a vehicle is sold, they get up to one month’s tax as a freebie. 
The government still sends the reminder letter, sometimes, but apparently this is no longer a legal obligation, even though it contains a code that is needed in order to re-tax the vehicle online. 
The final blow comes from pure incompetence. If a new owner legally taxes a car and the old owner sends in the transfer document late, the government has been canceling the new tax payment and marking the vehicle as untaxed. 
Because the owner has no physical proof of the vehicle’s status, the first they know is when their vehicle is booted or towed. And because the government can never be wrong, this has left people stranded without a car and facing a long argument to get the licensing authorities to reluctantly admit their error. And, of course, you can forget compensation or damages. 
The old system worked, the new one doesn’t; ever hear the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Minister?”
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.
Contact him at
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