The Big Apple, The Olympic Games, and Sensors in London


The Big Apple, The Olympic Games, and Sensors in London

I was in New York for a few days recently; I guess that anyone who isn’t living in a cave can probably guess why I was there. It was my first visit to the city and in some ways it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. First the people; New Yorkers have gained a bit of a reputation through the many TV programs and films based in the City of being, well, a bit rude. Everyone and I do mean everyone that I met and spoke to was welcoming and polite and helpful. Well done New Yorkers! It was also a great opportunity to catch up with Dewey Storms formerly of Lockheed; a very old friend who lives in NJ. Great to see you Dewey, hope we will be able to catch up again soon
Just you are living in that cave, Mayor Bloomberg has started the process to get private industry involved in running the City’s parking meters and car parks and as part of my day job, I was there with a client to try and get a feel of how the city’s parking works. I do find it strange that often when I visit other places I see things that are local received wisdom, (it has to be done this way, and there is no alternative) which are unique to that environment and so obviously do not meet the original objective. And yet often a small change would move the city a big step towards what it actually wants. NY is no exception so let’s hope that they really do buy into the potential of looking beyond their own experience.
I recently stopped in a small town in the middle of the countryside to post a letter. The town has a major tourist attraction and so they charge for parking to stop the tourists filling up the centre and stopping locals from popping in to the local shops. Rather sensibly the local Council had a 30 minute parking fee for people just like me who only want to be there for a few minutes but the sneaky devils have made this charge 45p or about 70 cents. Why is this sneaky; because just about the most seldom found coin in a Brit’s pocket is a 5p and even if you do have one the chances are that the machine won’t take it? Result is that most people pay 50p and although the advertised charge is low the Council actually pockets tens of thousands of extra pounds a year. What a con trick!
It’s the silly season here right now, nothing is happening (apart from see below) politicians are reasonably quiet and just about everyone is on holiday. Pity those who have stayed home to support the local holiday businesses though I think that we are in about our fifth month of above average rainfall with some places having a month’s rain in just seven hours. You may want to debate global warming but I think that the evidence of climate change is beginning to get irresistible. Oh to be in England….
At the time of writing though we are just about half way through the Olympics and all in all Team GB is doing pretty fine. We will never top the medal table but we are near the top and if you compare medals won with size of Country we are doing more than OK. If the press is to be believed about half the world watched the opening ceremony. I have no idea what most of it meant but Danny Boyle who was the main man said that he wanted to create a sense of awe and I think that’s just about right. Of course the main story before was whether London’s transportation system would collapse, with A network of Olympic lanes to carry the officials and athletes around London and Train drivers suddenly holding out for extra pay because of the extra stress of driving trains with Olympic visitors, no I don’t understand that either.
In the event it was all a bit of an anti-climax. On the first Monday I had to go up to central London which was a bit like one of those film sets where you wake up and everyone else has disappeared. The taxi driver had had so few fares that he was giving up and heading home and the Olympic lanes and most other streets seemed deserted. By Wednesday the “powers that be” were already switching off most of the special lanes. Now if only I could get people to travel like this all the time it might be worth moving back into London.
London has just launched a trial of the in bay sensors that I believe some of you guys have had in some street spots for a while now. The City of Westminster has installed a limited trial of the sensors is being mounted in a handful of streets and is being used to drive an app which will allow motorists to see where there are vacant spaces. The system also of course allows the city to see where drivers have stayed longer than the two hour maximum stay allowed on the city’s meters.
Ok, I don’t want be a Luddite but I can see a few issues here. First I just do not believe the manufacturers hype on how reliable these things are. They can break and they will break, and if they start to use the data for enforcement well that’s when they will be broken, guaranteed. Next the City of Westminster abandoned any pretence at enforcing meter feeding nearly twenty years ago. As one officer put it to me at the time, “If they are prepared to pay our rates they can stay as long as they like”. Using a cell phone for any purpose whilst driving, except hands free is just not allowed and the idea of the techno savvy drivers of corporate Beamers ploughing into each other as they track down a parking space staring at their I Phones is just too much to hope for. And finally the meters are half empty! A solution in search of a problem I suspect, but I could be wrong.

Peter Guest is PT’s correspondent on all things British, European, and Middle Easters. He can be reached at


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