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December 24th, 2011


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08:49 am - Traffic chaos
I got stuck in a bad traffic jam on private land yesterday, and it's an interesting example of poor logistics. Coventry was completely rebuilt in the 1950s because it was bombed flat. The whole roof of the Covered Market and Town Centre is a big car park, joined up by ramps, some bits multi-storey. Yesterday, big shopping day, it was completely packed, so there were many thousands of cars (ETA - actually I have no idea how many). When you leave you put your ticket in a machine before you go to your car, and then you have ten minutes to get your car out through the barrier - which puts out onto the road opposite Ikea.

So, some snarl-up in the traffic on that road meant that egress was slow. A little queue built up inside the car park. At some point in the afternoon it took more than ten minutes for one car to get to the barrier. At that point every single ticket in the car park became invalid. It's a lovely little design fault: it became logically impossible to exit from the car park.

I was parked quite a long way from the exit - about five minutes drive in normal conditions. I pulled out, and there was a little queue at the first corner. I waited for a few minutes, and then got out to have a look. It became obvious that it wasn't a little queue. The entire car park area was completely jammed with immobile cars, stretching literally as far as I could see in every direction. Nobody could move. I was stuck in that place for many hours. To the credit of Coventry folk there was no fighting, or horn blowing, or pushing, though I think the passivity was a little annoying.

I sent my daughter to find out the problem and phoned the police and told them, and they said it wasn't their fault, it was the Council and CV1 (the private company who run the town centre). I said I agree it's not your fault, but somebody needs to come down here and take responsibility to override the exit barrier. He said he would send someone and eventually someone in a high-vis jacket (I think it was the Community Policing service) did come and force the car park staff to lift the barrier - but as I say it took many hours, and nobody supervised the flow of traffic as all the cars jostled with each other to leave - it's amazing that there weren't any fights.

While all his was going on I phoned H and asked him to try to get through to CV1. He said that not only was there no answer to the phone numbers on their web site, but that they were not actually connected to a phone - there was no ring tone. So, predictably, my little anecdote ends with a political rant that we do not want the unaccountable private sector to make money by running our towns, if they can't even man a help line on the second busiest shopping day of the year, and if they rely on the public sector to intervene when their poorly designed cheapest possible systems break down.

ETA link to CV1 web site. If you call the 24-hour emergency number you get 'the number you have dialled has not been recognised'. In other words, not only is it not manned 24 hours, it isn't actually a real phone number.

(28 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:espresso_addict
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)
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I'm surprised no-one broke the carpark barrier. English people are sometimes too polite for their own good.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:12 am (UTC)
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Yes. There were staff at the barrier, and they obviously had not been chosen for ability to improvise or take initiative, so in a way it was worse than a purely automated system which someone might have been brave enough to break. I'm not sure I would have had the nerve to break it though - probably CV1 would prosecute.

Edited at 2011-12-24 09:12 am (UTC)
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From:espresso_addict
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:17 am (UTC)
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None of the staff on the barrier even thought to phone the office emergency number? That's truly appalling.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC)
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I think they were letting cars out one by one by typing in an override code at the barrier. That was so slow that it would have taken (literally) days to empty the car park. As an indication, my car did not move at all in those hours. But they didn't have the type of personality to see that, or to take responsibility.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
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I suppose if you're good at taking initiative, you probably don't end up working in a car park. (Or perhaps it was a bunch of people who'd been put on car park duty as punishment for taking initiative, and weren't planning on being transferred to lavatory cleaning.)
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From:katlinel
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:28 am (UTC)
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Or it may be someone who is working under terms and conditions that explicitly prohibit that kind of individual, who has had tremendous difficulty in obtaining paid work, and who has never been rewarded for taking initiative, and who probably wouldn't have been able to contact anyone else at the company to help them in the situation.

I'm just wary of piling the blame on the car park attendant since we don't know the circumstances of their employment, and especially since car park attendants are staff at a level that private companies often treat as disposable, to be used hard and discarded as soon as they become even minutely problematic.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:35 am (UTC)
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I absolutely don't blame the car park attendants for being what they are. It is hard to distinguish people being chosen for having certain characteristics, and people having to adopt those characteristics to survive, and probably I think both things are going on, exacerbated by the kind of employment practices we have now, which dis-empower people. Actually that's a major political thing for me. I think capitalism needs empowered workers, who have permission to override poor systems. That's a big point arising from a trivial experience, but it is a core conviction.
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From:katlinel
Date:December 24th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
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It may be a trivial experience but it's extremely illustrative. I think you are right that it is better to empower workers to override poor systems at need.

I'm also reluctant to pour scorn on such workers as showing lack of initiative, not least because I expect that many of them might be migrant workers, and it's hardly reasonable to deride migrant workers for a lack of initiative. I'm also not going to look down on lavatory attendants/cleaners either, since without them public toilet provision is impossible, and access to public space without such provision is impossible for some people (I'm one of them).
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From:espresso_addict
Date:December 24th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
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The management -- who failed to provide a contact method in case of difficulty, presumably failed to provide guidelines for the workers to open the gate in case of emergency, and probably failed to support their workers showing initiative -- is clearly the one at fault here.

I didn't mean to disparage those who clean public lavatories, only to suggest that the workers' motivation might be fear of management retribution rather than lack of initiative.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:34 am (UTC)
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Also I don't think there is an emergency number, or it wasn't manned or something. I suppose the head office at CV1 was closed.
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From:executrix
Date:December 24th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
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Borscht belt joke: Vampire hunter waves a crucifix, vampire says, "Unt zu gournisht helfen!" (which is Yiddish for "a fat lot of good that's going to do.")

As for CV1 prosecuting someone who *did* break the barrier (perhaps that's how Blake got his start in political activism?) I can easily imagine the jury retiring for 35 seconds and carrying the malefactor out of court on their shoulders.
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From:sjkasabi
Date:December 25th, 2011 11:10 am (UTC)
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Goodness. In an Australian shopping centre, someone would just lift the gates, and it would most likely by the employees. But if not, it'd be a helpful volunteer. I've seen it happen when train boom gates are broken - after a bit of a wait which makes it clear something's really broken, someone always pulls over, and stands at the gate directing traffic through when it's safe and making the cars stop when it's not, or sometimes, people get out on both sides, physically lift the gates, and then let them down again when they can see a train coming.

And the IKEA/Victoria Gardens carpark here has a similar short window to get out in, and at peak times, they just lift the gates and don't bother checking. That seems to be actual shopping centre company policy, the uniformed staff give you a cheery wave as you drive through. I expect the company has told them to do so on the grounds that they - or an angry driver - would just do it anyway, so they might as well treat it as a customer relations opp.

So yeah. It's not just the privatisation that sucks, but privatisation in a climate where nobody feels able to take sensible action because if they do they'll be prosecuted. Bleh.
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From:white_hart
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:21 am (UTC)
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I do worry about that with pay-on-foot car parks, especially at busy times or after concerts/events. It does sound completely pathetic on the part of the staff, though.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:32 am (UTC)
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Yes. In a way I was glad my car was so far back that I couldn't get up front to reason with them. I know I would have been frustrated. They are obviously hired to be - what to say - somewhat plodding in outlook. I suppose 99% of the time there's a good alignment between person and job.
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From:katlinel
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)
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One of the books I got out of the library this week was Ground Control: fear and unhappiness in the twenty-first century city by Anna Minton. I think your anecdote may be pertinent to the contents of the book.

Admirable restraint on behalf of the car drivers and passengers. It may not have been passivity, just a recognition that fighting and horn-blowing, while it may have helped individuals to let off steam in that way, would not have improved the general situation in any way.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
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I am very glad there wasn't fighting and horn-blowing. It made the whole thing tolerable. I didn't hear a single raised voice in many hours. Really admirable. On the other hand I think more people should have been calling the police.

The book sounds totally in line with the experience in Coventry of the privatisation of public amenity. I think it has been bad for our city.
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From:sugoll
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:46 am (UTC)
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I was half-expecting CMOT Dibbler to have turned up eventually, selling sausage inna bun to the trapped drivers...
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 10:50 am (UTC)
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Oh, wouldn't that have been the best. My daughter was just going off to Subway to get us a sammich when the cars started to move.
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From:white_hart
Date:December 24th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
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I would say I was surprised at that in Coventry particularly, but perhaps I'm misjudging the place. I suspect there would have been a lot of it in Oxford where there are many, many people with somewhat over-inflated senses of entitlement.
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From:katlinel
Date:December 24th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
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I wonder how many people did call the police and got stymied by the first response, that it wasn't a police responsibility, and weren't sure how to take it from there? Ditto on people trying to call CV1 and getting no response at all. Good for you for both calling and persisting.

I'm also thinking about how it is modern technology (so often derided) that allowed you to make the calls to both police and H. and find the further information you needed.
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From:decemberleaf
Date:December 24th, 2011 11:02 am (UTC)
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"It is hard to distinguish people being chosen for having certain characteristics, and people having to adopt those characteristics to survive, and probably I think both things are going on, exacerbated by the kind of employment practices we have now, which dis-empower people. Actually that's a major political thing for me. I think capitalism needs empowered workers, who have permission to override poor systems." Yes! And that problem is, and has been, behind so many systems. In the end it's a loss to the system.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
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'Work to rule' used to be an act of industrial rebellion. Now it's mandated by the bosses.
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From:nineveh_uk
Date:December 24th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Though I'm not lawsuit-happy, I can't help thinking what options the people involved have re. making a claim against the car park for some sort of unlawful detention... Individuals could leave, but effectively the car park had stolen their car.
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From:communicator
Date:December 24th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
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I might write to my counsellor and suggest that they try to do something to challenge CV1's hegemony. I think it's appalling that their number to call for 24 hour help is a dead line.
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From:altariel
Date:December 24th, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC)
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Tweet your MP.
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From:korintomichi
Date:December 24th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
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Sounds horrid. We always walk to Cov these days but are handily within striking distance. The worst car park in the world is Walsgrave hospital. Shame, because the hospital itself is fantastic.

ETA: the hospital car park does run on the "15 mins to get out" principle, and only has one exit. I have - several times - witnessed the security team simply lift the barrier to get the traffic moving again.

Edited at 2011-12-24 09:48 pm (UTC)
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From:muuranker
Date:December 26th, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
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Something very similar happened to us when we went to see anexhibition at the Mauritshuis in the Hague and parked (I thought wisely), at a huge underground car-park, under a sports field, a couple of bus-stops away in a huge sports field.

It turned out to co-incide with a school sports extravaganza, and as a result, eventually someone got to the barrier with an expired ticket. But could not get out of the queue, so everyone's tickets expired. There were no staff at all (it really was a good idea to park there - normally, very few people would have parked there). We left the phoning to better Dutch speakers, but eventually someone said the Dutch equivalent of 'heck, I've had enough of this: I need to get my kids into the shower' and drove through the barrier. The rest of us shuffled back and forth so we all left by the one cleared exit (there were three or four exits). As, perhaps an hour after arriving at the barriers, we drove out from the underground car park, the entire Den Hague force turned up.

What I can't understand about your situation is how there could have been people from the company on site, and they didn't do anything!

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From:tehomet
Date:December 28th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
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I once spent five hours near-stationary on a motorway in a car, due to bad weather and flooding. But at least it was flooding and not just a company's inefficiency. JFC!

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