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A False Dawn?

September 23, 2020

Peter Guest

Well, it is still all about Covid-19 over here. Lots of people are still not back at work and overlay school holidays and traffic levels should be really low. Not true though; when schools are closed, traffic is down about 10-15 percent. Right now, it’s at 86 percent of normal, and that is what you would expect for summer. Public transport, a big deal here, is virtually empty because people don’t want to get up close and personal with a train load of strangers. And many people are holidaying at home, rather than risk two weeks quarantine imposed by the government at 20 minutes notice, on returning home.


Just a few weeks ago, everyone seemed to be talking about a new world where cars would be abandoned. Petrol? You could barely give it away. We hadn’t used them for a couple of months, why would we go back? The air was clean, and you can hear the birds sing. 


The future was walking and cycling and public transport, when it was safe to go back. The government had committed £2bn to the cause; Councils were rushing to expand cycle networks and the government is even giving £50 vouchers for people to get their old bikes out of the garage and be made roadworthy. Government ministers were announcing thousands of miles of new protected cycleway. I believe they were going to use the same fairy dust that was used to build a large wall in the south of your country. And there go the flying pigs. Cycle routes are being expanded, but that takes time, and money; some of the money could have come from parking, only that’s free just now. Oh yes, and there is one other little teeny-weeny tiny problem which almost isn’t worth mentioning. In fact, I am not sure I should even bother. Two thirds of Britons think that cycling in Britain in 2020 is DANGEROUS!


So, let’s be optimistic: the cycleway fairies do their magic and the cycle lanes are built over a magic week; the populace is brainwashed and eagerly head out on their newly repaired bikes. And it rains, it’s Britain, it’s autumn and it’s dark and wet, and who wants to sit in the office for 8 hours in wet clothes before cycling home in the rain? Am I a cynic, or a realist, you decide?


E Scooters.


I mentioned recently that the government here in the UK had changed the law in a rather bizarre way to allow E-scooters. Until recently, they have been classified as motorized vehicles needing all the paraphernalia of a car including lights, registration, insurance, a driving license and so on. Now the government is allowing 12 month trials, but here’s the thing, the vehicles had to be provided by a rental company, think Bird and Lime, hired by the hour, day or whatever; and with mechanical specifications that made them faster and more powerful than market norms. People who owned electric scooters were not allowed to use them. Weird.


The first trial, using 50 scooters, went live in Middlesbrough, a northern city, and I think that it’s fair to say that it’s not been an unqualified success, an example of what is to come, if you like.


Now, the rule is that people who want to use the scooters have to have a driving license, but the checking for this seems to be rather lax since there is already a problem with children zooming round the local shopping malls and teenagers being pulled up on the local Freeway. The plan was to roll out to the surrounding communities pretty much immediately. However, Hartlepool, the next-door town, has seen enough in just a few days to abandon the planned expansion. And there has already been at least one accident as local journalist Stuart Arnold was given a chance to try a scooter. The trip ended up in the local clinic getting his head and face wounds attended to. Perhaps his most telling comment, however, is that, notwithstanding their larger than average wheels, you feel every bump in the road pointing perhaps to the inevitable switch to footway riding, where the surface is smoother. This is illegal and will result in the abandonment of the scheme.


Paul Hodgins, the CEO of GINGER, the scooters’ supplier, and former Conservative Councillor, burbles on about a very successful launch. Was it the Duke of Wellington, talking about the battle of Waterloo who said “If this is a victory, I pray God that I never see another”?


On contracts and suppliers.


Over the last few years, I have been involved in quite a few bids for contracts and franchises in another country. What has surprised me is the extent to which the main bidder, when putting together an offer, seems to rely almost exclusively on quite perfunctory Google searches to identify suppliers for quite sophisticated equipment, which, truth be told, they don’t have a very good grasp of. The lists that they generate are seldom complete, sometimes with glaring omissions of market leaders. Now, I can understand the work and timetable pressures that send them down this route, but they do sometimes seem to be too accepting of the information that they collect. If the PR blurb says that it does it, then it does it. Sensors are 99 percent accurate and the batteries last ten years (Someone get Julie Dixon a chair). Parking meter suppliers that have a, frankly, indifferent reputation in their home country are suddenly paragons when selling abroad. I don’t pretend to be all knowing, but if I were thinking of investing a six figure sum in someone’s products, with no hard knowledge about whether it was good, bad or indifferent, I would a) want to have a bloody hard look at it up close and personal and b) want to take up references, and I don’t mean their pet installations, where there is already a nice arrangement between seller and user to provide a “good” reference. 


I once went to a reference site, chosen by me, for a major PARCS supplier. I knew which questions to ask and the customer’s silence told me everything that I needed to know to remove them from the list. They were market leaders and in the end the client overruled me, put them back on the list, and awarded them the contract. They very quickly found out why if you pay for advice you should listen to it.


Coronavirus and Candy


I am overweight, (but shrinking) with borderline Type 2 diabetes and a sweet tooth. No problem, most confectioners now make perfectly acceptable sugar-free versions of their leading brands. Only now they don’t. It seems that with the advent of Coronavirus, just about all sugar-free candy has disappeared. Is it the same in the US of A? Help! Send (sugar-free) candy.



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