Wednesday 11 August 2010

on yer bike. not.

The BOF's determination that he won't be left behind by the novelties of the modern world saw him attempting to use the new public bicycle scheme in London. He'd applied for his key and it duly arrived this morning. Having lunchtime business (i.e. lunch) in Soho, it seemed a perfect opportunity for  an inaugural ride.

It was not to be. At the local dock, he chanced to meet a couple of men who were on the implementation team. They offered the tip that one should always lift and spin the back wheel before unlocking; some of the bikes have sticky back wheels, resulting in the flattest of rides still feeling like an uphill struggle.

Having found one with a free wheel, he inserted the key. Instead of the expected green light and a comforting click, a red light appeared. No go. Several bikes and three docks later, the BOF had to abandon his plan and leap into a taxi, as he was now running late. The journey was enlivened by throwing the words "bicycle hire scheme" at the taxi driver and getting exactly the hoped-for response. The cabby went straight into taxi drivers' fault-finding mode. After prodding and probing the subject for at least ten minutes, he closed the subject by saying: "You mark my words: the bleedin' idiots will get hold of them, and before you know it, the Serpentine's going to be full of 'em."

Upon his return, the BOF telephoned the scheme's offices and, as he had suspected, discovered that the key needed activation, even though the website was devoid of any information alerting the user to this vital fact.  He was told that "We are currently experiencing some IT problems." The telephonist did not sound too pleased when the BOF replied with "You mean the system's fucked?" but she reluctantly agreed that this was indeed the case.

It's not really surprising, and some ways comes as a relief. The whole scheme has been rolled out under a stealth blanket, with the docks springing up seemingly overnight. If it had worked perfectly, immediately, it would have appeared rather sinister; and the BOF feels that it would have set a bad example of efficiency to future public schemes reliant on IT. There seems to be a rule that any roll-out of IT in the public sector must take three times as long as an equivalent private scheme, should cost at least five times as much, and be so fundamentally flawed in concept and execution that it is abandoned twenty two months after delivery.

The BOF feels that this scheme is largely a Good Thing. It's a pity that one of the loathsome banks sponsors it, but then, they are the only people with any money at the moment because they won't lend it to anyone. By this time next year, we'll all know what it means when a potential visitor asks "Have you got a dock near you?" It won't be a shipping question.

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