Night bus or drunk bus?

Night Bus (Sheffield)

Cardiff Council’s “Economy & Culture scrutiny committee” this week released a report digging into Cardiff’s night time economy, putting forward some recommendations that will go to the council’s executive meeting later this year.

- Calls for a clear strategy and management of the night time economy

- Better enforcement of licensing and other rules in the city centre by officers

- Business signing up to a ‘standard’ for customer services

- Investment in opening up the city centre at night for family and culture events

- Improved public transport links to allow people to get home without relying on taxis

I see improving the transport infrastructure after 11pm as the second most important point of the five, after the development of a strategy and management structure, which the city is sorely lacking at the moment, and which I believe is the main reason that our city goes adult after dark, and is a staple on the Bravo programme “Booze Britain” (which I was actually on once, but that’s a different story).

Many cities have bus services that run through the night, London, Reading, Manchester, Sheffield, Edinburgh; it really isn’t a ground breaking idea, nobody will earn any medals for innovation in implementing it.

Not long ago, Cardiff used to have bus services that ran after 11pm and I remember it well, for the fact that I refused to use it. It was around at the time I was in my late teens to early twenties, out on the town most Friday or Saturday nights, the service should have been perfect for me.

However, the service had a particular target of passengers and was run solely with that in mind, and I did not fit into this group.
It was specifically targeted at the pissed up revellers, and run like a big smelly, testosterone filled crèche.

The buses would run from the drinking hot-spot at St Mary Street (Westgate Street), call at Greyfriars Rd (another road filled with bars) and then make no stops until it got to the area that it was designated, and even then it would only make one or two stops for alighting passengers. They essentially functioned as big private-hire minibuses, waiting for everybody to get on and then pulling away (perhaps never to return?).

The services were a “special service”, different to daytime buses, and users treated it as such. Almost every person on it, especially as it got later into the night, would be jumping around, shouting at random persons, throwing things, generally making it a very uncomfortable ride. The perception that these were “drunk buses” was exacerbated by the fact that there was no return journey, nor any pick-ups or drop-offs on the way. They might as well have walked down St Mary Street banging a drum, shouting “Bring out yer drunks!”.

In the other cities that I mentioned previously the services run as an extension to the normal services, making almost the same journeys, just less frequently. The daytime bus service never really finishes, it just transforms, and the customers see it as they normally would and this in turn affects their behaviour towards it. They aren’t seen by the majority as “drunk tanks”, and are used by shift workers, something I don’t think many could imagine of the L8 Bus service that Cardiff Bus used to run.

So, Cardiff Council and Cardiff Bus, if you really want to improve the “night time economy”, don’t segregate it into categories and cater for only a certain type of “reveller” (I hate that word, when I go out I don’t “revel” as far as I know), the drunk who needs to get home and doesn’t want to stump up for a taxi.

Why I decided not to run a follow-up to the food hygiene ratings post

24_food-hygiene2.jpg

Back in February I posted regarding the Food Standards Agency website where you can see scores from local food hygiene inspections, at the time the website had minimum publicity – very few people knew it existed. After I sent a flurry of tweets about the site and some astonishing results from the local area, and then the blog post, it seemed a lot more people were in the know. WalesOnline and yourCardiff both picked up on it, giving more exposure to this website that is so important to every consumer who eats – and I’m pretty sure that’s everyone.

I made particular light of establishments that received a 0/5 rating, for by it’s nature this must mean there are some considerable failings in hygiene and public safety at these places – what else could it possibly allude to? A vendetta by council officials on mass scale? I don’t think so.

Almost immediately I was contacted directly by four of these establishments, each in their own way explaining to me that the inspections aren’t fair, they caught them on the wrong day, you get a zero for even opening the door, blah blah blah and at the time these all seemed genuine enough – but after giving it some thought I have come to this conclusion;
The rules are strict to protect public safety, if you don’t like the rules or cannot comply with them – get out of the business.
If these companies want to exonerate themselves, get up to standard and ask for a re-inspection.

In 2005 there was an outbreak of E-coli that originated from a butcher in Merthyr Tydfil – the meat was distributes to local schools and one boy, 5 year old Mason Jones died as a result.
In no circumstance would I ever, ever want to be of the worry that the food provided to me, either for me to cook at home or to be cooked for me, should have any chance of hurting me or my family.

I can empathise with small business owners, coming up to code can cost money – installing new washbasins, etc isn’t cheap, but those are the rules and they’re the rules for very good reason. A lot of people believe that car insurance is an expensive scam, but it’s the law to have it and for very good reasons.

Banishing presenteeism

Since joining the world of the working, oh some 10 years ago, a lot has changed for me.
My first ever job was flipping burgers; aged 16 and fresh out of high school, hoarding cash to use to get drunk after college.
When this all came to an end, after enduring an entire year in the furness (not just figuratively), I made my choices and pursued a career in software development, starting off at the lowest ranks – in fact, not even in the ranks, just somewhere to keep me in money while I learned my trade.

Anyway, 5 years after starting out with no formal skills – apart from a very keen interest that had been there for almost my entire life and a GCSE in IT – I was finally doing what I wanted to do: commercial software development.
One of the things I had learned through my experience so far was that in each job I had worked there was a notion that “you’re only doing your job if you’re seen doing your job” – while a lot of the things I was doing could be done from anywhere in the world, most of the time I was chained to a desk in a high rise building for fear of reprisals – or to be thought of as “a skiver”.

Whenever anybody would talk about somebody working from home or elsewhere, the air quotes would immediately be brought out – “‘working‘ from home”, and this kind of attitude is what has brought about a crippling culture of presenteeism.

Presenteeism is almost the opposite of absenteeism, where an individual is at work all of the time – even when ill, for fear of reprisal – and in my opinion is something that has to be addressed in order to maintain a happier, more secure workforce. If a member of staff clambers to get into the office (where they could spread germs) every day even when ill, the ramifications could be disastrous – in some cases even causing an entire workforce to become ill and thus compounding the issue to the nth degree.

And it’s not all about illness either; sometimes it’s nice to get out of the office and work in different surroundings with a different ambience. If we were allowed more space to explore our working personae, we may even find out new things about our working minds.
I, for one, like to work in a busy coffee shop – I find that in such circumstances I get a lot more done, especially with tasks like documentation. But also, when I’m working on some particularly convoluted code I like to sit outside; somewhere like a beer garden, weather permitting. It allows me to feel relaxed, like I’m not completely banging my head against a brick wall – whereas I have, on occasion, almost come to blows with my keyboard while sitting in my office doing the same thing.

It’s all about different things for different people, but this fear  - sometimes completely misguided – that if you aren’t in the office and in the presence of your boss then you aren’t going to get recognition for what you are doing, and that somehow they are thinking less of you – perhaps even worrying that they are angry at you.

I’m lucky – over the past two years I have had the ability to discover these things, and the potential benefits of working away from the office have been proved through my increased productivity and happiness levels. I get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time, my work is generally more creative, and at the same time I’m don’t feel stressed as often as I used to. I’m also lucky that I work for a small company who understand these things and are very accommodating – and who also adhere to these rules themselves.

Of course, there needs to be a balance – working away from your colleagues too often can break down relationships and abilities to collaborate and work together. Office banter can go silent because you’re seen as a stranger and resentment can form because of these tensions.

I usually work from home on one day each week, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule – for example last week I worked every day in the office and this week, for various reasons (appointments, baby-care), I will be at home for two days, but all the while I’m happy in the knowledge that my work life is stable and that I’m doing the best I can for myself, the company I work for, the people that I work with and for my home life – because without balancing all of those things, you could truly go mad.

So go! Take your laptops, your dongles, your notepads and mobile telephones – explore the countryside and the cityscapes, find new cafés and outdoor spaces with wifi and be productive – but most of all, be happy while you do!

Don’t call me a foodie

I hate the moniker “Foodie”, we’re all foodies – hell, all of us like to eat, right?

But there’s a difference between those who like to eat “good” food, and those who like to eat anything – including many with a heavy diet of processed foods.

What I’m most concerned about is the, hopefully small, amount of families who have their kids under the impression that processed foods, like McDonalds or fish fingers and chips, are “a treat”.

“We’ll go to McDonald’s if you’re a good boy”, “You can have a turkey burger tomorrow if you eat your salad now” – these are things that I have overheard parents saying to their kids over the years.

To me, a good salad or a roast dinner with vegetables is a treat; having to eat processed foods is something I do not relish and only happens when I do not have the opportunity to have something better – I don’t even believe that it comes down to cost, as this is often what I hear people blaming it on – “fish fingers are cheap”, “chips are inexpensive” – well, a couple of vegetables aren’t expensive either. At Cardiff central market £2.50 spent at the vegetable stalls could feed a family of 4 with ease – I have made a stew which has lasted two of us for 3 days before now with only £6; £2 for vegetables and £4 for stewing beef.

I believe that McDonald’s advertising over the past twenty years, coupled with that of the larger processed food companies – like McCain and Bernard Matthews, along with the major supermarkets have conditioned a lot of us, and with knock-on effect to our kids – to believe that a piece of meat that you can barely call meat is the definition of tasty eating, and that salad is something you have to eat or else you’ll be called a fat bastard – and for them it’s purely because of the difference in profit margin. You can make far more money per chicken once you have ravaged it to the bone, gristle and all – than you can per lettuce. We’re just the collateral damage, the unquestioning consumer.

So, the snow defeated Cardiff Council pretty easily

After our “blizzard” of Friday morning which left about 4-inches of snow in and around central Cardiff, and then with the sky pouring white stuff most of the day on Friday, Cardiff Council seems to have retreated and called it quits. I haven’t seen a council vehicle in days, the roads are a mess, nothing has been cleared since the snow dropped and this is causing chaos – with cars getting stuck, unable to move at junctions and all normal services (buses, mail, rubbish collections) seemingly cancelled or on a limited service (with regard to buses).

Of course, all of this stems from the single point of failure, and that is that if you don’t clear roads and pavements, nothing else can function – and this leaves the burden firmly on Cardiff Council’s door. The repercussions of them not doing their job, and making roads passable, means that all other efforts are doomed to fail, it’s simple really.

I was at Penarth Road this morning, just after the snow started falling, watching buses with “Sorry, not in service” on their signs and returning to the depot. The picture this afternoon is pretty grim for anybody that has to travel around Cardiff – their Facebook page is being continually updated with service cancellations, because the state of the roads is making many routes undriveable.

Snow at Penarth Road & Clare Road, Grangetown, Cardiff. 20/12/2010.

Here is a picture I shot at the intersection of Penarth Road & Clare Road in Grangetown today – this is one of Cardiff’s main roads, and it hasn’t had any attention at all since the snow first fell – a clear example that Cardiff Council do not have the equipment to handle large scale snowfall.

Many council’s across the UK are hiring snow ploughs, a rental service that is available in South Wales, but Cardiff has clearly opted not to do this – and I’m sure many people would like to know why.

Update: Cardiff Council have tweeted that they currently have 4 gritters working the city, 3 of which have ploughs. The questions that must be asked now then are,

a) Why have they not been deployed before? It snowed 3 days ago.
b) Why are there so few for such a large city?
c) What do they class as a “strategic route” and “principal road”? I would have thought Penarth Road & Tudor Street would have been, considering the trunk traffic that the former takes and the bus routes that rely on the latter.

Update: Cardiff Council have pointed me to this map on their website (beware, it’s not very user-friendly) which shows all of the routes that are to be salted (doesn’t say anything about ploughing, salting won’t do very much over the sludge) during winter times. If there are currently only 4 gritters out at the moment, they won’t even touch a portion of these routes – they have 12 available, according to this page on their website, where they boast about having “26 gritter drivers and loader drivers trained to City and Guilds Winter Service Operations 6159 standard are scheduled to be on a rota.”. So where have they been until now, or do they have weekends off?

Update: The page that Cardiff Council pointed me towards has some information on footways, and the salting plan for pedestrian walkways; and as far as I can tell none of the plan was executed. I walked through the City Centre yesterday and nothing had been salted or cleared, and the snow was forecast. See the details here.