My suburb is separated by my university, predominantly, by one highway. This highway is called the Roe Hwy and its only major downside is that it ends far too soon (Google Roe 8 if you want to nibble the bait I'm throwing your way.) This highway has two overpasses that allow me over the highway and onward to university that reach maximum capacity almost constantly, but are never really inconveniencing. Just at the maximum, not much over. Late last year they announced roadwork to make one the roads bigger. I imagine a world where there are no inconveniences. I imagine that the trip to university will be 20 minutes instead of 25. Which means I will be able to leave to go to work 5 minutes later which means 5 more minutes of free time! I make two trips a day on average so I'll save 10 minutes a day! 70 minutes a week! 3640 minutes a year. This addition to my life is a welcome one. Changing my city for the better is always a great opportunity.
If you are well versed in the local government or council you are probably laughing right now. I know that because I do work for a local government and I know exactly what this means. When a major project is announced, like the one I just mentioned, be nothing but cynical because the bureaucracy is coming. To fully explain the extent of the bureaucracy, I will need to bring in an anecdote that occurred to me as of recently.
I work in a Recreation Centre for the government. My job is basically to make sure the place doesn’t burn down in opening hours and to serve customers by setting up sports equipment, selling drinks and snacks and organising bookings. Straight forward. Recently, I got a phone call entirely out of nowhere that can be summarised like this.
“Hey, we are closing the centre as of April 1st. It isn’t making enough money, more updates will be coming shortly.”
Alright, so I’ll be out of a job soon but that’s okay I’m fine on the job hunt and I get jobs pretty quickly. That phone call happened in February so I had two months to find a new job and that is okay. Time to wait for more information and when it comes I’ll decide my next step.
The detectives amongst you may have already noticed something. This blog has been posted on the 8th of April. Have I got a new job? No. I’m still working at the Recreation Centre. After a massive public outcry the government decided not to close the centre. Except that isn’t what happened at all. There was a meeting scheduled for March as a platform for patrons to raise concerns, it didn’t go ahead. This meeting was postponed until late March when it was inevitably postponed again (I guess these people are too busy). This is when I found out that the decision wasn’t final at all! These meetings were going to decide if it was to be closed or not. That meant that as a worker, I received the same false information as everybody else in the community!
That’s alright, if you have a complaint I’m sure we can improve communication channels between the patrons and the local government! I can middle man the conversation to try and get us all on the same page! Are you laughing again?
No petitions could be held behind the counter and there was no way to make complaints other than a tiny feedback box that almost no one knows about. We had to tell them that the petition was held at the main local government offices and if they wanted to complain they had to drive there to sign it. No community outreach, no forethought and then eventually there was no action on their plan.
Arthur Okun, A Yale economist one used the metaphor of the ‘leaky bucket’. The idea that wealth taken from the people, to the government and back to the people was transferred by a bucket with a hole in it. We need to transfer the money somehow, and the government has a pivotal role to play, but we expect a lot of leakage. A simple example would be the tax officer. You pay a man whose job is to collect taxes. If he collects one million dollars per year, and makes 80k himself then the government only receives, effectively, 920k in taxes. Now imagine this on a massive scale.
To make a change to the recreation centre it must go through the head of the recreation facilities, to the board, to the CEO (Yes, we have a CEO) to the local government, to the people for their input, back to the CEO and then all the way back around to me. That is a lot of time to get communication through these channels, time is money, and everyone is getting paid. Change is slow and ineffective, and it is impossible to keep up.
When people ask me, “What is happening?” I was told to give them this answer,
“I know just as much as you do.”
Because that is the truth.
This is something we all need to be aware of. The bureaucracy is large and ever present. It is hard for the bureaucrats (including me) to keep up with everything the community wants and do what is necessary. There are so many levels and structures and hierarchies that change is not impossible, but is certainly inefficient.
When changes are announced in your town or city you need to be optimistic yet cautious. You must be vocal about the changes you want and face the problems everyone must face to get there.
The highway overpass went under construction at the beginning of this year. In the process, they had to move some traffic lights a metre or so in one direction. The lights had their programming changed and now allow traffic to go through 10 to 20 seconds at a time. A tampering of the algorithm could fix this problem almost entirely. The amazing new project that was going to save 10 minutes per day, now adds 30 minutes every single trip. People can’t get over the highway quickly enough and we are in stand still because of it. Thankfully however, the lights are expected to change by the end of the year which means I only lose 12600 minutes from this change over the year. Compared to the 3640 minutes a year I will gain when it is over. All because of a simple, easily avoidable change, that needs to run through the bureaucracy.
I called up the city council the other day and asked them what they are doing to fix the situation, as thousands of people struggle to get to work and I got an eerily similar response,
“I know just as much as you do.”
This blog post isn’t a ‘First World Problems’ post where I am venting about how hard life is. I genuinely don’t mind, and I find ways around it. Some people are not so lucky. The elderly people that attend the gym at my recreation centre can’t drive, and therefore can’t sign the petition to save their gym. The people driving trucks delivering goods around my suburb can’t get over the highway, losing them money. The bus uses the same roads as the cars, and now public transport is absurdly inefficient.
The leaky bucket is ever present and we must try to plug it as best as we can to help the people who rely on the bucket the most.