Saturday, 16 October 2010

Deportations and Bicycles

Having remarked in July 2008 that absent fathers are key to explaining the failings of the black community, Prime Minister David Cameron will be disappointed to hear that the five children of Jimmy Mubenga now have an absent father all of their very own. Mubenga, of Ilford in east London, was in the process of being forcibly removed back to Angola on Thursday September 14th, when it transpired that he had been inadvertently killed by the security guards responsible for his deportation.

Witnesses aboard the British Airways flight describe a fifteen minute skirmish in which the handcuffed Mubenga was restrained by three employees from private security firm, G4S. The captive is said to have consistently called-out such puzzling statements as "help me" and, "I can't breathe", before eventually dropping dead in the aisle of the plane. The episode raises questions about a Home Office policy in which individuals are deported by hired goons, employees whose only qualification for serving as representatives of UK immigration is that they applied for a job with G4S, and who are then free to manhandle deportees in front of tourists, businessmen, and other paying customers aboard commercial flights.

Rest assured that a political clamour is well underway, with Liberal Democrat, Julian Huppert, calling for a "wide-ranging independent inquiry" into the event. Onlookers wait patiently for the mandatory week to elapse before it can be ascertained whether the Liberal Democrat in question actually meant what he said, or whether the case of Mubenga is one more misfortune that must be tolerated as part of the "growing-up" process of being in government.

G4S are not the only firm in the private sector making a fist of things of late, as Serco continue to demonstrate that they are less adept at running London's cycle hire scheme than locking-up asylum seekers at their £900,000 a month, money-spinning detention centre, Yarl's Wood. The £140million cycle scheme began on 30th July with a one-month delay before casual, non-registered individuals could make use of the facilities. With two and a half months now passed, Londoners are being told to wait for 2011 before the scheme is up-and-running in its promised fashion. The result of this has been an excess of bicycles in some areas, and absences in others, a logistical problem blamed upon the fact that casual users, including tourists, are unable to use the scheme and thereby redistribute the bicycles naturally between twice-daily peaks in registered users commuting to and from offices.

The delay is at the heart of questions about whether or not Transport for London (TfL) and the taxpayer have received value for money from the contract. Since winning the £140million deal (£23,000 for each of the 6,000 bikes put into circulation) to undertake the cycle hire scheme, Serco have subcontracted Canada's Bixi to provide the bicycles and docking stations, subcontracted FM Conway to dig-up the roads and pavements where the docking stations are installed, and subcontracted Logica to provide the technology for the scheme's payment system, all of which begs the question of why it was that TfL, with an annual budget of £9.2billion, were unable simply to give one of their near 20,000 employees a copy of the Yellow Pages and instruct them to call Bixi, Logica and FM Conway directly.

Naysaying aside, the scheme's sponsors and instigators continue to brand it a riproaring success that is revolutionising travel in London. Less has been said about when the scheme's boundary will be extended beyond the areas of those hard-up folk in central London, where residents of Mayfair and Belgravia (etc.) need not walk more than five minutes to reach a docking station. Outside of central London, in Hackney, Holloway, Camberwell, Brixton and other areas of densely-populated rabble, residents will still have to catch a bus in order to reach their nearest revolutionary cycle hire opportunity.

Aside from the practical failings of the scheme, it remains a moot point that TfL were unable to badge their project as anything more inspiring than 'Barclays Cycle Hire'. The name is a homage to the £25million paid by Barclays bank to have their name appear six times on each one of 6,000 bicycles, have the scheme livery altered to represent their own corporate colours, have every street in central London flooded with mobile advertising, and have the name of the bank as one-third of the scheme's title in return for less than one-fifth of the scheme's funding. The triumph of this as a piece of cheap advertising is compounded by every tourist in London now having their photo taken alongside a dock of Barclay's Cycle Hire bicycles, those venturing into central London being condemned to seeing the name 783 times a day, and television coverage from the capital frequently capturing one of the bicycles ride by. All of which is a far-cry from the much-praised Parisian counterpart of Barclay's Cycle Hire, Velib, a title formed from contracting the words 'velo' (bicycle) and 'liberte' (liberty). Elsewhere in France, Aix En Provence named their cycle scheme V'hello! as a contraction of 'velo' and 'hello', Lyon's was named Velo'v ('velo' and 'love') and Dijon's VeloDI as a melodic contraction of 'velo' and the city name.

None of which seems to concern the insipid, fluorescent mouthpiece of the cycling community, too enthral with anything on two wheels to even consider suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it might have been something so much better.

Anyway... enough of all that grumbling... welcome to the new world of 'more for less'... where we all pay that much more and get that much less in return.


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