Friday, 5 August 2011

There is bright light in the tunnel

There is light in the tunnel and I do hope no language purist will write in indignantly saying that I have no idea how to write (I hate having to agree with my fawning critics). I know that, usually, the well-worn cliché says light at the end of the tunnel. But, hey, with the Tignè tunnel the light is all over. Pure delight driving through it and not having to braille-drive into a pitch of darkness. So, hurray, I say.

As far as I know, all tunnels previous to this one were built and had their lighting designed by the central authorities better known as “the government”. So maybe there is a story there which I don’t need to elaborate on lest I will be seen as a progressive turncoat dying to abandon ship to join the merry band of “arrivisti” and other rainbow folk who have had a Tarsus-like change in their life and joined the muscat-eer band. No, I don’t need to bash our government or the ministers. They know how to do that and self-immolate with the zest and flair no marketing guru could ever manage to better or even emulate.

The government right now seems to be like a driver on our roads taking us, the passengers, to our desired destination. So merry driver is right now merry no more; he seems to be more of a grumpy bus driver of old. But he is still steady and a good driver with a vision and a good head for proper and significant trouble. But he cannot seem to avoid the potholes he faces: he seems to radar straight to each of those holes. So, first, in his other role of custodian of the streets and defender of the right to pothole our island, he leaves the holes gaping at him (and us) and then he drives straight into them with gusto and silly charm. We, the sillier passengers, shake and rattle and feel the holes down in our spine and remain shaking well after the ride.

But, at least, we get to the destination, so let’s be thankful for all sweet and small mercies. I said I won’t bash the government or its erstwhile exponents. But can I say nothing about our public transport? I know a lot is being said but I will put in my two-cent piece of sense or absolute nonsense.

I believe wholeheartedly in the new service and know, hope and prophesy that, in some months’ time, we will all be breathing our great sigh of relief that we have Arriva. If we do breathe next to an Arriva bus we can actually sigh and breathe in normally unlike what used to happen when those quaint, bone-shaking, pollution-coughing buses graced our land. Unlike most people of the land, I dare say God graced us with a mighty Austin and rid us of charlatans called drivers of “xarabanks”.

It’s sadly true that Arriva got it nearly all wrong. They have a lot of homework to swot on to get the situation properly in hand and get commuters not just to their destination in air-conditioned splendour but also on time. It’s nice to see happy smiling drivers instead of grumpy characters but it would also be good to see commuters happy all the time or most of the time. Cos, hey, remember we are in sunny, hot and sweltering Malta, so all gentle-folk turn into mega-grumblers even if you give them everything right, orderly and as they ordered it.

Going back to the Tignè tunnel, I think the trick would have been to get a private company based in Malta and controlled by one of our enterprising men and women to guide and instruct Arriva. Then we would have had proper-sited bus stops and names, proper routes and proper-sized buses.

I have no clue who the individuals or entities who were consulted by Arriva are and, for all I know, they could be the nicest folk around but I have a slight suspicion it was a government entity. This entity would have had a few million meetings and long sheaves of minutes printed in quadruple and sent to all heads and assistant heads and myriad other heads to keep and classify as super urgent and top secret. Proposals and counter-proposals and committees and sub-committees and secretaries to assist and supervisors to supervise and super-supervisors to control the supervisors and a never-ending stream of bureaucracy and red tape would have given us the result we have had with Arriva.

Arriva will eventually get it right. Here’s my cent’s worth of advice: change your consultants, dump your strategists, stop consulting the government and get a small Maltese outfit that knows the country and its ways to get you on your feet and turn you into a real success story. Our country deserves your success.

In the meantime, I think dear Austin and his Cabinet colleagues should eat that famously humble pie and immediately order an advertising campaign to plaster the whole country saying “We know the public transport service is having some problems. This is caused by a drastic dramatic change that has not been handled perfectly by the authorities and/or by the company chosen. We apologise for all delays, all missed appointments, wasted productive time and endless but justified frustration. We are confident that this situation will not take long to be rectified partially and in time we promise it will be corrected completely. We ask you to continue being patient and to cooperate as much as you can to avoid any more bad blood and maybe avoid real blood from being shed. We are monitoring the service and we will make sure we and the company chosen will eventually get it right for your comfort and well-being.”

If this isn’t done while all the frustration and terrible situation is still prevalent, the people, local and foreign alike, can never feel engaged in this new venture and will not accept the problems they are facing. It is the least the authorities can do to show they are concerned and engaged enough. And visitors to this fair land of ours will not go back home saying we are still a Third World country.

And, finally, please dear minister don’t ask one of your people to write the copy for the ads.

This article appeared in The Times August 5 2011

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