Of ideas and government accountability

I really enjoyed reading about the ideas that are going to be up for discussion at Social Innovation Camp Scotland later this month. (No, I’m not going, though I wish I was). I particularly like Citipedia, because I think it is the kind of project that can result in lovely urban spaces like High Line Park that just opened in New York, coming to life. I also liked MyPoliceService, (and revisited Patient Opinion as I was reading about it), because I believe that people in government posts appointed to serve the public and paid by taxpayers’ money should be accountable to the public the way corporate employees are to a company’s board.

While on the topic, there is an interesting interview with disgraced ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in Vanity Fair, where he inadvertently says something that explains why services like these are important in a succinct way:

“I’m not going to make excuses,” he replied evenly. “Let me ask you a question: Is there a difference between politicians and anybody else? Or is it that the lives of politicians are so very public?”

“There is a difference, Mr. Spitzer. You were elected to a position of public trust.”

“That’s right,” he conceded. “It’s why I resigned without delay. Some said I could try to ride it out. But I didn’t see it that way. What I did was heinous and wrong.”

I think everyone who reads this knows by now that I think government accountability is important, and more so, the existence of some system where individual concerns are responded to. When buses and tubes in London routinely terminate before their final destination, something that never used to happen in New York with the subway and that frustrates me to end whenever it happens (a lot), I searched TfL and found this answer (it’s one of the most commonly asked questions, by the way):

If a bus is severely delayed or if several buses of the same route are bunched together, the route controller may ask a driver to stop the bus short of its usual destination. This bus can then turn around, and return to its usual timetable in the opposite direction. We do this for the benefit of our passengers, as it allows us to maintain an even service across the route and prevents delays from building up.

Nevertheless, we understand how frustrating it can be if you are on the bus that is curtailed. We expect controllers only to terminate buses early as a last resort. And it should only happen when there is a bus going the full length of the route close behind. The driver of the curtailed bus should issue the driver of the next bus with transfer tickets to allow passengers to complete their journey.

I can vouch for the fact that a) buses do not necessarily go the full length of the route close behind and b) drivers do not issue transfer tickets as a matter of course. I wish I had a person who could clarify why – and services like MyPoliceService will hopefully solve that problem with the police, which is a start.

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