Friday, February 26, 2010

Should Peter Garrett stay or go?

The recent problems with the botched federal home insulation scheme is another example of politics leading to perverse outcomes.

The case for improving energy efficiency of our buildings - both commercial and residential - is quite clear. Improvements in energy efficiency of both the building envelope and appliances translate to less energy use and therefore less carbon emissions.

The Labor government announced a grand scheme to put insulation in the roofs of 2 million homes.  This sounded good.

However, haste makes waste. Rolling the scheme out in a hurry for political reasons - possibly due to the desire to get some wins on the board in the lead up to the next federal election has led to serious problems, including:

  • insulation being replaced when it did not need to be
  • substandard installation, which reduces the efficiency of the insulation
  • unsafe work practices - one installed died due to heat exhaustion and others died from electrocution linked to foil insulation and staples contacting house wiring
  • unsafe houses - thousands are now at risk of ceiling fires due to faulty installation
  • with the scheme now canned, many installers are now out of work, or soon will be.
All this was done under the oversight of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who has no background or experience in either building regulations, program management or insulation.

In addition, the States are responsible for building codes and enforcing safe building practices, not Peter Garrett.  This fact seems to have been completely overlooked by the mainstream media.

Garrett's department is obviously at fault too - he has apparently been given little or no information regarding the risks of the accelerated program. If this is the case then senior figures in his department should be disciplined.  If Garrett is not telling the truth about when he read the risk report, he should be sacked.

As it is, Garrett has been demoted, with the insulation rollout being shifted to Penny Wong's Department of Climate Change.  Of course, Penny Wong and Greg Combet no nothing about insulation either.  And Penny Wong has presided over the political debacle of the CPRS.

Our political system is demonstrably incapable of considered and/or efficient action on this type of initiative.  Politics simply perverts what should straight forward and simple.

On the balance of it, I think Peter Garrett should have been demoted, but I think that someone senior in his department should be too.  Kevin Rudd needs to accept responsibility for the failure of governance that allowed these problems to occur.

The insulation program should be under the jurisdiction of a non-political taskforce with the right skills and oversight, not politicians.

Link: Peter Garrett pushed aside by PM

Why Myki should be canned - now

I have given the new Myki "smart card" travelling system a go for a while now.  The large number of major problems with the system - and the manufacturers inability to fix them after over 3 years development and $800+ million - lead me the conclusion that the whole system should be scrapped.

The basic technology architecture of the system is badly flawed, and the functional requirements (such as touching off) are nonsense too.

Here are a few of the issues I have encountered.:
  • Very slow "touch off" response - you have to leave the card on the reader for about a second to get it read.  If you "swipe" the card it won't be read.  This is too slow for long queues of commuters. Possible causes could be substandard readers or network latency.  Both hard to fix.
  • Complex fare structure.  Complexity is bad.  It is expensive to code for and manage.
  • Myki doesn't work on trams.   This is mandatory requirement for an integrated ticketing system.  If I catch a train to work why would I rule out catching a tram during lunch?
  • A poorly designed website.  You have to "purchase credit" for a card you don't have to get to an option to order a card.  The site is confusing to operate and fails basic design principles you would expect an undergraduate to meet.
  • For the huge cost, the system offers very little benefits to public transport users, especially in its current form.  It is actually inferior to the current Metcard system on several counts.
  • Melbourne's public transport users need more train lines, more trains, .more drivers and more frequent services, not a half baked ticketing system that is really designed to fill the pockets of private operators and government coffers.
  • There was no public consultation on the design of or the need for this ticketing system.  

The Bracks Labor government minister Peter Batchelor commissioned the project for reasons best know to the Labor government.  Now its a train wreck.  Let us stop throwing good money after bad and just use the card readers in the current Metcard system - that are there but have never been commissioned.

Update: Apparently Myki is working on a few trams, but use it at your peril.  Ticket inspectors could fine you as it is not "officially working'.  Based on past experience with these inspectors, they could well fine you.  They obviously have instructions to maximise revenue and not consider mitigating circumstances.