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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

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CUTA Integrated Mobility Report

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I have decided that there is no way to make this work just with a retweet. So this blog post is addressed to mostly to readers who come to this blog because they are interested in how Canadian transit agencies should better adapt themselves to changing circumstances. Unlike CUTA’s approach to transit statistics, this report is not restricted in its distribution and it is free to download as a large pdf.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 11.30.34 AMIt is meant to be a resource for transit agencies wishing to advance their communities towards integrated mobility.

So if that is something you want to read, start at the CUTA report web page from which there is a download link.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 28, 2017 at 11:32 am

Jericho Pier Renewal

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jericho-pier-landing

Jericho Pier is a regular destination for our walks, but I have many more photos taken from the pier than of the pier itself. I thought it might be a good idea to record what is there now, before work starts. Then I took a look at the City webpage

The Vancouver Park Board, in partnership with the Disabled Sailing Association, is renewing the aging pier at Jericho Beach and providing an accessible dock for sailors with disabilities.

The pier is a popular destination for locals and visitors as well as for fishing and crabbing. The ramp and float on the east side of the pier are used for emergency boat landing.

The reconstructed pier will:

  • Provide an accessible floating dock to provide for users of all ages and levels of mobility, accommodating up to 15 sailboats for the Disabled Sailing Association’s adaptive sailing program

  • Provide seating and views of Burrard Inlet and English Bay

  • Offer recreational fishing and crabbing opportunities

  • Accommodate future sea level rise

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So it looks like I have some time. It also looks like there is a conceptual design already although  not on the webpage at the time of writing. Ken Ohrn on the PriceTags page does have a rendering – but without any link to where he got it from – so I won’t steal it.

If you cannot make it to the open house at pier tomorrow  11:00am to 2:00pm, presentation materials and an online questionnaire will be available September 16 to October 2, 2017.

IMG_2690IMG_2693IMG_2694IMG_2698IMG_2701

Written by Stephen Rees

September 15, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Is MicroTransit the answer?

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Regular readers of this blog will recognize a long running idea of mine, that we need something that is “better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi”. Now back when I was actually working in the industry we had not yet got the sort of systems that we have now that would make this sort of thing possible. But one thing has stuck with me, and that first entered my mind in 1988. I was new in town (Toronto) and writing a proposal for the TTC in response to an RfP on what they called WheelTrans.

TTC Wheel Trans Orion II off

 

They used these Orion II vans for the specialised dial a ride transit service (“paratransit”) offered by the TTC to those who need door to door transit. Of course, wheelchair users are a minority among those whose disabilities make conventional transit difficult or even impossible. But also the number of rides they could actually offer, and the ability to match routes of the vans to potential riders, was very limited. The company I worked for was at the leading edge of demand forecasting, so my proposal was that we would come up with better ride matching software. We did not get the job because the people reviewing the proposals simply did not understand what I was proposing. You have to bear in mind that in 1988 cell phones were a novelty and most people did not have a PC on their desk.

It seems that even though we now have much better hardware and software, there is still a big issue: transit needs subsidy. The recent closure of Bridj in Boston shows that.

Transit depends on subsidies, and if microtransit really is an answer to underused, oversized public buses traveling along 30-year-old routes, then at least some of its backing should come from taxpayers, without the expectation of turning profits.

In this region, the oversized buses have been taken away to run on the overcrowded routes. Some routes now run as Community Shuttles, which have somewhat lower costs (due to a different union agreement) but still run on fixed routes.

Community Shuttle S534

The HandyDART service has a different vehicle – the lift is at the back not on the side – and operates on routes which are based on prior bookings.

HandyDART T710 Tsawwassen BC 2009_0121

There have long been complaints that this service is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of those who cannot use conventional transit, and while some changes have been made, and Translink is looking at more, the cost per ride of this service is much greater than conventional transit – or even taxi services. One advocate even suggested at one time that taxis be used as the contractor for all these trips – but I think he was out of touch with both basic economics and the expectations of most HandyDART users.

DART by the way is the acronym for “dial a ride transit”. But you can’t just call for a ride like you do for a taxi. First you must be qualified, and second you must book in advance. And currently trip bookings are allocated by priority – work/school, medical, other. Unsurprisingly, given the demographics of users it is the second one which accounts for most of the trips. To allow for some spontaneous trip making, registered HandyDART users can buy taxisavers to make subsidized taxi trips.

It seems to me that microtransit has the potential to solve a number of issues.

Havana Bus

What Bridj offered was nothing new, really: services like jitneys and dollar vans act as informal, quasi-public shuttle transport all over the world, and plenty of agencies serve paratransit needs this way. What Bridj brought (and others bring) to the table is super-smart software that formulates routes and spits out pick-up spots in real time, based on demand, for any type of rider.

Pick up variation

The idea I had back in 1988 – and still think might work – is that we could use some super-smart software to provide better door to door transit for all. It should be accessible to everyone. And to make sure that people with disabilities get first dibs we come up with a booking system that works like the dedicated seating on conventional transit. People who can use conventional transit would have to give up their seat if someone who needs it more wants it. If the software is smart enough that can be done without bumping. This ought to make transit much more attractive – after all fixed routes take you from where you aren’t to where you don’t want to be. So if you are saving some walking you ought to be prepared to pay more for that  convenience: people who can’t walk, wouldn’t have to pay that premium.

Both need subsidy, but it ought to be less than the current dedicated system, and it will also be cheaper than running a big bus nearly empty. It will also remove whatever stigma is associated with a specialised service. As the US Supreme Court famously noted “separate isn’t equal” (Brown vs Board of Education).

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Source: Translink Accountability Centre

A number of things need to happen to get this to work. Firstly, the current contracted out HandyDART has to be brought back in house. Secondly the legislation that governs ride sharing in BC needs to be revised. It also needs to recognize that it is quite legitimate for existing taxi operators to expect some protection from predators like Uber and Lyft. While they are currently aiming at getting a monopoly of taxi like services, it is clear that transit is also in their long term strategy. And some politicians of the “anti-subsidy except for my favourite corporations” parties want to facilitate that. So a public service obligation has to be baked in with provision of subsidies.

But most importantly, transit planning for the future has to be for everyone and not just for those who can run up and down stairs. Transportation planning also has to be for everyone and not just those who want to drive or ride in a single occupant vehicle.

UPDATE November 6 2017

Another microtransit company recently went bust – mostly because it could not meet even the most basic requirements of driver qualifications (holding the right kind of driver’s license) or insurance. This article in CityLab explains – and shows that the companies involved were not doing what I envisaged in the post above. They were simply poaching traffic from public transit on their most used routes. Not extending the reach of transit into low density areas ill served by fixed route transit, no matter what size the vehicle.

Incidentally the pattern shows remarkable parallels with what happened in Britain when buses were deregulated and privatised. The private companies are only interested in running profitable services, and local government was even prohibited from subsidising essential services. The result is widespread social isolation and reduced mobility of the workforce. Not one we should wish to emulate.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 3, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Equity, Opportunity and Good Health

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A free public lecture from SFU Continuing Studies and The City Program

How Transportation Affects the Essential Qualities of Life In Metro Vancouver
Thursday, 30 April 2015 7:30 PM at SFU Segal School of Business

Transportation connects us to our community, our place of work and our friends and family. The way transportation infrastructure is designed and the modes of transportation that we have access to impact our lifestyle and our health.
The lecture reviewed some of the evidence from other jurisdictions, but focused primarily on the findings from the My Health My Community project that surveyed 28,000 Metro Vancouver residents in 2013/14.
While there are clear dividends in health for active transportation users, current transit infrastructure does not equally benefit all communities in Metro Vancouver. Access to transportation widens opportunity and is a significant equity issue in Metro Vancouver.

This lecture was in collaboration with the 2015 ITE QUAD Conference, May 1-2 at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver.

It is fortunate that the text and illustrations that were used for this lecture are all available on line. I noticed that several people were trying to photograph the illustrations used, but that turns out to unnecessary too.

The talk was preceded by a presentation by Dale Bracewell, the Manager of Active Transportation at the City of Vancouver. He started by stating that Vancouver now designs its active transportation projects to meet the needs of all ages and abilities. The overarching goals are set by Transportation 2040 but that includes the interim goal of 50% of trips by walk, cycle and transit by 2020. The City has set itself objectives in the fields of Economy, People and Environment. The active transportation program fits within the People category and the Healthy City Strategy, which has a four year Action Plan. Walking and cycling are now the fastest growing transportation mode which reflects Vancouver’s high Walk Score. A panel survey is conducted annually with the City’s Health Partners.

Walking has increased by 19% while the collision rate has fallen by 20%. The collision data also needs to be seen within the context of the City’s Vision Zero. Cycling has increased by 41% while collisions have fallen by 17%. It is clear that the safety in numbers effect is working. Vancouver has installed a series of automated bike counters. He had a set of graphics which I have yet to find but the data is available as a large pdf spreadsheet.

This is the counter at Science World which now has the biggest count – even greater than the Burrard Bridge

Bike Counter

The counters show cycle use growing between 7 and 15% over the last year. The Lion’s Gate Bridge now equals Hornby and Dunsmuir, even before the new safety measures for cyclists have been introduced.

hornby-beforeafter

Hornby Street still moves as many vehicle now as it did before, simply because the  two way separated bike lane replaced on street parking. There are still 14,000 cars a day, but cycle traffic has increased 50% to 2,700 per day. At the same time there are 5,000 people on the sidewalk, with pedestrians showing a clear preference for the side with the cyclists rather than the parked cars. The street is now moving more people overall.

He also added a plug for an upcoming conference in Vancouver next year pro walk pro bike pro place  September 12 – 15, 2016

Dr. Jat Sandhu is the regional director of the public health surveillance unit at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. He stressed that his remarks are his own personal views.

He started by contrasting the experience of driving a car in congested traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway with that of riding a bike on a path next to the North Arm of the Fraser River – the stress of the former versus the relaxation of the latter. He grew up in Hong Kong and described his boyhood commute to school from Stanley to Kowloon: and one and half hour combination of buses and ferry to cover the same distance as the Canada Line from Richmond Brighouse to Waterfront.

He cited the work of Larry Frank at UBC who has published the all embracing literature review on health and transportation, looking at physical activity, air quality, mental health, injuries and equity. “Urban Sprawl and Public Health”. He also pointed to USC study of the Los Angeles to Culver City Exposition LRT which reduced daily vehicle travel by households of between 10 to 12 miles a day which a 30% reduction of CO2 emissions.

It is known that daily physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of chronic disease and grants a 40% reduction in the risk of premature mortality.  Yet only 40% of the population meet the recommended activity levels. Obesity is now overtaking smoking in the mortality race. Physical inactivity is a large part of the problem as shown by a study of commute time against obesity in Atlanta GA (Am J Prev Med 2004). He also pointed to the lack of transit equity citing the Next Stop Health study in Toronto.

The My Health My Community survey covers the entire area covered by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health. What makes Canadians sick? 50% of the time “your life”.

The study asked respondents 90 questions about their socio-economic status, health, lifestyle, healthcare access, built environment and community.

The transportation report on Metro Vancouver released last week is the first of a series of reports from this data, intended to inform the discussion of the transportation plebiscite in this region. It draws from the survey responses from residents of the region – which is a subset of the survey mostly conducted on line, but with supplementary paper surveys to ensure adequate coverage of ethnic minorities. It covers only those over 18 years of age. Its target was a 2% sample which may seem small but is much better than the 0.5% sample of the typical transportation survey. Census data to neighborhood level was used to ensure a representative sample. It was a one year process, and results have been weighted to correct for age, gender, education and geography. Of 34,000 respondents, 28,000 live in Metro Vancouver: 80% of those make daily trips for work or education.

55% car driver or passenger

29% transit

10% walk

4% bike

2% other

Only Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver have over the Metro Vancouver average for active transportation modes.

Page 1 Key Messages Graphic

Page 1 Mode of Commute Graphic

I think the two maps are perhaps the most useful representations I have seen especially since they also map the Mayors’ Council’s proposals. What I think would be immensely more useful is a map of the non-active modes with the road projects that have been built in this region in the last ten years or so. While Dr Sandhu points to the goodness of fit of the proposals to correct some of the grosser transit inequities of this region, I think a map of “motordom” showing how the widening of Highway #1 (ongoing) the increase of traffic speeds on the Sea to SkyHighway, the impact of the South Fraser Perimeter road and the increase of capacity along Highway #10 through South Surrey, as well as all the various interchange improvements financed by development (200 St and Highway #1 for instance) as well as the Golden Ears Bridge and the new bridge over the CP yards in Port Coquitlam vastly overshadow anything that might happen as a result of the Mayor’s plan. I do not have the technical competence to produce such a map overlay myself, but I do hope one of you does.

By the way, the originals of these maps are huge: click on them to enlarge and see the details.

Page 4 Active Transport MAP

Page 5 Car use MAP2

Among some of the other results he quoted:

The median commute time is 30 minutes: for car users it is 25 minutes and for transit 45 minutes. He said that reducing travel time for transit users should be a target, though absent the data on distance I am not sure that actually tells us much. To some extent, people choose how long they are willing to travel – and for some, such as West Coast Express users – the travel time will be viewed in a positive light. However, as a selling point for the Yes side in the plebiscite “Less time in your car, more time in your community” works well.

The determinants of transit use include age: the two biggest groups are 18 to 29 and those over 70. In both cases there is often a financial incentive for transit use (UPass, concession fares). 14% of transit users have a chronic health condition which he said points to the need for more HandyDART, which is included in the plan. There is a 50% higher transit usage by ethnic minorities – except for South Asians – with the highest usage among recent immigrants  – who of course are not eligible to vote. Neither, come to that is Dr Sandhu. Only 75% of respondents are Canadian citizens. Transit use decreases with increases in income.

He also produced a graph showing municipalities by commute mode and the incidence of obesity. He said the correlation coefficient (r²) was 0.99 [which as far as I am concerned is unheard of].

He also showed the WalkScore map of the region – which I wish I could find on line. The web page I link to is not exactly what I was looking for!

The current transit infrastructure does not equitably benefit all communities. This is a social justice issue as it impacts access to education and employment. The proposed investments will be positive in this regard. The greatest health legacy of the Olympic Games was [not the creation of his position] the Canada Line. Metro Vancouver is 4th in transit use in North America, only behind the very much larger populations of New York, Montreal and Toronto. We have a relatively small population of 2.5 million and thus “do not have the same tax base”.

Q & A

1.  A question about the aboriginal use of transit which seemed to be explained by lower income and the availability

2.  Some people use different modes for the same trip on different days: walking or cycling in good weather for instance. Or more than one mode during one trip. The reply was that the choice of mode had been “collapsed down” and respondents were asked to pick their primary mode

3.  A technical discussion of the sample compared to household survey which replaced the long form censu  s

4. A question about income which produced the response that the City of Vancouver saw similar levels of active transportation across the city, but immigrants were more economically active than the population in general – a reflection of federal immigration policies.

5. Do people realize how walkable their neighborhood really is? Don’t we need more education?

The study helps the Health Authorities feed information into the OCP and community partners, as well as their interactions with nonprofits and school boards

6. “I have not heard the word Translink used. Is there going to be more bus service?”

7. Eric Doherty pointed out that just increasing bus service shows diminishing returns without a greater commitment to bus priority. He also mentioned feelings of superiority when he rode on a bus to the ferry and passed all those car users stuck in congestion.

I responded that bus priority measures are one of the most cost effective ways of improving the attractiveness of transit, but requires a level of enforcement not so far seen here.

REACTION

Gordon Price was really impressed by the cycling data. There’s nothing like a few good figures to destroy some long held misbeliefs.

The health study simply confirms what we have long known, but seem reluctant to act on. My own views on this were set out in a post in published earlier this year. I want to acknowledge the recent promotion of that post on Twitter by Brent Toderian which has had a very significant impact on my WordPress statistics.

The talk was in a larger room than usual, and was linked to the ITE Quad conference, but was poorly attended. The discussion was really rather muted.

HandyDART Trip Denials Soar to Record Levels

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Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 12.07.34 PM

Press Release received from Eric Doherty via Twitter

Seniors vote needed for transit referendum win

For immediate release –Thursday February 27, 2014

Data obtained through freedom of information requests shows that people with disabilities and seniors were denied HandyDART service over 42,000 times in 2013, an eight-fold increase in four years. There were 5,075 HandyDART denials in 2009, 18,188 in 2011, 37,690 in 2012 and 42,418 in 2013.

“Other folks in society are sentenced to house arrest for committing a crime,” says HandyDART Riders Committee spokesperson and former Vancouver City Councillor Tim Louis. “We have committed no crime and yet are sentenced to house arrest when demand for rides outstrips capacity to provide rides because politicians won’t make transit funding a priority.”

HandyDART service was increased by about 5% annually to meet growing demand between 2002 and 2008. However, 2013 service hours were slightly lower than in 2008.

“HandyDART service levels have been frozen for five years while the population of older seniors and people with disabilities has grown dramatically” says transportation planner Eric Doherty the author of the 2013 report Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service. “The number of people over 70 in Metro Vancouver will increase by 40% in the next decade.”

The HandyDART Riders’ Alliance says that three 80,000 hour increases, each costing about $7 million or 0.5% of TransLink’s present budget to operate, is needed to catch up after five years without an increase. After that, smaller regular increases will be needed to keep up with growing demand.

The provincial government has delayed transit improvements, including HandyDART service increases, pending a transit funding referendum likely to be held in June 2015. The TransLink Mayors council will apparently be setting the HandyDART service levels to be voted on, although the provincial government has not released details of promised governance changes.

HandyDART is a door-to-door transit service for people with disabilities and older seniors who cannot use the regular transit system for at least some trips.

“Seniors like me vote. The transit funding referendum likely won’t pass unless we can vote to meet the needs of an aging population, including better HandyDART service” says Elsie Dean, a HandyDART Riders’ Alliance member. “It is time to make the investments in public transit, including HandyDART, needed to make Metro Vancouver a livable and age friendly region.”

The newly-formed HandyDART Riders’ Alliance is open to HandyDART riders and allies. The group will be holding their first public meeting and electing board members on Saturday March 1st 1:30 to 3:30 at the 411 Seniors Centre, #704-333 Terminal Ave. Vancouver (5 min east from Main Street SkyTrain station).

Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service was commissioned by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1724 and is available from http://www.ecoplanning.ca/selected-projects. ATU Local 1724 also commissioned the FOI requests described above: Trip Denials http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2014-009-1-2013-Denials-Refusals.pdf & http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2013-179-Denials-2008-12.pdf HandyDART Service Hours http://ecoplanning.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FOI-Release-2014-012-2-Service-Hours-02-13.pdf

Written by Stephen Rees

February 27, 2014 at 9:15 am

Losing Taxi Savers Program Will ‘Clip Wings’, Say Users

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The Tyee has a very good summary of the users’ case for retaining the TaxiSaver program.

I am not going to repeat what is in that article. As usual I refrain from stating the case that needs to be made by others – especially when they have been so eloquent. But where I feel my experience or knowledge add something I will chime in. And what made me react was this sentence

When the Taxi Saver cuts were first announced, TransLink indicated it was a budgetary decision that would save over a million dollars. More recently, TransLink has stated that money saved by cutting Taxi Savers would be re-deployed to finance improved HandyDart services.

When I was employed by TransLink I was expected to examine the whole range of services to people with disabilities – mostly because as the economist I was expected to provide some professional advice on things which on a per passenger ride basis were extremely expensive. TaxiSavers were indeed introduced to increase mobility – but that was because the system itself was overburdened from the start – and always will be. The people who act as “gatekeepers” and certify that someone needs special assistance have no interest at all to save Translink – or the taxpayer – money. They meet the needs of their clientele. As they should. Other systems, like Calgary, have a much more stringent approach to determining eligibility, but that reflects a different kind of organization. There the City provides both transit and social assistance of various kinds: that is not the case with Translink.

TaxiSavers halve the cost of a taxi ride for users. But they also greatly reduce the cost of the same ride compared to what it would cost Translink if it were obliged to deliver service using its own equipment. Transit is rationed here – mostly by the location of where people live. In fact people with disabilities who qualify for handDART and live in the outer suburbs may even enjoy more transit access than their neighbours who have no disability. But handyDART is rationed by trip purpose. Because there is so much demand, and trips must be booked in advance, trips for school, work or medical reasons take precedence. In reality that means that any trip outside those classes doesn’t get booked. Taxi Savers allow people to make trips at short notice and for any purpose at all. There is also no need to see if the trip can be shared with others.

I think that the Taxi Saver program saved Translink a great deal, since it removed a lot of pressure to improve the shared ride, pre-booked system. There is an equity (or “human rights”) argument: imagine waiting in line for the #99 – but having to persuade an official before being allowed to board that your trip purpose fitted some predetermined category. Imagine further that you have some of the problems of aging or limited intellectual capacity – or are too principled to game the system. That is the situation that HandyDart users face everyday. It would be intolerable if it applied to the population as a whole, but somehow it is acceptable when applied to an identifiable minority. Who are supposed to be protected by legislation. And the Charter.

The claim that the savings will go to improve service are sophistry – since the trips people make with TaxiSavers do not qualify for those prebooked trips which are always oversubscribed.

But the Translink Board now is not accountable. Local politicians would never have dared have made this decision. But an appointed Board can have no conscience – it simply follows the mandate it has been given. The problem we have now is we are ruled by a bunch of politicians who think cutting taxes and public spending is always the right answer to every problem. And who believe that the way to achieve that is to cut service no matter what the consequences. So we have cut environmental protection – and people can set their drinking water alight. We have reduced all those “frills” in education like special needs assistants and librarians, and we wonder why our children now cannot find employment. In the US the Republicans have just cut federal funds to walking and cycling programs: they are the same people who decry the increase in demand for health services, because they are so expensive. In Britain, public transport was deregulated and most of the subsidies eliminated. Not long afterwards we started reading about a new problem – social exclusion. That is not a phrase we have heard much here. Expect to hear it more often in future.

UPDATE  1pm Wednesday 11 July Outcry forces TransLink to Reverse Decision on the TaxiSaver program  Vancouver Sun

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

Posted in disability, taxi, transit

Tagged with , ,

Vancouver mayor blasted for bragging about wheelchair accessibility

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CBC

Calling Vancouver “the most accessible city in North America” is not only unproven, it also sends the message that nothing more need be done – which is obviously not true. And this quite substantial critique for people who have to cope with what has not been done, or been done badly, demonstrates that the City of Vancouver has a long way to go. As does every other municipality.

And it also affects transit. This is Margaret Birrell of the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities talking about the Canada Line

“There are 19 things wrong with the design of the stations for the blind the visually impaired alone — and they are going to rectify that — but why wasn’t that thought about before? Why didn’t they hire a specialist in design?”

Or just talk to the people who have been working steadily to make SkyTrain accessible for the last twenty years.

The fact that we might be a bit better than Seattle or Kelowna is irrelavant. Accessibility is one of those thing that  is either there or not – and it is very specific and needs a strong commitment with leadership from the top. It is not enough that Sam says “I just set policy”. He has a responsibility to ensure that policies are implemented effectively – not just taking credit for the things that seem to work better here than elsewhere.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 10, 2008 at 8:04 am