Lines painted in early Spring...

A guest blogpost from @TobyMasonBBC

Let me take you on a journey. One in particular - my morning drive to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay. Why would I want to tell you about my commute? Because I think it's trying to tell me something about the direction politics is moving in - at a local level at least.

Recently, Cardiff council decided to redraw the lines in the road at a junction on my way to work. Keep reading. This gets better - I promise.

For those who know the Grangetown area well, it's the big junction going southbound between Clare Road, the left fork of Corporation Road towards the Bay and Penarth Road leading sharp left back into town towards the station and Brains' Brewery, or right towards Penarth. See here for map.

On the first morning back in work after Easter, I was in the left hand lane as usual to bear left down towards the Senedd, when the car in the right hand lane comprehensively cut me up. I raised a hand in protest (but no fingers, I hasten to add). Unusual, I thought. After all, most of us are commuters who use the route every morning. And went back to thinking about the day ahead.

The next morning, I happened to be the first car to the junction after the lights had gone red. Looking ahead, a newly painted set of lines in the road cut off the left hand lane to the sharp left turn only, so cars heading left down Corporation Road to the Bay - completely counter-intuitively - now have to take the right hand lane to go left. I dutifully did, whereby another motorist promptly cut me up - from the left this time. In my rear view mirror I could see similar chaos unfolding behind me.

Let me reassure you at this point that this isn't some sort of extended traffic bulletin or Clarkson-esque moan - but the context is important.

As soon as I got to work, I wrote a fairly irate but detailed email, as a private citizen rather than a journalist, to the Connect to Cardiff (C2C) online service, pointing out the mayhem the changes were causing and asking for warning signs to be put up straightaway as a minimum until the lines could be re-painted. I got an acknowledgement straight away, followed a day later by a personal email with the following explanation:

"Thanks for your e-mail regarding this issue and apologise for the inconvenience and confusion which has arisen. Unfortunately a scheme was supposed to be carried out to put in an advanced stop line for cyclists at this junction and many others throughout the city, however contractors on behalf of the Highways Department have marked it out wrong.

"Once the cycling box had been put in the remaining centreline was supposed to remain as is and therefore allow left lane users to choose as previous to either turn left or carry straight on down Corporation Road. Naturally I have had many complaints from drivers and I am at present spending many hours replying to them about this matter.

"Once this issue was identified I immediately spoke to the Highways Department to rectify the matter, and I know he has spoken to the contractors, as yet I have not had a date from him of when it is going to be corrected but will speak to him again to emphasise the urgency of the matter."

Mystery solved. But as a citizen, I think this little episode has more to tell us about how we interact with public services and about how they respond than first meets the eye.

First of all, it didn't even occur to me to raise the problem with my local councillor, who is after all my democratically elected representative on the council, and who might well have been the first port of call in the past. Which is not to denigrate councillors at all. It was just far simpler just to log on straightaway and fire off an email raising the issue with the council directly.

No cumbersome exchange of letters - within 24 hours or so I had my reply, explanation and apology - see above - by dealing with the council itself rather than through an intermediary. Job done, satisfied citizen.

But - and it's a big but - as I drove into work this morning it still hadn't been fixed, there are no warning signs, and the near misses are continuing, believe me.

So actually, job not done, not such a satisfied citizen, and neither I suspect, are all the others who got those swift replies to their emails.

Let say the errant line painter - Bob - was directly employed by the Highways department of Cardiff Council, as he would presumably have been in the past. When his mistake emerged, Bob would have had a metaphorical clip round the ear from the gaffer and would be sent out at first light the next day with brush and paint to correct his mistake. Job, as they say, done.

It's been a number of weeks now since the mistake was made, and as you can see from the response above, there seems to be some sort of wrangling going on about how and when the lines on the road should be returned to how they were before - meanwhile the motorists of Grangetown are still swerving out of each others' way every time the lights turn green.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that efficiency and innovation in public services has to run from top to bottom to really work. Allowing citizens to raise problems at the click of a mouse is all very well, but if the capacity or structure isn't in place to solve the problem quickly, it really doesn't take any of us that much further forward.