Sunday, May 25, 2008

RTA - Iron Cove Bridge

A lesson in how to get the RTA to clean up its infrastructure.

The Iron Cove Bridge is a major bridge here in the inner west.  It carries a lot of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, as it is part of the premier walking trail in the area.  Pedestrians get second class service, being routed under the bridge via a narrow, badly lit walkway.  That walkway also happens to be very prone to graffiti.  In fact the whole bridge gets tagged from time to time, but the RTA only seems to care about painting over those bits that are visible to motorists.  

The first photo here shows what the underside of the bridge looked like after I asked them to clean it up.

The second photo shows what it looked like before the paint job, and sadly, what it is starting to look like again now.  Taking care of graffiti at a site like this is a bit like painting the Harbour Bridge - you start at one end, get to the other, then start at the other end all over again.  Doing it once is not a solution - it needs to be painted on a regular basis (unfortunately).  The taxpayer in me winces at what it must cost to slap a coat of paint over areas like this, but it just has to be done.
The third photo was taken after the initial paint job was done - it shows some of the beams above head height.  Either the painting crew didn't bother to look up when  they turned up to do the job, or they figured that no one would notice if they didn't do it properly.

Unfortunately for them, there are people like me who notice these things.

Here's how I got it cleaned up.

I started by going to the RTA website in order to find out who to write to, and that was a complete waste of time.  Some of these agencies do their best to ensure that they don't tell you anything about anyone working there, including the CEO and senior management.

I then tried the NSW government directory, which told me everything I needed to know - who the CEO was, how to contact them etc etc.  I've found from bitter experience that going through the call centre with some of these agencies is a waste of a phone call.  Until they can ensure that calling the call centre will actually result in some action, I recommend going to the top.  If we annoy the top bloke often enough, he might get around to sorting out the call centre.

Here's the text of my first letter, sent on 2 Feb 2008:

Mr Les Wielinga

Chief Executive

Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW
P.O. Box K198, Haymarket 1240

2 February 2008

Dr Mr Wielinga

Cleanup of graffiti under the Iron Cove Bridge

I am writing in reference to the state of the pedestrian underpass at the Balmain end of the Iron Cove Bridge.  The walls of the underpass have been heavily vandalised by graffiti.

I reported this last month via the “contact us” section of your website, but I have had no response from the RTA to date.  

I’d appreciate it if you’d arrange for a crew to re-paint the underpass area on a regular basis (unfortunately, I doubt that painting it once will deter the little sods). 

Yours sincerely

[Not Somebody Else's Problem]


Here's the response to my first letter, which the RTA sent back 2 days later.  Like he said, he'll get it looked into.  

If you are going to write a letter, it's important to get some of the small things right.  Lay it out properly.  Spellcheck it.  And put the subject matter in bold at the start.  The people who are paid to process and respond to these letters love that sort of thing - it shows that it was not written by a complete nutter (as many of them are).  Address it properly - show the guy some respect.  He's the CEO after all - an important guy.  Most of all, be nice.  There's no point in being stroppy.  Stroppy letters go right to the bottom of the pile (I know, because I once had a job where I had to write the replies for a large government agency).

We then have a response from Les Wielinga, the CEO, two weeks or so later, saying that the graffiti has been painted over - and he was right, as I went past it a bit before that and noticed that a cleanup had been done.

Note the three points made in his letter:

  • offensive graffiti will be gone within 48 hours (assuming someone tells them)
  • non-offensive graffiti will take up to a month to remove (fair enough, but someone still needs to let them know)
  • low visibility graffiti is given a low priority, unless the public gets onto them (I'm not sure how graffiti under the Iron Cove Bridge can be 'low visibility' when thousands of people walk or run past it every day, but I guess graffiti is only visible to the RTA if it can be seen by someone in a car)
Everything in this letter pre-supposes that someone will contact the RTA and tell them to get on with it.  Which is a major reason for why I put this site together - you can't just assume that the RTA Operations people will 'magically' know that graffiti or damage has appeared somewhere.  They're sitting in a building miles away, and it doesn't even have any windows!  How are they supposed to know that a problem has appeared on your street if you don't flipping well tell them!

After a couple of months, I noticed the graffiti started to appear again, so I wrote once more asking for another cleanup to be done.  I of course save all my letters on my home PC so that I just call up the last one, change the guts of it, save it as something else, print it and post it.  

The response here is a bit "duh!" to me.  Yes, graffiti does keep appearing - that's the single most annoying thing about it.  It never really goes away - there is no single battle to be won.  Combating graffiti is an endless campaign, and I would have thought that these guys would have the sense to understand that, and conduct regular maintenance patrols of places that have been hit by graffiti previously.  

My response has been to go to the Post Office and buy $10 worth of stamps, so I have enough stamps to send them letters for the next year or two.  Unfortunately, that's probably the only way to get them to do regular cleanups.  They may surprise me by commencing regular cleanups off their own bat, but I'll believe that when I see it.  Until then, I'll just keep sending letters when something needs to be done.  I'm not going to assume that someone at the RTA is taking care of it.  Like many bureaucracies, the place is probably stuffed with people that believe that taking care of it is somebody else's problem.

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