Inefficiencies of scale


A WEEK or so ago, someone I know was travelling home in a taxi. The wheel “fell off” and the taxi rolled three times. My acquaintance ended up in hospital, thankful to be alive, but with an excruciatingly painful broken clavicle.

The organisation he works for swung into action, getting the best advice and ensuring he would be as comfortable as possible during his recuperation. Then they sat back and tried to figure out how to rejig over-extended resources to cover for him while he was unable to work.

This wasn’t an ‘accident’. Too many such incidents happen all the time. Efficient and effective checking of roadworthiness of all vehicles, especially those engaged in public transport, would surely reduce the number of ‘accidents’ of this kind.

I bought a new coffee plunger the other day. On my way home, I had to cross Ontdekkers Road on Christiaan de Wet at Florida Junction. It’s a big junction, of two big roads, and there are slip roads off Ontdekkers onto Christiaan de Wet and vice versa.

Taxis don’t like waiting for the robot to go from red to green when they’re on the arterial, so they nip up one slip road, drive straight across four lanes of traffic and nip down the other slip and back onto Ontdekkers. As I slammed on brakes to avoid one such taxi, I heard the shopping crashing forward in the boot, and I thought: “I swear, if the coffee plunger is broken, I am going to send the bill to the traffic department…”

Because, you see, instead of managing the flow of traffic and policing this notorious intersection, the spietkops were just up the road, snoring (I kid you not – I clock them sleeping all the time). They prefer to let their machine tick over on a pretty stretch of road, generating speed fines of doubtful value which will be paid by less than one in five of the recipients.

An inefficient use of resources in my book – that just might have cost me a little wasted time and energy had my new coffee plunger broken, which would have meant a return trip to the shop.

For H, my injured acquaintance, the cost is much, much higher: apart from the impossible-to-quantify pain, his organisation is losing out, his family has to nurse him and he has to find money for return trips (in taxis!) to the clinic.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the monumental levels of inefficiency we have come to simply accept in our country.

And I’m not just talking about the public sector here – though heaven knows that’s worth a book in its own right. Two days ago I was in a bank in Northcliff, trying to transfer an account from the inefficient Rosebank branch (which had proven unable to manage a change of signatories for our organisation over 13 months).

I was there for fully ONE HOUR – mostly sitting tapping my fingers as the bank employee sought advice she shouldn’t have needed – without achieving a single step forward.

I went to my own bank to FICA. A simple matter, surely? It took 15 minutes or so – because “the photostat machine is making your ID come out too dark, I’ll have to find another one”. It was evidently a looong search.

A friend battled to prove her rented residence for FICA purposes because the bank employees would not accept a certified letter from her landlord to that effect. Another had to get a copy of her title deeds, since she no longer gets mail – just doesn’t get it – and had no acceptable proof of residence. Time and energy dribbled away…

To the roadside assistance service I called recently because my car wouldn’t start: I knew it was the car alarm, so I wanted you to disengage it. Why didn’t your mechanic simply tell me he could not do this and suggest a tow, rather than sulkily telling me it was a long job that he shouldn’t have to do, tinkering for an hour or so, cutting some wires to no purpose (which meant a little extra work for the auto-electrician) and THEN suggesting I have the car towed?

It would have saved me and the auto-electrician – and your own mechanic – time and energy.

The thought of billing for all my wasted time keeps recurring. A decade or so ago, I had an issue with a pathology laboratory which (over about nine months) kept demanding that I pay them and forcing me once more to send them proof that I had. Eventually I roughed out a bill for the cost of several hours of my time, the phone calls and faxes I’d had to do, and sent it off to the accounts department. That shut them up.

It feels kinda petty to get fed up about time wasted in the bank, the licensing department and so on, and to mutter about hours spent on phone calls and emails sorting out glitches that should never have happened, but it all adds up.

Just how much is all this inefficiency costing us, as individuals and as an economy? And not just in money, either – the frustration and anger is terribly stressful and quite likely has an impact on things like road rage and interpersonal aggression.

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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