Róisín Ingle: To get things done - like smart ticketing - we need to find the smartest people in the room

Ireland: A country with so much to do, but so much confusion and apathy about actually getting things done

I was rooting around down the back of the sofa for the bus fare the other day when I found a very long and fascinating document. It appeared to be some kind of To Do list. I actually thought it was mine at first, because some of the things To Do looked vaguely familiar:

  • Do a decent bit of decluttering and not just your usually half-arsed attempt (The list had me bang to rights here.)
  • Stop sweeping things under the carpet. No room left, more’s the pity (I felt strangely seen, as the kids say).

But then there were things on the To Do list that seemed deeply specific to some other person or, indeed, entity. Also it had TOP SECRET AND VERY EXTREMELY CONFIDENTIAL written on the back, which was revealing.

As I glanced through the pages – the list was unfeasibly long – I realised, to my amazement that what I was holding in my hand was our National To Do List. The actual To Do list of the whole country.

I know what you’re thinking, I don’t know how it got down the back of my sofa either, but there it was. It doesn’t feel right holding on to it, so I’m publishing some of it here in no particular order:

  • Win Eurovision, or at least get through to a poxy final for feck’s sake. (Bring back Dustin/Jedward/Logan/Dana?)
  • Fix Liffey Boardwalk – do more things on our main rivers like the crowd in Paris. Make a beach near Liberty Hall??? Charge people a tenner in? Include lots of ugly bollards for health and safety reasons, obvs
  • Off-shore windfarms. No rush, but at some stage, like
  • Housing!!!!!!!!!!????
  • Direct Provision????
  • Pensions?????
  • Do something about €65 billion windfall and possibly more if the whole Apple thing goes our way (God forbid). Maybe just leave in some kind of reserve yoke? Less hassle?
  • A few more trees on Northside streets of Dublin? Not too many. It’s not Ranelagh FFS
  • More trees/forests in general across country? Eventually. (Environment, blah)
  • Something about dairy farming
  • More bike lanes?????
  • All trains to have tea trolley again. By 2026 is grand.
  • Announce Kielty as Late Late Show host before he changes mind
  • Something about health service
  • Something about women
  • Children’s Hospital!!!!
  • Introduce contactless payments on bus/Luas etc using card/phone. Natives annoyingly restless on this one. Maybe by 2030?????

That’s just the start of the list. It goes on forever. There are pages and pages and an awful lot of excess punctuation. I felt sorry for Ireland reading it. So much to do, so much confusion and apathy about actually getting things done.

As a concerned citizen, I thought I’d try to help with one thing on the list. London has had contactless payments on its transport network since 2012. Other cities around the world such as New York and Berlin have since followed its blazing trail. Meanwhile, we launched our tendering process to try to procure similar next-generation ticketing in September 2020 and we have still not got around to even awarding the contract, never mind introducing such a system. So at the moment and for the foreseeable future, you either have to have a Leap Card or the exact coinage to get where you are going, which, given the technology available, is a mortifyingly antiquated state of affairs.

It took me one email to track down the person who had the idea for the contactless card/phone payments in the first place. That person is Shashi Verma, director of strategy and chief technology officer at Transport for London (TfL). Verma is an engineering graduate originally from India, where he was instrumental in turning Hyderabad into a buzzing tech centre. Verma, a cricket fan and amateur historian, is a person who gets things done. In 2006 he discovered that TfL was spending 15 per cent of its revenue just on collecting fees from passengers in the form of tickets. “Horrible,” was Verma’s verdict on this. So he and his team spent six years on the issue of contactless payment, ironing out the thorniest of technological issues and changing the way people travel forever.

Get rid of all the arse-coverers, the incompetent ‘can’t do’ people, the ones with zero imagination

Next time you are in London, tapping your card or phone without any of the hassle of tickets or coins, you can offer him a silent thank you. I asked Verma if he got a knighthood for his services to the British people. He smiled and said, in the public service, you don’t do things expecting a reward. The reward is in doing something “cool”. He actually meant it too. “I would make the same point about Ireland that I would make anywhere in the world, that there are very few things that you can do in transport that have a better return for the investment than investing in good, smart ticketing,” he told me. I felt uplifted after half an hour talking to Verma, an expert in the art of the possible.

shashi verma TfL

Ireland is a great country in many ways. We’re just not great at getting things done, as the never-ending To Do list I found down the back of my sofa proves. I have two ideas that might help us tick some things off that list:

1- Ring Shashi Verma, ask him what he thinks about each issue, listen to what he says and do that instead of whatever it was we were about to do or not do.

(In fairness, Verma is a busy man so my next idea is probably a little more feasible.)

2 Find all the Shashi Vermas in Ireland. The ones that haven’t fecked off in frustration. Find all the people who think outside the box. Locate the smartest people in all the rooms, the original thinkers younger and older, the men and women who are only chomping at the bit to make things better for the country and for all citizens, not just for themselves. Get rid of all the arse-coverers, the incompetent “can’t do” people, the ones with zero imagination, the failing upwards crowd. Let all the Shashi Vermas loose across every department to think about the problems and execute solutions. Stand back and let them do “cool” things. Don’t tie them up in red tape or bureaucracy while they implement their brilliant new strategies.

Do this and I guarantee our National To Do list will shrink in no time. That’s what we want after all.

I mean, it is, isn’t it?????????