London Comment: Bikes And Police

If you head south of London by road, look out for a machine next to the highway near the seaside town of Brighton. It is easy to spot. There's a great big illuminated numerical display on the top. Every time a bicycle goes by the machine is meant to see it, count it and inform other road users how many have passed by. According to the machine, thousands a day pedal along. Which is puzzling. In actual fact there are very few indeed. Because this piece of publicly funded gadgetry is unable to tell the difference between bicycles, trucks, cows, dogs, or small children. It counts them all, indiscriminately. No one knows why. And nobody has the foggiest idea what conceivable use it would be even if it worked. But it was put up by the local council and local taxpayers had to pay for it. They also had to pay to take Mrs Christine Foreman to court. She doesn't ride a bicycle. But she's very fond of pigeons. Every day she feeds them breadcrumbs and watches the birds flutter in. A harmless enough past-time for a lady nearing retirement. But her council, in Croydon to the south of London, said Mrs Foreman's actions had turned people's lives into living hell. The poor lady was fined 12,000 dollars, and she could go to jail if she so much as smiles at a pigeon again. Both these crazy stories represent the way tax-funded organisations in this country can waste our money. Now the British Government is putting the squeeze on - and a little commercial sense could be on the way. Up in Yorkshire, way north of London, the Fire Fighting service is seriously thinking of selling advertising space on its fire engines - and there's even talk of raising cash for the law enforcement agencies by getting local companies to sponsor police cars. That is if there are any cars -- in the West of England the police service is already so hard up, they've reduced the number of vehicles and told officers to take the bus or better still -- use a bicycle. Which is where I began. This is Ed Boyle for CBS News in London.
Ed Boyle
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