The Uberisation of the World

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I was in Prague last week, I’m enjoying access to EU passport lines while we still can. I glanced at the non EU member’s line, half would have given their right arm to be in the EU queue and here we are embracing the opportunity of being left out in the cold. 

I slept in an airport hotel the night before flying out. The shuttle bus to Terminal 3 was a tenner. I downloaded the UBER App onto my smart phone. Mohammed, the driver, turns up seven minutes later in a Prius and drives me there for six quid. 

Uber is a intriguing app; the passenger can rate the driver, the driver can rate the passenger. It’s like Tinder, but with clothes. Mohammed tells me, if an Uber driver averages less than a 4.5 (out of 5), they are called in for customer service training. It’s a call they cannot ignore for fear of being shut out of the booking process. I like this app, very much. I also liked Mohammed, I gave him a 5* rating and a tip. 

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I’ve been in Prague before and a cab driver over charged me, I know this because a woman staying at the same hotel, who’s cab pulled up behind mine, and who had left the same venue I had travelled from, was charged considerably less. 

So this time, I decided to use public transport instead of a cab. Roaming charges were recently dropped across the EU and along with Google Maps, this has transformed getting around for all of us (until 29th March 2019.) 

I opened Google Maps, entered the hotel name and was given clear directions on how to get there. Number 119 bus from Prague Airport, transfer to the Metro B line, change at the station Muzeum to the A line. Get off at the next stop, turn right and walk for three minutes. Total travel time, 25 minutes, total cost, £1.50.

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For the next three days, I zipped around the capital of the Czech Republic by Tram, Bus and Metro. It was great value, less than a tenner for a three day pass. It was easy to navigate. With Google Maps and no roaming charges, it was incredibly efficient. 

A successful integrated transport system is one where Government, Transport Providers and Tech firms operate together. Getting from A to B is seamless when all three collaborate. 

I photographed the temporary removal of a public work of art in Birmingham yesterday. Iron: Man is being placed into storage and cleaned before returning to the city next year a few metres away from it’s previous site. The move was necessary to accommodate the expansion of our own Tram system. 

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The art work by Sir Anthony Gormley OBE reflects the industrial heritage of the West Midlands, and I suspect the six ton piece would smile at the irony of being shifted for reasons of progress. And an expansion of a public transport system is exactly that, progress. 

One of the objectives of the West Midlands Metro Mayor, Andy Street is to tackle productivity. Germany does in four days, what we do in five. One sure way of increasing productivity is tackling congestion. The Government’s commitment to this region in funding the Metro expansion sends a clear signal they are willing to invest in the region. This is a good investment. 

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Throw in a city that embraces smart phones, Google Maps will get citizens and visitors around the place easier and quicker. Productivity increase can be ticked off the Mayor’s ‘to do list’ as he heads into the Conservative Party Conference next month. 

The abolition of roaming charges across the EU is something the UK needs to buy into post Brexit. Visitors from the continent will be able to access the ever increasing public transport network without having to think about eye watering overseas mobile data charges. 

Landing back at Heathrow, I took a black cab back to the hotel instead of an Uber. I clipped the passenger door and cut my eye. As I paid the cabbie the £12.80 fare whilst holding a tissue to my bleeding eye, he short changed me and drove off. I still have the scar, what I don’t have is his name or the ability to rate him. I’ll stick to Uber from now on.

Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham @jassansi 07930 837 505

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Conference City Shines in the Sun

Jas Sansi reflects on the four days Birmingham hosted the Conservative Party Conference. 

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Prime Minister Theresa May, along with her cabinet and party machine have now left Birmingham after a very successful four day conference in the second city.

I was on site for the entire duration from breakfast events at 7:30am to evening drinks receptions before posting images late into the night. These are my reflections on what was hashtagged #cpc16.

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Brexit

Brexit was inevitably the talking point of conference. The Prime Minister addressed a packed Symphony Hall on the opening day for a session dedicated to the decision to leave the EU. We learned Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017.

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I noticed the BBC’s Nick Robinson delivering a piece to radio as Theresa May left the stage on Sunday. David Davis from the Department for Exiting the EU then walked on. Nick Robinson walked out, signaling there was no more of what Daily Politics termed ‘red meat’ being thrown to party activists.

The record number of overseas media who had flown in with the hope of securing further clarification of what Brexit means were disappointed. Brexit Ministers were pretty silent for the rest of conference.

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An important point raised at a fringe event at The Cube explained Parliament’s sovereign power on the vote to leave the EU. If Parliament does not vote on whether or not to accept the result of the EU Referendum, what will stop future Governments from by-passing Parliament and introducing laws using a referendum?

The EU Referendum was built on a campaign of promising £350 Million a week to the NHS. A promise that was binned within hours of the result. There is a possibility, future Governments may offer a referendum on a controversial issue, wrap it in creative slogans and secure a result allowing them to avoid a debate in Parliament. A worrying return to mob rule pumped up by lies disguised as facts.

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Midlands Engine 

This is a term used for the geographical area of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). In the same way, Northern Powerhouse describes George Osborne’s aspiration for Greater Manchester and beyond.

Conference offered an unparalleled opportunity to share the vision of the Midlands Engine. Only one of the seven authorities within the WMCA is Conservative. It was left to Solihull Council leader, Bob Sleigh and the WMCA Chief Executive, Martin Reeves to address the Midlands Engine fringe events.

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Andy Street was unveiled as the Conservative candidate for the Regional Elected Mayor. He’ll be stepping down as the head of John Lewis and entering the shark tank of politics. I understand the Conservatives are very eager to install their candidate in this traditional Labour heartland. He is undoubtedly a strong candidate having steered the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP in recent years. I’m looking forward to the Christmas campaign advert with Monty the Penguin wearing a blue rosette.

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HS2

The Birmingham Post ran a survey last week measuring public support for HS2 in the region. About half said the costs were hard to justify. Those living on the route don’t appear too keen either.

Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP stated Government is 100% behind the project. HS2 attains royal assent by Christmas, possibly January 2017. Construction begins in Spring 2017. The campaign then moves from one of securing HS2 for the region to a communication campaign to secure hearts and minds of the region’s people.

There was an understanding at conference that HS2 may not be used by ordinary working people. However the investment it will attract, the 100,000 jobs it will create and secure and the economic growth from regeneration will be felt by all. The benefits to the region are coming down the track.

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Commonwealth Games 2026

Birmingham City Council announced a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. This is the year HS2 begins its 48 minute journey between Birmingham and London. The Commonwealth Games could be a powerful vehicle delivering the hearts and minds campaign for HS2.

Liverpool are also submitting a bid for 2026. Manchester hosted the games in 2002, it would be good to see them held in the Midlands which has never experienced them. The build up would also contribute to post Brexit trade deals with those parts of the world the UK has a historical relationship with.

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A Party for Everyone

Whilst waiting for the Prime Minister to deliver her conference speech on Wednesday, a couple of songs were played on a loop; ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles and ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke. The significance of both songs could not have gone unnoticed.

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Symbolism played a big part in the conference. A huge red circle in the middle of the ICC clearly set out a message from Japan on the need to protect their UK investment in Brexit negotiations with the EU.

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David Cameron was recognised for his contribution to the party in both of Theresa May’s speeches but a display called ‘Our History’ of past Conservative Prime Ministers ended with John Major.

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The Northern Powerhouse stand was exiled to a small cubicle at the rear of the exhibition space. George Osborne did not even attend conference.

Heathrow Airport who usually have the biggest and most impressive stand at party conference were nowhere to be seen. Influential lobbying group, London First held a private ‘invite only’ Heathrow fringe event. I requested an invitation but was politely turned down.

Their absence may be explained by having the deal for a third runway sewn up or possibly Heathrow throwing in the towel on their expansion plans. The decision is expected to land very soon.

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Conference Party delegates have checked out of their hotels on Broad Street and leaving Birmingham in good spirits. It remains to be seen if we’ll be checking out of the EU in March 2017 and leaving on the terms we want. The only thing we can be sure of post Brexit is ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’

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Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer and columnist for the Asian Today Newspaper.

@jassansi

The full set of images from #cpc16: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jassansi/albums/72157671370218174