On Yer Bike Boris!

I have been in London for several days meeting with politicians, community leaders and business people. The brief visit has provided a fascinating insight into some of the issues confronting England since the global financial crisis and the change of government.

Talking with Londoners, there is clearly some concern with the direction that the nation is heading in. These range from immigration worries to the perils of falling house prices. Overall, it seems that the almost intangible ‘quality of life’ issues are of the biggest concern.

On the flip side, many locals have nothing but positive things to say about (relatively) new London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Johnson is considered something of a maverick politician who has a quirky sense of the fitness of things that endears him to many people within the community.

It is also clear that he is a polarising figure given his forthrightness and conservative political leanings. These have led to him being called a ‘racist’ and a ‘very, very clever man pretending to be an idiot’.

Last week I saw Johnson speaking at an event scheduled to mark the 30th anniversary of the Brixton race riots; a revolt that lasted three days and resulted in 350 police officers and 65 civilians being injured.

Noting it was a ‘seminal event in London’s history’ Johnson acknowledged that “It’s very important that we commemorate what happened 30 years ago – to look back at mistakes that were made…”

Indeed there are many lessons to be learned from examining the mistakes of the past – both our own and those of others. There is also a great deal to be learned from the success of others and Boris Johnson has a number of notable ones.

One of these successes is immediately visible to any returning visitor to London – Boris’ Bikes. This is the colloquial name given to the short-term bike hiring service that operates throughout central London.

For a modest registration fee, one can use a bike and return it to one of the many bike bays that dot the city. Any use under 30 minutes is free which is very attractive to those trying to help the environment or watching the wallet.

Having availed myself of Boris’ Bikes on many occasions to commute between meetings, I was struck by just how simple and practical this operation proved to be. It was also demonstrably very popular with visitors, business people and families alike.

However, one of the keys to its success is that riders are not required to wear a helmet. This is probably why similar schemes operating in Australia are nowhere near as successful. In our snuggly cocoon society, adults cannot determine whether they wish to wear a helmet or not.

However, in one of the truly great international cities, even in a country almost frozen by political correctness, adults do have this freedom of choice.

It might seem like a minor thing to the casual observer but it sends a very clear message. That message not only encourages initiatives like Boris’ Bikes but lets every adult know they have to take some responsibility for their own decisions.

It’s a simple lesson that should be shared with every Australian.

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