Friday, 11 September 2009

Banksy Costs Lives

A final valedictory to my bête noire, the Banksy queue. We are told some 300,000 people visited Banksy vs Bristol Museum over the summer, most queuing for several hours in a serpentine column stretching up University Road and along Elmdale Road. Of course the Great and the Good didn't have to queue, either getting invited to private viewings if well connected or paying £25 a head to attend a special 'charity' viewing, but assuming the average Joe queued for say 3 hrs then the total time wasted in the queue was 900,000 hours, or 37,500 days, or over 100 years.

We can equate 100 years of wasted time to human lives. Average life expectancy is say 80 years (78 for men, 82 for women), although about a third of that is spent sleeping and the quality of the last 5 years or so may be very poor so we could equate a life to say 50 years of 'quality' time. One might of course argue about the quality of our waking lives, since much of the time is devoted to routine tasks that give little satisfaction in themselves, but let's leave that for another time.

So we can equate the time wasted in the Banksy queue to two complete human lives from birth to death. However few of those queuing were new born babes so we should take account of the average age of those queuing to establish a better life equivalent. Let's say the average age of visitors was around 30 and the average 30 year old can expect another 45 years overall of quality life, less one third sleeping gives net 30 years of quality life. So the time wasted in the queue was equivalent to more than 3 of the residual lives of those queuing. In short we can say the queue cost three lives.

Two weeks ago the Police closed the northbound side of the M5 Avonmouth Bridge to traffic for more than 6 hours because a man was threatening to jump from the bridge to his death, which he eventually did. The Police argued that the delay to motorway travellers was justified by the need to attempt to save the man's life and for the safety of those involved. But what of the life equivalence of the time wasted in the resulting massive traffic jam?

According to reports the traffic queue stretched back 35 miles to Bridgewater and many roads in and around Bristol were gridlocked as drivers tried to find avoiding routes. Difficult to estimate numbers involved but 35 miles (56 kms) of three lane motorway could accommodate around 33,600 stationery vehicles (5 metres per vehicle). Let's say that as it was a Bank Holiday weekend average vehicle occupancy was around 2.5 people so that gives us over 500,000 hours wasted. We can probably double that to take account of delays on the highway network beyond.

In effect the police decided to waste over 100 years of life, the complete residual lives of several people, in an attempt to save the residual life of a man of about my age, who on average one would expect to have little more than 10 years of potential quality waking life left. So the equivalent of ten 59 year old male lives were lost in a forlorn attempt to save one. It just doesn't add up and it looks as if the Police are beginning to realise what a major error of judgement they made.

In the same way Banksy and Bristol City Council decided to waste the residual lives of at least 3 people rather than charge for entry to Banksy vs Bristol Museum, a charge which might well have generated £5 million or more resulting in correspondingly lower Council Tax bills for all of us. What's more by eliminating significant queuing by charging a market rate entrance fee the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Bristol would have been freed from the captivity of the queue and able to spend more time visiting other attractions and would therefore have spent more money on goods and services in the city.

As they say, to err is human but to really screw things up you need a self-serving bureaucracy with a chronically risk-averse and economically illiterate culture. Or Banksy.


SteveL said...

Ahh, but time spent waiting for banksy was not only leisure time but an opportunity for our family to bond. Whereas an M5 blockade cost commuters time. Remember, the cost/minute of car time is valued more than pedestrians, cyclists or public transport users, so anyone waiting for Banksy is to be valued less.

Anonymous said...

Getting a bit deperate for content are we?

Anonymous said...

You really have too much time on your hands!

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, not at all, but I like to diversify, test out new ideas.

I know that new ideas are really scary for most people, so I understand your hostility. Perhaps you would be happier following another blog?

Chris Hutt said...

SteveL, you're right that queuing time is not necessarily entirely wasted and in the case of the Banksy queue one could argue that the queuing experience was an integral part of the Banksy experience.

However it's interesting to note that most of those who had the choice, like our elected councillors and MPs, opted out of the queue. It was good enough for the people but not good enough for the people's representatives.

And of course nobody queues if they have the choice, so it's clear that people do not want to spend time queuing and regard it as largely wasted time. Of course the waste is resented far more when it is forced on people unexpectedly as with the Avonmouth Bridge closure.

Rob W said...

And I wasted two minutes of my life reading that...

Chris Hutt said...

So all we need is another 27 million people to waste two minutes reading this post and it will have wasted as many lives as the Banksy queue.

Anonymous said...

Oh shut up! This is as stupid as saying that wiping your arse or waiting at a bus stop costs lives. I gave up with the Banksy queue after 2 hours when I needed a wee. It is not a capitalist conspiracy!
*illegalsec* xxx

Ben S said...

No cloud so silver that you can't find a grey lining, eh Chris?

Chris Hutt said...

Not a capitalist conspiracy but it bears all the hallmarks of a socialist one.

1. The failure to identify the market value of the service offered.

2. Billing non-consumers of the service instead of consumers.

3. Offering high value services for 'free' and then being unable to meet demand.

4. Generating massive queues which of course the politicos and aparatchiks avoid by having preferential access to the service.

5. Offering services that appeal to the politico and aparatchik classes rather than the wider public.

6. Failure to generate substantial revenues for the public good when the chance arises.

Chris Hutt said...

Yes Ben S, every silver lining comes in a grey cloud. I merely point this out, but many would rather not know, prefering to cling to the notion of gain without pain, good without bad, up without down, yin without yang.

Ben S said...

Why mangle statistics in a absurdly reductionist way in order to create yourself a cloud?

Without the artist there would have been no show. The artist asked that there be no charge. Should the Museum directors have declined the offer of the show? Wouldn't we then be lambasting them for a missed opportunity to bring tourists and revenue to the city in the middle of a recession?

Alternatively, what level of charge would have removed the queue?

And aren't these two - "4. Generating massive queues which of course the politicos and aparatchiks avoid by having preferential access to the service.

5. Offering services that appeal to the politico and aparatchik classes rather than the wider public" - contradictory?

(Oh, and the irony of this is that I didn't actually see it, as it turned out I didn't have time...)

Mike said...

Funny post etc.

First: I know someone who queued for 2 hours, just for the queuing experience, and left once their opportunity to enter finally arrived. I guess the value of any experience is entirely down to us to create for ourselves.

Second: I am aware there was a lot of moaning about the motorway queue that resulted from the decision of the Police. Whatever the failings of the police, perhaps you would permit me to say here, that I think anyone who moans about such a thing should fuck off and get a real life.

I've probably just descended to "thisisbristol" level commenting there. Please moderate me out if you agree.

Chris Hutt said...

Mike, I never moderate anybody out (unless a comment is no more than someone touting their commercial web site) although I did once excise the F word from a comment, but in this case I won't.

I take your first point. Queuing can have some compensations, perhaps through the opportunity for socialising. Or one might read a book or paper or whatever.

My own experience of queuing for 2 hrs 40 mins was that the first 40 mins weren't so bad but the extra two hours I could have done without. My capacity to enjoy the exhibition (if you can believe that I have such a capacity in the first place) after such a wearying wait was much reduced. I would much prefer to have paid an entrance fee of say £10 and not had to queue, although I wonder if that would have been high enough to balance supply and demand.

Interesting to hear of so many people who gave up on the exhibition due to the length of the queue. I would have too but I was taking a child so was obliged to see it through.

On the motorway queue, I'm no fan of motorways and car travel, but nevertheless I think hundreds of thousands of people were subjected to an intensely frustrating experience without adequate justification.

My figures seek to demonstrate that the collective harm done by the traffic jam can be greater than the potential good of saving someone's life. I know that's hard to accept emotionally but I believe reason is often a better guide in these things.

Adam said...

It's all about value and quality. Everything. Not always money. Not always quantifiable. Not always tangible. Not always rational.Doesn't always sit well with bureaucracy.

Ps. Waiting for the Banksy persona to be revealed as a drawn out London ad agency creation for Tesko.

Chris Hutt said...

Ben S, did I 'mangle' statistics? It's obviously a simplistic exercise that ignores many complexities but isn't that a necessary method - reductionism as you say - for us to understand things?

My main point is that a small harm done to lots of people (say a delay, charge or tax) can be equated to a large harm done to a small number of people as a means of better appreciating the total harm inflicted.

A three hour delay to one individual is unfortunate but not that serious in the greater scheme of things. But when applied to 300,000 people it becomes a serious loss of time and wealth which can be better appreciated when expressed in terms of wasting the lives of three 30 year olds.

On the question of what level of entrance fee would just eliminate queuing (in other words balance supply and demand), that can only be determined by the market.

If a £5 charge were introduced to start with and then the effect assessed, raising or lowering it until the balance was struck, perhaps with different charges for different times to reflect varying demands.

As for Banksy, we are told he agreed to the £25 entrance fee for at least one evening viewing, half of which went to the Museum, so he doesn't appear to be very dogmatic about it being 'free'.

He might well have been persuaded to allow more widespread charging to be introduced, perhaps on the basis that the funds raised were devoted to a particular good cause, like say erasing graffiti from our streets.

One result of the Banksy phenomenon is likely to be a big increase in grafiti generally so it would be fitting that he should help pay for its removal.

Anonymous said...

This analysis is ridiculous. It's a classic example of someone who has picked a viewpoint and then gone out and manufactured some scary looking numbers to support it. You should be ashamed of yourself. Or you should go get a job as a Labour spin doctor.

You can get the same sort of figures by aggregating the time spent doing any kind of popualar leisure activity. How many lives do picnics cost? How many lives does dancing cost? How many lives does walking the dog cost?

tectonics environmental design said...

i was going to comment, then i tought, no, sod it, waste of time, then i stought, oh i've commented...

Chris Hutt said...

To Anon@13.14 it depends on whether we choose to spend our time, as we do dog walking or dancing, or whether the time is 'stolen' from us as with the Avonmouth Bridge closure. The Banksy queue is somewhere in the middle, nobody being forced to visit the exhibition but those who do being forced to queue unnecessarily.

When very large numbers of people are delayed or forced to queue for long periods by a bureaucratic decision that has a significant economic cost which can be expressed in various ways, for example the monetary vale (as explored in my earlier blog-post) or the life equivalent.

But it seems that neither the Police or the City Council are willing to acknowledge these costs which is a serious failure on the part of a public institution. The point of my post is to highlight this institutional failure.

Dorothea said...

Entertaining post Chris, thanks. It just goes to show there are many, many ways of seeing any given situation, all depending on context.

Radical Cheek said...

Banksy's cool! Dangerous! Radical!

So dangerous and radical in fact that the Establishment want to lick him all over and climb up his arse.

The steaming hypocrisy of Bristol City Council fawning over this onetime graffitist while we're supposed to all pretend that it's really some kind of hip "versus" thang, and at the same time they toss out £xxx,xxx of OUR money on removing graffiti by other artists who happens to be less trendy at this moment is, um, well, typical.

Weally Wad, OK Yaah.

Radical Cheek said...

And, Adam, you mention "Tesko", yes, the "k" is noted.

It just occurred to me the obvious about Mr Banksy's piece, Tesco Pledge Your Allegiance official - get that - official - title 'Very Little Helps'

As the woman in the Tesco checkout so darkly reminded me the other day (seriously, I'm not joking here) "they're Jews you know"

Ha ha ha, so Banksy's joined the ranks of promoters of the great ZOG conspiracy meme has he?

And for those innocent souls who will claim that they don't know what ZOG means, here's a helping hand:

And oh look! A Skrewdriver link is the fourth one down.

Who's K-ing who?

Chris Hutt said...

Radical cheek, I think that sums up the Banksy hype pretty well. He's just cashed in on all his street cred for...£1 apparently.

As Banksy pointed out himself the most challenging artists only achieve respectability after they die. He's peaked too soon.

Ben S said...

Hi Chris,
Hope you had a good weekend.

“Ben S, did I 'mangle' statistics? It's obviously a simplistic exercise that ignores many complexities ... expressed in terms of wasting the lives of three 30 year olds.”

I know very little about statistical analysis, but isn’t your calculation an example of selection bias? You have a conclusion you wish to reach (‘the council screwed it up’), so you have worked towards a set of equations that can support this point? In your attempt to simplify things so we poor blinkered masses can understand it haven’t you actually drifted so far into the realms of abstraction that your conclusions are equally removed from reality?

For example, if this exercise really was anything other than a tongue-in-cheek (so hard to tell – you play a very straight bat) bit of troll-bait you surely would have tried to quantify the benefit that going through the queue gives to the participant – for example ascribing a value to being one of the 300,000 people who did get to see it, out of a global population of six billion – this rarity value alone means the experience must a valuable one, yes? So let’s say it’s worth (in the form of future bragging rights, in fuel for blogs posts, inspiration for future artistic endevours and maybe even just for the thoughts and considerations regarding the work itself, etc, etc) about £50 over the course of a lifetime – this equates to a total value of £15m. Divided by the £10 per hour that you have previously used as a notional value of time and this gives us 1.5m hours. Take away the 900,000 hours ‘wasted’ in the queue and we have a net gain of 600,000 hours – or a net gain of one life. So maybe your headline should actually read ‘Banksy: lifesaver’?

; )

“If a £5 charge were introduced to start with and then the effect assessed, raising or lowering it until the balance was struck...”

£5 would have done little or nothing to reduce the queue, and I think you are deluding yourself if you think that a fluctuating (by which we mean increasing) fee throughout the exhibitions lifespan wouldn’t have been used by yourself and others as evidence of ‘the council screwing up’. And a fee for this kind of thing – where demand was always going to exceed supply – can only lead to the creation of a black market, where the benefit would not go to the Museum (and by extension the taxpayer). The fee would have eventually had to be pitched at such a high level that many lower-income people and families would not have been able to attend – which is harsh on local taxpayers who support the museum through their CT bills all year round.

“One result of the Banksy phenomenon is likely to be a big increase in grafiti generally...”

I’m not so sure about this. Among the few young people I have the misfortune to know Banksy’s credibility is shot to bits – I mean which self-respecting teenager looks up to someone who engenders such fawning respect from the local council, local media and yr mum and dad. Just not cool.

The reason I’m drawn to comment on this, Chris, is that I like your writing, and agree with many of your posts (particularly the ‘Constructive Suggestions’ series). But I fear that this kind of far-fetched analysis makes it too easy for people to dismiss you as some kind of crank and ignore your more heartfelt and sensible writings and suggestions.

(Apologies for the length of my ramblings – forgot my book and bored on my lunch break!)

Ben S said...

@ Radical Cheek

I don't get it? Because some random in the queue at Tescos said something to you about jews, Banksy is an anti-semite?

Careful with those leaps of logic - you're going to strain something.

Dave said...

A man dies, and you write this crap? Shame on you.

Radical Cheek said...

Ben S wrote "Among the few young people I have the misfortune to know"

I'm hoping that this is ironic?

Dear Ben, as far as I understand, members of the the founding Porter (Cohen) dynasty are still major shareholders in Tesco, as their employee so kindly reminded me.

And on to the art aspect. Art, as you may be aware, is multivalent, filled with ambiguity. That's part of its value and charm.

Artists and writers need to be, and generally are, very much alive to the varying interpretations that may be put on their work, the political implications, the subtext(s), the hidden or esoteric meanings, the semiotics, the subliminal effects, and so on.

To spell it out for you, one of the subtexts, or subliminal implications of conflating the US flag and the "Tesko" bag, as the piece of work referred to undoubtedly does, is extremely unfortunate in the context of widespread and longstanding multilingual global comment (much of it very hostile, referring as some of it does, in its English versions, to "zionazis" and "ZOG") as to the nature of relations between Israel and the United States of America.

Interrogating the meaning of pieces of art or writing is part of the function of art.

Hope this helps ...

Al Shaw said...

I'm not interested in the Banksy issue but I'm really shocked by your comments about the closure of the M5.

You are taking a radical reductionist approach that seems to equate "existence" (in the case of the man who tragically jumped to his death) with "time" (in the case of those gridlocked in the traffic).

You are surely incorrect in saying that those stuck in the traffic "lost" any part of their lives, no matter how inconvenienced they were. They continued to exist, albeit in a set of circumstances that many would have found irksome. In those circumstances, they had opportunity to think, reflect, communicate, be entertained and, in many respects, continue a near-normal existence.

Paul Anthony Cowling, by contrast, ceased to exist that day, due to circumstances which have yet to fully come to light.

I hope this post, which started quite humorously, is no just a huge joke. If so I think it is in very poor taste.

If you genuinely believe what you say about the M5 incident, then trying to draw a parallel between Paul Cowling’s tragic death and the lost time of motorists is, in my opinion, morally dubious.

Chris Hutt said...

Al, thanks for the comment.

I suppose it comes down to how and why we value life. Does just being alive have inherrent value irrespective of what we do with the time, or is the value created by activity - the pursuit of happiness for example?

I'm inclined to the latter view, although I would say the pursuit of satisfaction rather than happiness. For me satisfaction lies in achieving worthwhile things, which of course one cannot readily do if physically confined in a place where one doesn't have access to the resources one requires to pursue satisfaction.

So for me being confined in a motorway traffic jam for hours where one cannot make progress in the pursuit of satisfaction is the equivalent of having a small part of one's life taken away. If that loss is suffered by enough people the total loss can be equated to complete lifetimes.

There may well be some residual value to the time in the traffic jam in that, as you point out, one can still think, communicate, etc., but I've no doubt that most people find the experience frustrating and would go to some lengths to avoid it.

In the case of someone committing suicide (I accept that is not yet established that Paul Cowling did this) this could indicate that he found very little satisfaction in life. He might conceivably be acting quite rationally in seeking to bring his life to a premature end if it appears to offer little value.

Ben S said...

@ Radical Cheek

Having not seen the piece I am loathe to comment, but feel I must say that criticism of Israel, and America's historic military & economic support of them, does not automatically equate to anti-semitism.

Radical Cheek said...

Hi Ben S,

but you already have commented, quite strongly.

You are the one here who is leaping to conclusions and talking about "anti-semitism" whereas I was just asking a perfectly legitimate question, if somewhat ironically.

A photo of the work in question may be found at the link below:

Radical Cheek said...

Dorothea said...

On the other hand, here’s a view from yet another perspective.

Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for that link to Richard Lawson's blog Dorothea.

I entirely accept that different people will perceive queuing differently and some may not regard it as a significant waste of time.

Personally I have a very low tolerance for queuing and resent the waste of time, as you may have gathered. Clearly I am not alone in that regard as many have complained about the Banksy queues and even more so about the M5 traffic jam.

What's more many people simply couldn't spare the time to queue because of work and other commitments and so were denied the chance to visit the exhibition.

If a market rate entry charge had been instituted then those who could not afford the charge would have been denied the opportunity to visit instead. Would that have been worse or better overall? It would have generated a substantial sum, say £5+, which could have been used to good effect.

Some people who didn't mind queuing much visited more than once, so inadvertently denying others the chance to visit. Would the same thing have happened with an entry charge? I suspect much less.

Another option might have been to have paid entry at the most popular times, say weekends and/or mornings, and free entry at other times. That would give both the cash rich/time poor and the time rich/cash poor a fair crack of the whip.

Perhaps Easyjet style flexible pricing would have optimised accessibility and revenue, as it does for air travel. You could book your visit on-line paying an entry fee that reflects the popularity of that time slot.

What annoys me most is that the City Council don't appear to be interested in maximising revenues (hence minimising council tax and/or improving services) and actually revelled in the lengths of the queue, as if the suffering of the people was testament to their power and prestige, the sort of thing usually associated with arrogant tyrants.

Jon Rogers said...

Chris repeats yet again, "What annoys me most is that the City Council don't appear to be interested in maximising revenues"

Not true.

Banksy condition that BCC could not charge for the exhibition. In fact cost BCC to have extra staff etc. Well worth the money IMO, but to repeat again...



On deaf ears of course :-(


Chris Hutt said...

So what about the evening session where 700 people paid £25 entrance fee? I understand that Banksy agreed to that, so why couldn't he have been approached to consider proposals for charging as a means of managing supply and demand?

Even if charging was ruled out by Banksy couldn't the Council have instituted a booking system so people could reserve an entry time and not have to waste hours queuing?

Jon Rogers said...

In case Bristolblogger thinks I am confused, this isn't my portfolio, but since Chris asked, "even if charging was ruled out by Banksy couldn't the Council have instituted a booking system so people could reserve an entry time and not have to waste hours queuing?"

I doubt that is as easy as it sounds. A few "top of head" comments...

First, how would you make a booking? In person, by phone, on web, by email, letter, ticket booking etc?

Second, would you have to queue to book? Or have internet access? or spend hours trying to get through on the phone?

Third, how much would that cost the council to implement?

Fourth, how would you confirm that the person appearing was who they said they were, that they were neither turning up too early or too late for their slot?

Fifth, how would you judge how many people to allocate at each time slot? The attendants got pretty good at judging how long people would take to get in, but what if a large group of people took longer to get round, etc, etc.

I am sure with your analytical mind, you could find more questions. As you say, you "like to diversify, test out new ideas."


Anonymous said...

booking system. now you really are being silly..

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, I believe Glastonbury Festival operates a booking system and that seems to work to most people's satisfaction. So incidentally do the Colston Hall, Theatre Royal, Watershed, Easyjet, FGW trains, National Express, the YHA, hotels, restaurants, taxis, etc, etc.

I dare say what is routine for the private sector is a big logistical headache for the City Council (although don't you run the Colston Hall?), but surely with suitably expensive advice from external consultants a way could be found of making it work.

To answer a few of your questions for free, (1 and 2) booking could be made anyway you like, it doesn't really matter, and if it does matter then do it the best way; (3)the cost of booking could be covered by a booking charge (not an entry charge, so there Banksy); (4) I'm sure there are many ways, but might include issuing each booker with a unique number or an actual ticket; (5) the bookings allocated to each time slot could be substantially less than capacity to leave the option of queung without booking to take up the slack.

Now how many months of meetings, reports and consultations would it have required for the City Council to come up with those ideas? In fact why should the City Council handle it at all? The booking system could be operated by the private sector on behalf of and at no cost to the council. Come to think of it, why not let the private sector run the Museums themselves?

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, why not let the private sector run the Museums themselves?

Just like the bus service!! Then you can get the private sector into run the health service.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, there would be a big difference. The people, through BCC, would continue to own the museums and their contents. If the private sector operator (which might well be much the same people who already run it) performed badly they could be replaced by another operator.

One problem with First is that we have no way of replacing them with another operator because we do not own the buses and supporting infrastructure (although I think we own the stops?). If we owned the infrastructure and First were merely the operator who could be replaced if they failed to perform then you can imagine that things might be rather different.

Ben S said...

@Radical Cheek

Looking at the piece (thanks for the link, btw) it could be interpreted as a simple attack on consumerism and Tesco’s domination of retailing in the UK, although in light of Bansky’s trip to Palestine – and work on the Wall there – I think it would be fair to infer some level of comment on the US/Israel relationship.

And re.:

“You are the one here who is leaping to conclusions and talking about "anti-semitism" whereas I was just asking a perfectly legitimate question, if somewhat ironically.”


I obviously must apologise – I mistakenly thought that this previous comment of yours -

“As the woman in the Tesco checkout so darkly reminded me the other day (seriously, I'm not joking here) "they're Jews you know" Ha ha ha, so Banksy's joined the ranks of promoters of the great ZOG conspiracy meme has he?”

- may have been a passing allusion to anti-Semitism.

I now see that this was a silly way to interpret your comment, and withdraw from the conversation to engage in a basic reading comprehension training course, to try and work out what you were actually trying to say.

Pasqua said...

What a better situation we could have if a neglected third option could happen, ie that instead of it being EITHER the public/state OR the private sector which ran things, that it could be the people who worked in the Museum, say, or the hospital, or the transport service, who could organise and run the business themselves.

Could they be bothered?

Andit seems like some of the major opponents of this are the big unions - didn't the CWU reject the idea of postal workers having shares/owning the PO themselves?

As to this Banksy bloke supposedly not wanting to charge, well that seems pretty stupid and dogmatic to me. Even apart from the fact that he contradicted himself anyway by allowing a £25 charge to some, also for the supply and demand reasons that Chris has outlined. Well surely someone could have explained to him why charging would have been a good idea, at peak times at least?

That is if he's interested in hearing other points of view.