Insights from the UK and beyond
Will there ever be the “right type of snow” in Britain?
The last time round when there was such widespread travel chaos in Britain due to snow was quite some time ago….it was in 1991 – the year the “wrong type of snow” was born – British Rail’s ill-conceived attempt to explain why the railways had come to a virtual standstill after heavy snowfall.
The “wrong type” of just about anything has since been used to explain why the country’s creaking transport system is grinding to a halt ….remember the one about the “wrong type of leaves” on the tracks?
OK, before you read on I should declare that I’m not British and hail from a country that usually copes with bad weather a lot better than Britain.
But I’ve been here long enough – 20 years to be precise – to think when I heard on the radio in the morning that no London busses were running at all – that didn’t even happen during the Blitz, apparently – …”oh well, it must be bad then … better log on from home”. And so did thousands of employees, many of them actively encouraged by their employers not to travel to work unless it was “critical”.
But I still couldn’t help thinking: why is this happening, and shouldn’t I make a bit more of an effort to get into the office? Why is there hardly any public transport, forcing so many people to stay at home when there is heavy snowfall? Can’t the streets of London be gritted, and why is no one shovelling the snow off the pavement outside their houses, an effort common in many countries that experience wintery conditions?
The cost to businesses is huge – an estimated 1 billion pounds a day as about 20 per cent of the country’s workforce is believed to have taken a “snow day” on Monday.
It’s not that it never snows heavily in Britain – but in London it’s not so common. London Mayor Boris Johnson, facing questions over the inability of the capital’s infrastructure to cope with six inches of snow, conceded the city did not have enough ploughs to keep the roads clear.
“There’s no doubt about it, this is the right kind of snow, it’s just the wrong kind of quantities,” Johnson told the BBC.
But local councils said the snow was simply “too heavy” for their gritters to work. “The problem with this sort of weather is when you grit and it snows heavily, of course, the maximum effect of that gritting is lost,” the Local Government Association said.
So, it WAS the “wrong kind of snow” again….