When government hands you its latest ‘line’

On a recent Saturday afternoon, just past midday, hundreds (thousands?) of thoroughly ticked-off people were crammed into lines snaking through the reception terminal at Owen Roberts International Airport.

In fact, the lines were so long that they originated inside, totally overfilling the hall, and then wended outside into the heat (a few Good Samaritans were handing out bottled water to the weak and the weary), and then back inside for the long trek through security checks and into the departure lounge, altogether evoking images of the U.S. escape from Saigon in 1975.

These poor souls — most of them our cherished tourists — were leaving Cayman and, from a sampling of their (unprintable) conversations, many were not coming back.

This intolerable drama replays itself every weekend with no solution or cessation apparently in place. Is it the Cayman Islands Airports Authority’s plan to let this chaos go on forever — or at least until a new airport is in place (which, in Cayman, is synonymous with “forever”)?

What does the Department of Tourism think about all of this? How about the Cayman Islands Tourism Association? The fire department? Is anyone awake here?

Long lines tend to form when governments fail to address their basic purpose — that is, to serve the people. More than a practical nuisance, overcrowding of infrastructure is a sign of serious public sector dysfunction.

Here in the Cayman Islands, thankfully, we do not often find ourselves queuing for food, unless it’s in the supermarket during the lunch crunch, at a particularly trendy eatery or following a terribly destructive storm such as Hurricane Ivan. Cayman’s private sector has shown itself to be more than capable of catering to the whims and desires of our population.

However, when Cayman’s government is directly involved, waiting in line (or its toxic twin, bureaucratic delay) far too often is an integral part of the process — whether it’s commuting on public roads, navigating immigration, seeking justice in our courts, requesting public records or getting approval for a development.

Where government should be — for example, monitoring crowded conditions at the Stingray City Sandbar — it’s not. Where government shouldn’t be — for example, forcing registration upon small, uncoordinated, not-for-profit fundraising campaigns — there it is.

On a personal level, the act of waiting is incredibly frustrating, particularly when what’s at the end of the line isn’t a luxury — a roller coaster ride, newest iPhone or front-row concert tickets — but a necessity — a job, license or permission to stay on island.

Economically, waiting is wasteful. Those precious minutes we spend idling during rush hour at the Hurley’s roundabout accumulate collectively into hours, days and years of lost productivity — not to mention the gallons of gasoline being burnt for naught.

(For perspective, researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that in 2011, the average U.S. commuter “lost” 38 hours per year because of congestion, representing a cost of more than US$120 billion, nearly US$820 per commuter.)

The conclusion we draw is that the next time you’re stuck on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, in a nonmoving line at Owen Roberts or waiting at the post office for an overdue letter from Immigration, ask yourself the favorite question of all Auditor Generals: When it comes to government spending, are you getting value for money?

1 COMMENT

  1. Lord no. Actually it only seems just a few who are affiliated with a party system are placed always front of the line or are served on the side.

  2. CI governments, past and present, lack any foresight.
    There was a study done Foresight in governments
    practices and trends around
    the world. Might be something worth looking into.

  3. To be honest this is not a phenomenon which is limited to the public sector.

    Try getting served at one of our banks, and you are likely to spend a while queuing in line while various staff members go very slowly about their business, or just watch the line without it ever occurring to them to do something about it. The same used to be true at Kirk’s, until the arrival of their new (American) general manager who seems to have instilled an ethos of customer care which was previously absent.

    The champions are the civil service however. The last time I had to collect a parcel from the airport post office I waited an hour and a half in line for the single staff member dealing with parcels, while watching 8 separate staff members sitting doing essentially nothing. Go to the driver and vehicle licensing office and you can not only experience the interminable queue, but you also get to watch the mysteriously favoured few who do not seem to have to wait in line at all.

    What pervades so many public-facing roles in Cayman is the total lack of urgency, the failure to give any thought to the idea that wasting the public’s time is a bad thing, that the response to seeing a queue form is to take responsibility for doing something about it.

  4. Not only for Cayman, but all over the world, someone in the past(probably working for a governmental entity) decided that civil employee’s time from all levels of services was a lot more important than the remaining of humanity,s time.

  5. Stayover tourists are where we make our money.
    Saturday afternoon at the airport is always a problem because there are a number of flights all scheduled to leave at close to the same time.

    Here are some cheap fixes:

    Allow passengers to print their own boarding passes at home so they can drop of their bags and go.

    Have sufficient staff on hand for busy days.

    Tell check in staff to curb the chatting with friends if there is a line.

    Institute a system similar to TSA in the USA whereby many passengers can be pre-approved for security and have no need to take out their computers etc.

    And if visiting Americans can show that they have the pre-approved TSA designation on their boarding pass for when they arrived, they should be given similar treatment here and whisked through.

    Allow people to check in earlier and leave their bags.

    I recently visited Phuket in Thailand. I would avoid ever going back there JUST BECAUSE of the time it took me to progress through the airport. Also totally avoidable.

    I wonder how many of our big-spending customers will never be back and will actively warn their friends to stay away.