Thursday, 16 July 2015

Spontanious Trouser Combustion IV

As reported, the numbers of visitors fell from 15 million down to 10 million when the Trust was first formed. But Phoenix like, from the wreckage of the bonfire of the quangos. (The well known fire sale organised by the government just after the meltdown of the world banking systems) Back then the new Trust was being honest in publishing the number of visitors to its waterways. Stating at the time that the annual number of visitors was down from 13 millions to 10 millions. It was in an economic downturn, so a reduction in numbers is just what you would expect.

Now things have changed for the 'Faux Phoenix.' Unable to reach targets for 'volunteers' still unable to reach targets for 'friends'. Floundering in the belief that the Waterways Partnerships are one day going to raise money. While meantime funding a perennial large black hole that is the Waterways Partnerships. As the trust mandarins with their childlike fingers presumably crossed behind their backs. Now reporting that they have bucked national trends with stratospheric increases in visitor numbers.  In fact 'Stratospheric' is under stating the case!

We should take the National Trust as a comparator, it has been around for 115 years. It has some broad similarities to CaRT with 742 miles of coastline to manage. In excess of 247,000 hectares of land. With over 350 historic houses, gardens and parks. It also has ancient monuments and nature reserves that it maintains. The National Trust had only a paltry 20.4 million visitors. The NT has however 4.1 million members which brings in a minimum of £150 million and it also boasts a minimum of 60,000 volunteers. So the NT has about 20% of its visitors as members.

So imagine if CaRT has the same sort of percentage of paying members. There is the rub, I have long said the CaRT should have a membership - Just think of all those millions of visitors who visit the towpath, could actually be contributing members. A common belief amongst boaters is that the IWA would not be happy if the Trust was to have its own membership. The teddy would also be reaching stratospheric hights as it was launched out of the cot. It would certainly create a big hit on the remaining IWA membership numbers. So all those millions of pounds that could be collected as a membership subscription are currently going to waste. Vanity prevails once more.

One of the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) for continued government funding are the number of visitors attracted to the canals. To the boater its just another target to be missed by the trust. Which now has a track record as they have missed so many already. But now some three years later. The Trust tells us that the annual number of visitors has risen from the low point of 10 million to a new high of 360 millions! Increasing numbers at a rate of visitors at almost 10,000,000 a month over the three year period!  Now the visitor figure is almost an extra 1,000,000 punters a day. Or 454 people to be found on every mile of CaRT managed Inland Waterway on every day of the year. 

Pocine avionics comes to mind when I read about such stratospheric increases. It would seem that all are now fully refuelled and ready for the next launch. Figures of 500 million are being bandied about. But its time to come down from the dizzying heights where the rarefied atmosphere is causing some 'light headed' claims to be made. Maybe we can even get some oxygen masks issued in the visitor counting directorate!

There are very obvious factors that will effect the day to day density of people on the towpath and therefore the visibility of visitor numbers. Daylight -v- darkness or summer -v- winter. Good weather -v- bad weather or weekday -v- weekend. If you give some thought, you will soon realise that the above factors will actually squeeze the visitor numbers into a much shorter time frame, during the day or the season of the year. What is very apparent from the back deck of our boat as we cruise around the inland waterways is that in the countryside walkers, cyclists and fishermen are very few in number. In the towns and cities the numbers do improve but there are still not enough people to be seen walking, jogging, cycling or fishing.

What is a visitor? 

The dictionary describes visitor as a term for a person who comes to spend time with or stay with others, or spend time in a place. A visitor often stays some time, for social pleasure, for business or sightseeing. Is someone who looks at a canal from the top deck of a bus a visitor. Is someone who walks over a bridge on their way to work a visitor in the accepted sense when compared to a person who comes to spend time with or stay with others, or spend time in a place. A visitor who is there for social pleasure, on business or just sightseeing

What is important when conducting a survey is what are the key questions asked. How the questions are phrased. How the numbers are collated and how the representative sample are chosen. The other important factor is openness and transparency of the chosen method. 

Government (Department for Transport) can get it wrong, (intentionally or unintentionally depending upon your chosen conspiracy theory) - for instance, the roadside speed camera which are the bane of the speeding motorist. But at the same time were reported as being a significant factor in reducing by 22% deaths on the road. (Transport Research Laboratory report) This claim was challenged and when the methodology used for analysis of the data was reviewed. It was found to have a fundamental mathematical flaw that skewed the results.  Later analysis in some peer reviewed studies actually found that speed camera could actually cause an increase in the number of accidents. It was viewed by the driving public as a way for local councils to generate extra income rather than reduce deaths and serious injuries. Now that the government has removed the fines from the councils remits - the councils are starting to abandon the use of roadside cameras.

However, when I asked the Trust through a Freedom of Information request for information on the questions asked, during the survey. There was the usual sound of the clatter of the shutters coming down. The creak as the drawbridge was raised. This is of course just another instance of Richard Parry's new era of openness and transparency. This will of course just spawn another round of 'intentional or unintentional obfuscation depending upon your chosen conspiracy theory.' But as happens sometimes when you make a public FoI request - sometimes the information does not come from only the intended source.

Dear Canal and River Trust.

I am researching a further article on visitor numbers to the inland waterways. I understand that the Canal and River Trust has conducted on their behalf, a regular two weekly telephone survey into the number of visitor/visits to the canals under its control. Conducting telephone interviews with around 12,000 people each year. I wish to request a copy of the questions that are asked during the telephone survey.

Later I had a reply which gave a refusal. Is this top secret or is this a further display of Richard Parry's publicly given assurances of a policy of 'Openness and Transparency.' As Francis Urquhart said 'I could not possibly comment.'  

We have considered your request for a copy of the questions asked during our Inland Waterways Visitor Survey telephone call and I am writing to let you know that we do not consider the information you have requested to be subject to the limited application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to Canal & River Trust.

Then the pleasant surprise arrives in a comment attached to the refused Freedom of Information Request from the Trust. Which said, here is the information that the Canal & River Trust is refusing to provide. Click Here and scroll down to the bottom.

I am not a survey expert and I would not claim to be one. However, the one thing I know about conducting a survey is that where the representative sample is minuscule in comparison to the total population. Even the very tiniest of errors will create huge skewing of the output. With a population of 64.1 million and a survey base of 500 people every two weeks. There is scope for massive fluctuations. Each person called would represents 128,200 individuals. The recent UK election polls gave a wayward opinion of the outcome. However, the outcome was also wildly out with the 'professional pollsters' such as Mori predictions.

One of the problems with surveys is that people do not like being disturbed by cold calls. The caller starts to layout his spiel and the recipient starts to think, I'll stuff this one and begins to give spurious replies. How do I know this, its because that is exactly what I do whenever I get cold called. 

This then started me to think more about the generalisation over the numbers being possibly concentrated into a number of hotspots. With the exception of (a drink in a pub, sat or stood by the water, visit to a heritage attraction or museum) all the rest (on a boat with an engine, canoeing, rowing boats and sailing boats, cycling, walked a dog, a walk, a ramble, a run or a jog) would require some significant movement along the waterway and towpath. So we should be able to observe the huge rise in the numbers of these visitors along the towpath. Not necessarily congregated around a hotspot like the Bingley 5 rise. Though to be honest it seems that more visit for a cup of tea in the canal side cafe than turn up to view the flight. 

If the current trend in numbers holds up - we should be well in excess of 450,000,000 visitors by Christmas. Now ask yourself are you seeing 35 times as many people on the canal compared to what you were seeing 3 years ago. In the places where you saw two three people three years ago, do you now see 70 to a 100 now?

As the saying goes - the sky is seemingly the limit for visitor numbers.

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