Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sometimes it's more comforting to be misled

I have just returned from a business trip to Milan. Like every other Italian Hotel I have ever stayed in, there were no ironing facilities in the room. I learned long ago not to bother requesting them; I've yet to find an Italian Hotel that will send an Iron to my room. I don't know if this is a clever scam, an extraordinarily excessive (and wide-spread) intolerance of risk or because I've managed to offend the concierge in some way or another.

Consequently, I had to pay the hotel to press my shirts for me. I can't help thinking my company's shareholders would have preferred to keep that money for themselves, all things being equal. According to Yahoo, there are about 1.6 billion outstanding IBM shares. Which means I own approximately 0.00000625% of the company. I'm outraged! Under any theory of stock valuation, my net worth should have dropped by 0.000003125p. I'll never stay in that hotel again!

I digress. The purpose of this posting was actually to comment on the interesting taxi ordering system in use in Milan. It is very, very difficult to pre-book the city's cabs. Instead, one calls a taxi firm shortly before you need the cab and are given an estimated time of arrival and badge-number. That is: you'll be able to tell which cab is yours from a number on the door.

I was in Milan for a sales engagement. Normally in these situations, I get my hotel to book the cab the night before so I am sure to have one and can be sure of getting to my client's office in good time. The Milanese approach adds to my stress: I don't know how long I will have to wait for a cab when I book it so I either have to take a risk (based on previous observations of the time taken to arrive) or book absurdly early and risk losing some sleep. A dilemma indeed.

However, as inconvenient as this approach is, it does have some merits. In London, for example, it is possible to pre-book a black cab. This gives the comforting feeling of knowing you won't have to hail one the next morning. Unfortunately, it is a charade. From bitter experience, I have reached the conclusion that booking a black-cab gives only the sense of security. It seems that the request is only broadcast by the control room shortly before the cab is needed. So, in the event of bad traffic or unexpectedly high demand for cabs, there is a good chance your request will not be honoured.... so no different to the Milanese system except that it encourages you to relax rather than plan for the worst case.

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