Barcelona: You can shove your “transport system” up your jumper!

I just spoke to the highly helpful Abigail in the GSMA press office who confirms that there’s no news yet regarding this bus and metro strike that’s due to take place next week whilst Mobile World Congress is in full swing.

The current GSMA update is here and I expect that we’ll have an announcement from them the moment they know whether or not the TMB union decides to strike or not.

Meanwhile over the past few days I have been considering life in Barcelona without the bus and metro systems functioning. I’ve been discussing this with a number of folk from around the industry and I have to say, there’s a clear trend: Not one person has a good thing to say about the Barcelona metro system. I haven’t had any experience with the buses — I suspect they aren’t as bad, but the metro system? Ooof.

The metro system itself is fine. The trains are functional, the machines all work and so on. The issue is that I just don’t ever, EVER feel safe using the system — and I mean safe in the context of the legions of vagabonds prowling it. I should point out that I’m 6ft 1 and built reasonably strong. Big boned. Scottish. Unlikely to react positively to you taking the camera out of my bag.

So if I am feeling like I’m constantly about to be pillaged by Barcelona’s finest on the metro, goodness knows what the rest of the MWC attendees, particularly the females feel.

I haven’t actually had anything stolen myself, but we all know at least one person who has had a catastrophe during MWC. I think last year one of my blogger colleagues had his camera removed from his backpack. Another had a run in with a fake policeman. Joy.

The real issue with the metro is during the crowded rush hours that are compounded by thousands of MWC attendees flooding into the melee. Your average mugger or thief knows full well that every MWC attendee (easily identified by the fact they’re wearing a suit, speaking English, looking tired, carrying MWC-branded brochures and whatnot) has thousands of pounds worth of technology on their person. I’ve always been even more concerned given that I’m typically on site in the Mobile Industry Review branded jacket — like a walking advert for a mugger.

The GSMA are smart to constantly remind people to remove their badges as they leave the Fira — I’m sure that certainly does help reduce attention from the vagabonds.

The fact remains though — for me, taking the metro in Barcelona during MWC-week is an unpleasant experience. I routinely get ribbed about this by Rafe Blandford of All About Windows Phone and Ben Smith from Wireless Worker. Given the choice, I’ll cab-it to and from the Fira. Now and again I’ll given in to their instant demands that forget my discomfort. I can still see both of them tightening their grip on pockets and bags as the vagabonds press around us during rush hour.

Perhaps the most relaxed way to get to and from the Fira is on a press bus. It’s a luxury reserved (and fully appreciated) by the media. Big brands like HP will routinely host evening receptions offsite across the show week. So if you hop on the bus and head to their party/reception/event for a few hours, you’ll then be able to catch one of their allocated buses back to the centre of Barcelona. It’s a total delight not having to mess around with the metro.

I had a look at the map today and note that Placa Catalyna (at the top of Las Ramblas) is just 26 minutes walk from the Fira. So if you’ve got a hotel or apartment somewhere nearby the centre of town, you might consider a rather pleasant walk each morning and evening, provided you’re not lugging a lot of equipment or material. Indeed it’s only actually 14 blocks. It would theoretically be possible for the GSMA to place a few team members on each block with a great big sign showing the way.

I wouldn’t object to the Barcelona Police Force actually getting involved along some popular routes to give everyone an enhanced nice sense of security.

Part of me is hopeful that the strike goes ahead, so that the GSMA and the city of Barcelona get the opportunity to innovate some nice solutions. There’s a lot that could be done. (Of course, the headaches for the GSMA would be dramatic.)

In a meeting the other day I suggested that taxis would be a useful substitute — until one of the attendees pointed out that — apparently — the city’s taxi drivers were considering striking in solidarity. I’ve no confirmation whatsoever on this. Just a comment from one industry executive. That would indeed be a little annoying. But then again, there’s limited value in the Barcelona taxi experience either. Another chap today was telling me that his hotel has laid on a complimentary minibus for the week because of concerns about the strike.

“Nice idea!” I said, “Why don’t you do that next year as well? It’ll be much nicer than the metro.” The chap agreed and reckoned that’s something they will do. That’s the interesting thing with challenges like this, it forces folk to think outside the box and do things differently, often (and hopefully) for the better.

So whether it’s a fleet of buses, branded Nokia pedal-bikes or a relay-system of smart looking BMW minibuses, bring it on. Anything that prevents me from standing pressed against 3 different vagabonds staring me in the eye each morning and evening in the Barcelona metro, I’m a fan.

Provided everyone goes into MWC with their eyes open, I think Barcelona without the transport unions could be a rather exciting and liberating experience.

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