No good deed goes unpunished


Reporting gas and water leaks in Victoria

So I try to be a good citizen in the state I live. And by that I mean, if I see an obvious issue, I try to help. So for example, I gave first aid a couple of years ago to a bike rider who’d been hit by a car. More recently I saw an old man wandering around in his pyjamas, so called the police then an ambulance.

Today I tried to report a gas leak.

The background

I walk up to Northcote on a few days a week for a Chai and some writing time. My chosen career is a pretty solitary experience, so I do try to get out and about because as nice as it is to talk to my cat, it’s good to get human contact too.

I walk the same path, across the Merri creek, around the back of Northcote High School, across the road and up beside the Convent. Several days ago I smelled gas, wondered about it and left it alone. On my trip today, I smelled gas again and thought perhaps it would be a good idea to report it.

So, off I went to Google, and the top result was a Victorian government website. I made my first mistake of the day by assuming this would be a central clearing house for gas leaks. It was also the ONLY result that wasn’t for a gas fitter.

Seems legit?
Seems legit?

I called the number and got a surly woman who probably doesn’t like her job much.

She had to twice confirm the location: corner of Hawthorn street and St. George’s Road in Northcote.

Just Google it! Google is omnipotent, it knows everything!
Just Google it! Google is omnipotent, it knows everything!

Then asked how strong the smell was.

How long’s a piece of string, I asked. It smelled as strong as gas does when you can’t light your stove.

‘Yes, but is that weak, medium or strong?’

This became an endless loop so I picked strong, on the assumption (What Was I THINKING?!) that this might kick me out into being told someone was coming out to check things.

I was put on hold. I was also standing in the rain on a street corner. Thankfully I tend not to dress provocatively, so no-one stopped and asked me how much my services were. But had someone leered out of their car at me, I’d have told them: $50 an hour for resumes and other writing, $90 for Web design and tech writing; half up-front, take it or leave it.

Anyway, the surly woman came back after a couple of minutes.

‘We don’t handle that area,’ she said, ‘call this number instead.’

No good deed goes unpunished

Melbourne utilities were privatised back in the late 1980s and 1990s, because that’s what conservative governments do to public services. Telstra was another; and the irony was that people were expected to pay money for shares in a company they originally owned.

Anyway, other than raising lots of cash for projects, politicians wages and other snout wrinkling objectives, it’s also led to this issue: where a company can just palm off issues because they don’t immediately affect their bottom-lines.

And the big problem is this: It’s a gas leak. Gas is a flammable material, and highly toxic. People get very, very unwell from gas inhalation. If you were in a house with a gas leak, you might not be concerned about finding out which particular company was ultimately responsible for the issue, you’d just want to stop inhaling something that can seriously blow your house down.

Your call is important to us

I have to say I was rather irritated when I called the next number, whilst mentally kicking myself for getting involved. The automatic system first asked me the postcode I was in.

The old “mash the zero button until something happens” routine kicked me out to another part of the system, where I was told twice that “this call will be recorded. If you do not wish to be recorded, please advise your operator”.

The rain wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was getting a bit colder by this point. And after a fast walk across here from home, I was starting to feel a little chill coming on.

Human contact at last; The operator wanted a specific street address.

Here’s where things got even more interesting. I was standing beside an empty lot of land, at the bottom of the hill that the Convent is at the top of. There was a house on the other side of the road but had no number.

So I told him the specific street corner I was on and after three attempts this sunk in, and we moved to the next question.

‘Can you say how strong the smell is? Is it weak, medium or strong?’

For fuck’s sake.

‘Pick one. I’m standing on a street corner trying to report a gas leak. Gas leaks are bad aren’t they?’

After the second repetition of the query, I bade farewell.

Privatisation = Not My Fucking Problem

Reporting gas leaks is not the only unintended consequence of privatisation. Water leaks are the same.

First you have to work out where you are, specifically (address, suburb, postcode).

Then you have to work out if the leak is actually handled by the local council or a water company. This can be tricky and may result in a lot of time on the phone to the wrong people and being then told “sorry, not my problem”.

Then you have to work out which water company handles the area you’re in., the supposed peak body for water in Victoria, isn’t bad for this, but it’s not an ideal solution.

There’s 13 regional water companies and three in Melbourne. Four water companies “provide rural water services”, and others “provide bulk water supply services to water corporations in regional Victoria”

They supply an “interactive map” which you can try to work out which water company handles which bit of the state. Finding it is your first problem, because just putting “map” or “interactive map” into the search gives you nothing.

When you DO find the map, it’s not smart phone friendly at all, and there’s a lot of scrolling involved. But it does show you who’s responsible for the area you happen to be in, if you’re able to identify at least the suburb.

But that’s only the first step, because then you have to navigate the water company website to find a way to report a leak.

Let’s take Yarra Valley Water as an example. There’s no clear link on the menu, so it’s a case of a search: Report water leaks. You get multiple results (through Google), none of which are actually that helpful, before a click on the first result gets a a number to call.

South East Water is a bit better – they’ve at least got a Smartphone friendly water leak reporting page, where you can make quick, easy selections. But it’s the exception.

The Too Long, Didn’t Read (TL;DR) summary

The bottom line is this: if you make the mistake of attempting to report a leak, make sure your phone is charged, with a lot of credit, and pack a lunch.

Author: gotheek

Sometime writer, full time human.