Government wobbles over trolley technology

James Combes - The-Latest comedy writer

Modern technology is a wonderful thing. It has supplied the human race with revolutionary innovations such as the wheel, the yoghurt maker, and of course, Velcro. But these inventions are small fry indeed when compared to the pinnacle of human achievement itself: The automatic wheel-locking system on the Tesco trolley.

This ground-breaking development has, over the last few years, been fitted to supermarket trolleys across the land. As digital technology has become smaller and the price of developing the software has become cheaper, it has become standard procedure to fit new trolleys with the devices.

For years it has been the standard practice of youngsters, delinquents and students studying with great dedication for their first ASBO Qualification at Kidderminster College, to steal away supermarket trolleys instead of leaving them in the trolley-parking areas in supermarket grounds. And in times gone by it was all too easy to do so.

Not so anymore. New trolleys are fitted with complex sensors and digital technology that lock the wheels as soon as the trolley reaches the boundary of the supermarket car-park. No longer will these trolleys pass go; no longer will they collect two hundred pounds; and no longer will they be fined for parking on private property in Pall Mall.

This has been a huge boon to The National League of Incredibly Large and Terribly Rich Supermarkets. Each supermarket chain loses, on average, around 3000 trolleys a year to tramps, vagrants, students and bored, delinquent Geography teachers.

At a cost of several pounds each, this impacts in a severe manner upon the profit margins of the supermarkets in question. “It’s not fair”, commented George Troddlebottom, Chief Extortion Officer of the multi-national supermarket chain, MorrisMum’s. (Shortly after this, the CEO had a minor nervous break-down, sat down in the aisle of the supermarket and refused to talk to anyone until he had eaten an entire packet of Honey Nut Cheerios and had a bit of a cry.)

Cynics may point out that MorrisMum’s profit margins for the financial year 2007 – 2008 reached a record-high level, and that Mr Troddlebottom himself, gets paid a yearly wage of £2 million pounds, owns 5 percent of the shares in the company, and – as a company perk – is allowed unlimited amounts of MorrisMum’s own brand Stilton cheese entirely for free. And they would be right to so.

But not everyone is happy about these new locking systems. It has – after all – caused radical changes in student lifestyle. Indeed, some student unions have been lobbying the government for the removal of these automatic-locking systems on the grounds that it “removes one of the fundamental rites of passage of becoming a student”.

Roger Widget-Fondler, a representative of Kidderminster College, has this to say:

“Stealing a trolley is part and parcel of growing-up. Everybody does it. But now, students are unable to do so, and as such, they are becoming frustrated. It is having a huge economic impact all across the country. Have no fear: the number of students applying for places on courses for 2011 / 12 will be considerably lower than previous years. In short, these teenagers feel let down and realise that there will be no possibility of stealing trolleys. And if they can’t steal a trolley – something they see as a constitutional right – then that is one of the main attractions of higher education taken away from them before they even start.”

In the last two years trolley crime has dropped to an all-time low. But, whilst supermarkets may be happy about this, it is not all good news. It seems that the fact that it is now quite impossible to steal supermarket trolley – unless one is brave enough to use a fishing rod to rescue an old-style model from Kidderminster canal – has had a knock-on effect.

In some areas of the Wyre Forest the reduction in trolley crime has been met with a corresponding increase in traffic cone theft. This has resulted in traffic cones being put next to NHS dentists on the endangered species list. Indeed, it is thought that the continual lobbying of student unions across the land is beginning to have an effect. Rumours abound that the Government is soon to take a dramatic U-turn on its automatic wheel-locking trolley systems in order to restore traffic-cone numbers back to pre-2006 levels.

But it is not all bad news even if this does happen. The anti-theft wheel-locking technology is still in great demand. In five years’ time it may not be a feature of modern shopping trolleys but developers have been swamped by requests from parents across the land, asking for the technology to be adapted so that it can be fitted to their toddlers.