Tag Archives: Metro

We Were Sequestered Before It Was Cool

Sequester pruningThe Ministry of Truth for the Obama administration has been experiencing some traction problems in the DC area. The scare stories regarding the collapse of the air travel system in the event of sequester are simply not motivating people in spite of the fact the Mainstream Media (MSM) has dutifully spread the word.

We are warned that in the event of sequester, massive TSA layoffs will result in airline passengers waiting up to three hours before they can be groped by a highly–trained government sex harasser. Slashing the budget by two cents on every dollar will also mean TSA guards won’t be changing rubber gloves between touchy–feely sessions.

Female passengers, who undergo nearly nude full–body scans, will be relieved to learn this drastic reduction torpedoes the ink budget. TSA can no longer afford to print particularly comely images for posting in the lunchroom. And since it’s too costly to store the pictures on government hard drives, TSA will ask remaining employees to work overtime and upload the images to their Facebook accounts for safekeeping.

According to the White House, you aren’t even safe on board the aircraft. Air traffic controllers will be awakened from their control tower naps and told to go sleep at home. The few remaining will be grumpy and sleepy, with a consequent slowdown in takeoffs and landings.

Assuming one gets in the air, passengers will be shocked to learn airlines will no longer offer free in–flight meals and instead expect passengers to pay handsomely for sandwiches wrapped and catered by 7/11. Wait, that’s already happened. Sorry, false alarm.

All in all it’s a horrible foretaste of privation and delay, yet not a single Republican Congressman is hanging from a lamppost. In fact there is so much indifference here that Obama has taken his nationwide Hyperventilation Tour on the road.

The reason for our calm in the face of the impending storm is that Metro, our local DC subway system, has essentially been sequestered for the past two years and life has continued. It’s more inconvenient, spontaneous and ad hoc — at least when it comes to arriving on time — but it is life.

I’ve long contended Metro is the only mass trans system run by an improv group, but now the passengers are joining in the fun. Take this week for instance: Tuesday morning on the Silver Line (this is DC, so everything has to do with money) crack Metro crews were testing equipment. As the WaPost reports, one of the brakes began to lock up. Like the spinster on the way to church who assumes a flat tire will heal itself, the crew continued operating the train trying to get off the track before rush hour or looming obsolescence caught up with them.

They didn’t make it. The wheel wore down to a nub, a pantoodler fell off and sliced through 60 cables and the system ground to a halt. The only thing left to do was call AAA and wait for the tow truck.

Metro officialdom predicted repairs would be complete by noon, but it took a total of nine hours. Metro sent alerts to passengers twice and then their thumbs got tired. So between 7 AM and 2 PM Metro passengers were on their own, which is a not uncommon condition. Then a train malfunctioned on the Yellow Line. There was a track problem on the Blue line. And another train shot craps on the Green Line.

And those are just the unplanned shutdowns.

The system regularly closes entire stations on the weekend and as a matter of fact the Reagan Airport station will be shut for three days beginning March 1st. (I guess they figured what with the sequester and all, no one will be flying anyway.)

Metro limits the number of trains on holidays and shuts escalators for months at a time forcing passengers to trudge upward toward daylight from the bowels of the system. Recently on a single day Metro passengers suffered seven electronic thefts and every last one of them was during daylight hours! Thieves evidently rest during the night so they can read the manuals and learn how to download apps.

The reason Metro ‘service’ is such a gamble is management didn’t bother with routine maintenance for the past 15 or so years. I’m guessing the thinking was: We’re the government, what could go wrong? So current passengers pay for the mistakes of past incompetent management, a situation young people are soon to encounter with regard to Social Security taxes.

Frankly, I’m hoping the full effect of the sequester hits when the majority of members of Congress are out of town. That way if they can’t get back, they can’t resume spending.

Constituent Service Gone Wild

Toll Road pay upFootball fans everywhere are indebted to Virginia Delegate Joe May (R–Leesburg) whose invention of the electronic first down marker added much needed precision to watching the game on TV. Unfortunately, May’s understanding of the free market is much less precise and is in danger of throwing taxpayers for a significant loss.

According to Liz Essley in a series of stories from Washington Examiner, May wants the state to buy the privately–owned, 14–mile–long Greenway toll road located west of Washington Dulles Airport. He is joined by Randy Minchew (R–Leesburg) and David Ramadan (R–Prince William), who also confuse the role of constituent service in conservative governing philosophy. It’s a troika of Republicans who should know better.

May wants the Commonwealth to issue hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds to buy the Greenway from the Macquarie Group. Joe contends this would be good news for commuters because he believes the state will be reluctant to raise the tolls, which is not been the case with private ownership where peak period tolls can run as high as $5.80.

And why not? The government body that runs the Dulles Toll Road doesn’t even bother to bill 90 percent of the drivers who use their pavement but refuse to pay. Let them annex the Greenway and commuter’s troubles are over, as the taxpayer’s are just beginning.

Plus everyone knows overall operations for a government–run toll road will be so much more efficient than in the free market. Just look at the pioneering work done at Metro. During the past twenty years the Metro bureaucracy has discovered that escalators installed outdoors without protection from the elements have a tendency to break down and need replacement. Metro’s study of the effects of failing to conduct even routine maintenance on subway infrastructure led to the discovery that the system will become unreliable and subject to unpredictable shutdowns and track work that will consume most of the coming decade.

And don’t overlook the Smithsonian parking lot where attendants stole over $1 million in parking fees with management none the wiser.

And of course government involvement means low prices, which is why the IRS estimates the lowest priced insurance policy under Obamacare will cost a family of five $20,000 a year. If you want a policy that lets you see an actual doctor, as opposed to a Jiffy Lube professional, that will cost extra.

So what could go wrong with Virginia buying the Greenway? If it becomes too expensive to operate without raising the toll, they can just shut it down on Saturday, like the Post Office wants to do with mail delivery.

Del. Minchew echoes May, “I really want to protect our citizens from having tolls reach higher amounts than they should,” he explained.

And Ramadan wanted to try something called “distance–based tolling,” but says Macquarie was not interested.

And there it stands, constituents complain about the price they pay to speed their commute and they want government to “do something!” Followed to its logical conclusion, this type of activist, meddlesome thinking regarding the role of government lead us to the door of Nancy Pelosi’s office. Conservatives do not rush to meddle in a situation the market is uniquely qualified to handle.

The Greenway has been a troubled project from its inception with wildly inflated traffic estimates justifying too much spending. Fortunately, government wasn’t involved, so the first set of owners took a financial bath on the project and sold the tub, ring and all, to Macquarie.

The cost to taxpayers was zero.

Average daily trips on the Greenway peaked in 2005 with a bit over 61,000 with the average toll was just over $2.00. Proving the economic demand curve is alive and well and living in Virginia, as the price for tolls has gone up, traffic volume has gone down. Until in 2012 average daily trips are about 46,500 and the average toll is $3.93.

Yet with traffic down 24 percent, Greenway management was still able to increase average daily revenue by almost $61,000. So the toll is obviously not too high. Otherwise market forces would mean fewer drivers AND less money. Now the price is obviously too high for at least 14,500 drivers because they are now taking another road to work.

And that’s how the market operates; consumers balance cost and benefit and make their choice. Democrats and confused Republicans run to government and plead with them to intervene.

I wonder if any of the esteemed troika members has priced a rib roast at Wegmans lately? Driving on the Greenway is mere transportation, but eating is life itself.

I haven’t had a rib roast in the last year, because they are too expensive and the Philistines at my house can’t tell the difference from a pot roast anyway. But if the state buys the Greenway, I may start talking about the cattle cartel at the next town meeting.

And what makes those particular Greenway drivers so special? How about, God help them, Metro riders? Or Virginia Railway Express passengers? Everybody has a gripe about something.

Del. May is “optimistic we’re going to find a deal that works for both sides” and believes buying the Greenway could cost Virginia nearly $1 billion (which is $21,500 per current trip or 14 years worth of toll charges), making the road green in more ways than one. Hard–bargain Joe’s $1 billion is an interesting figure, because according to TollRoads News the owners carry the Greenway on their books as a net liability of $490 million dollars, meaning the road is worth almost half a billion dollars less than it cost.

As the reporter points out, Macquarie could PAY Virginia $450 million to take the road off its hands and have the books come out $40 million to the good.

It’s time to throw the challenge flag in front of Del. May. Having the Commonwealth buy the Greenway is a bad idea, bad economics and profoundly anti–conservative. In this case what’s private sector should stay private sector.