Dave Richards for April 25th…………
--Over the years we’ve all heard politicians who have promised that when they are elected, they’ll run the government “like a business”. These candidates gain a lot of favor from voters who find it easy to criticize the waste in government. The real truth of the matter is that there is some waste in government and there is some waste in business as well. I can tell you from my experience in management that the effort of eliminating all waste is in the same category as making gold out of lead. It’s been tried forever, but it doesn’t work, and the wise manager tries not to eliminate it, but to embrace it and then manage the size of it.
The big difference is that while waste can be managed and cut from business with the requisite kicking and screaming from those affected, in a business situation you don’t have to listen to the complaints………..but in government you do!
So anyone who says they’re going to eliminate wasteful spending in government is either lying to you or fooling themselves. It just can’t happen in government when you are elected by those affected. This is not to say that we can’t try to be more thrifty with the people’s money, we can, and many in government try to be. I applaud this, but it can go too far. A case in point is the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority, commonly known by its acronym, RIPTA. The people at RIPTA have an impossible job. Their goal is to provide transportation services for everybody and anybody who needs them to go anywhere at any time within our state. But they cannot meet this goal without losing tons of money. So they make compromises. They lose less money, and they fall a bit short of their goal, trying to find some point of balance between the two unfortunate situations.
It’s the same everywhere in this world, if there were good money to be made running public transportation, for-profit companies would be doing it.
In every locality there is this big long list of things which people need. Some of these needs can be provided at a profit. Some cannot. Businesses take all the profitable things, leaving government to provide the services which are not profitable, but needed. This is a fact of life, and if nobody ever told you this before, you missed an important lesson.
But if you did miss that lesson, you are not alone. It seems to me a significant number of Representatives and Senators in the Rhode Island General Assembly haven’t learned that lesson yet, either. They keep squeezing RIPTA to operate with less losses, but then show up at the hearings telling them they must NOT eliminate routes which lose the most money. Talk about a rock and a hard place!
Some of the inefficiencies of a government agency or, in this case an Authority, are not of their making. I was told confidentially by a RIPTA official some years ago that one of the criticisms leveled against them is that the big diesel-pusher busses we see so much are seldom full of passengers. At RIPTA, they know this, they’re not dummies. They’d love to use smaller busses when called for at a reduced operating cost, but the problem is that the drivers who drive the big busses need skills and certifications that a driver of a smaller bus wouldn’t need. The less-qualified drivers of smaller busses would earn less, and that makes sense. But then what do you do with the drivers who qualify for the higher wages of driving the big busses? You can’t pay them less to drive a smaller bus, they have financial responsibilities based upon the higher wages. You can’t just replace them and put them out of work either, because a labor union is involved, making any kind of changes problematic.
RIPTA continues to work on these problems. They’ve had to raise rates recently. I still think riding a RIPTA bus is a bargain overall, but I do admit they don’t go everywhere I need to go when I need to go there. And if they do, they don’t come back on a schedule which fits my needs. I understand why they cannot. But the Fabulous Denise and I still use them whenever we can.
As part of their heroic efforts to “shovel against the tide”, RIPTA is launching another survey to gather information from those who use their services and those who would like to. The survey started yesterday and continues until Sunday May 21st and can be found online at www.ripta.com (click on “Survey”). The information in this fifth annual survey is important to them, so important that everyone who goes online and tells them what they think will be entered into a drawing for prizes which include free bus passes.
I am a big supporter of public transportation. I wish the financial realities of running public transportation were different. But I am glad that our government supplies this vital service, even at a loss. Sometimes it’s not ALL about the money, you know.
--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: email@example.com or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332.
Thanks for reading!