A Tale of Two Papers

A Tale of Two Papers

Now, today I was at the dentist office (oh joy, I say) and saw a paper called “The Weekly News.” It’s apparently put out by members of the African-American community here, and I’m assuming a for-profit venture. They had an article about the bus system in my city of Baton Rouge, and how the new guy, one Brian Marshall, is bringing change. It just so happens that our other paper in town, the big one, versus the 7,500 print run the TWN stated in their pages, also had an article about the bus system the same day.

While the TWN does not quote Marshall directly it does point out that he’s proposed two things – one I’m for – adamantly. And one I’m against – at the moment. So they either read his information, or talked to him and took the most salient point and published it without embellishment. They didn’t quote any upset patrons of the system. Maybe they could find none, or had no resources to find any, or just maybe it’s not their style. I can’t be sure.

But the Advocate is filled with emotional claptrap headlined “Bus riders not optimistic,” with accompanying quotes by riders of how ridiculous the system is. And what is the most ridiculous thing about our bus system here in BR? It’s the bus terminal. That’s where all buses must go to, no matter where they are coming from, and then you have to change to continue your journey. There’s no way around it. There’s no way across the city from house to job without changing buses at that darn terminal. I know, I’ve tried.

And this terminal, no doubt costing a cool few million, not to mention the extra gas in stopping and starting engines here, as well as the extra blocks off a rational route that the bus must travel to the terminal, nor the time spent in going to and fro for drivers and for the wait time for passengers. And the missed buses, which is the chief complaint. No wonder ridership is down – though that’s not the only reason. The Advocate in particular, as the more serious paper, should have guessed, and reported, that the increase in unemployment would surely lessen ridership, for the unemployed don’t have to travel to their non-existing jobs. But they did not make that connection, but instead implied it was the service.

In the short term the system is going to have buses waiting at the terminal for fifteen minutes, idling, spewing gas fumes, wasting time, so that everyone coming in can change outbound buses. Why doesn’t anyone get off at the terminal? Well, it’s surrounded by cemeteries, where not much is going on. You’ve got to move on.

The service that Marshall is proposing for the future, no time set though, which is bad, but the thing I not only support, but the thing I’ve been pointing out for years – is this: the terminal is utterly pointless, wasteful and exasperatingly stupid. No wonder the Advocate can’t find optimistic riders.

What Marshall wants to do, according to the TWN is to move to a “grid system” instead of the terminal-change system. Well, good for him, which I’ll get to in a moment. But I find it interesting, and sad, that the Advocate didn’t devote one sentence to the obvious announced plans of Mr. Marshall, to, you know, create, or give some, optimism for the riders by going grid and chucking terminal – for that will be the biggest improvement.

What is the difference between the two route systems? Oh, a world of difference. First let me point out that Baton Rouge does not have a classic straight road grid system, like say Phoenix or Manhattan. Far from it. But there is a wobbly-grid, if I could call it that, forced by the cowpath-through-the-swamps road system we have. But here’s one example:

Government Street starts at the Mississippi River on the west side of the city. It continues for, oh, 7 or 8 miles in a roughly straight line eastward. Then it sort of ends. But it does turn a bit, with a dogleg, and becomes Goodwood Boulevard, which then squiggles itself out to the east side of the city for another 10 miles or so. So in essence it’s a wavy line – but a continuous street. Now, if you take the bus from City Hall, at Government Street, and you want to go out to the far east side of the city you must take a bus down Gov’t Street 22 blocks, to 22nd Street, to the terminal. There at 22nd Street the bus makes a left and goes north, away from your goal, for a few blocks, and lets you out – no, throws you out, for the bus will return downtown and not continue east – at the terminal, where you can pick up another bus that goes from the terminal back down 22nd Street to Government and takes a left and then goes more or less to the end of Government to the east. But that’s not the bus that goes down Goodwood, which is a continuation of the pavement of Government. No, that’s another bus that goes to College Drive before swinging back to Goodwood. It’s bizarre. I’ve said it before, it’s like a drunk drew the routes, or a really mean “Let them wait for buses” sort of Marie-Antoinette person.

What Marshall wants to do is a simple down Government Street to Goodwood, from one end to the other, east to west sides. Brilliant. No changing buses.

It’s the same with the Florida Street bus – well, no, there’s not really one route on the main boulevard – what there are is disjointed routes that head east and then peel off this way or that. So in essence a mile or two or more of Florida Boulevard has three or four buses on it. Still, it’s that Government Street bus you have to take from the terminal if you want to go downtown to the City Hall, which you catch at the terminal once you’ve come down Florida from the east side – just 22 blocks short of your goal you are stopped – you must change. Pointless time and resource wasting by everyone, on both sides of the system, users and providers.

Stranger still, 22nd Street for some 10 blocks has more buses running down it – with stops even – than any avenue in Manhattan. It’s strange, indeed.

Still, why the new routes couldn’t be gone to right away is not said. I would suppose that with a basic map of Baton Rouge and a highlighter one could draw out a grid system. In fact, I know it can be done, for I’ve done it for people who look at me like I’m nuts. For all the talk of change in America these people are loath to conceptualize change locally, that’s for sure. I figure there’s roughly 12 north-south corridors, and 12 east-west corridors. Sure, not one street doesn’t change names, or doesn’t move over a bit, or squiggle, or something. But the rough grid is there, and a few helpful diagonals and arcs too, to complete the grid. And thus a bus should start at one side of the city and go to the other, without taking a detour to the terminal so you can change buses.

It’s reported by both papers that the budget of the system is 12.5 Million Bucks. It’s also reported every year that there’s a $250,000 to $700,000 budget shortfall. And I can tell you where that money is lost: at the terminal. For the extra gas in idling buses, and that lonely trip down 22nd Street, and the cleaning, staffing and lights of the terminal. Like I said, I’d guess a cool million a year could be saved by getting rid of it.

So that would seem to solve the problem.

But no, Mr. Marshall wants a second thing, to which I’m opposed. And that’s a new property tax dedicated to the buses that would supposedly raise 10 Million Bucks a year. So that would either almost double the income of the system, or replace the current funding source with a dedicated source. Do I know which? Nope, and that’s because there’s not a word about that in either paper. Too bad, for that’s news I can use.

Now, if Mr. Marshall put out the new grid system map, and the new schedules, and whatnot for improvements and said “this is what we need the money for” then I could possibly make the decision as to whether to support the tax. But since the tax must be passed first for Marshall to figure out the details, then I can’t support the tax.

It’s sort of like building a house, or starting a business. First you have to know what you want before you figure out what income you might need to build. You don’t go to a funding source for venture capital and say “I need $10 million so I can figure out what I want to do with it.” No, you say “Here’s what I want to do and this is why it will cost $10 million.”

There’s a world of difference on that too, but neither paper saw fit to examine that issue. I can give points to TWN for pointing to a ray of rational future, and not showcasing emotion. And I can excuse them somewhat because they are a small weekly. But the Advocate? Our independent voice of our city? Nope, no points. They spend more time, money, effort and column inches talking about the life and death of a rap artist on one day than they spend on the transit system of this city in three or four months. The small paper, in fact, has a higher ratio of transit news we can use per entire paper in one week than the Advocate has given in months with all their self-proclaimed ability and promise.

So I’d vote no on the tax until the plan is put forth. Or otherwise I don’t know what exactly I’m buying.

The newly arrived Mr. Marshall is from Chicago, at least prior work wise, it’s said, so I can perhaps see how he might have learned that method of budgeting from the Obama-Pelosi school of governance: “You’ve got to read it to find out what’s in it,” — but just give us the power first before you know what we are doing. Or is it more like the president’s “We don’t know where we are going, or how we’ll get there, or what we’ll find there, but just let me spend trillions, and it’ll be alright.”

Yah. That and two bucks will get you to the Baton Rouge bus terminal amidst the cemeteries.

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