Thursday, April 22, 2010

X Marks the Spot

Many children's stories include treasure maps with a large "X" indicating the location of what is always described as the world's greatest treasure. Apparently this is true in the world of grownups as well.

Perhaps you've noticed the MARTA buses with a large Red X painted on the side. Or, perhaps your car is in the shop offering the opportunity to visit a rail station where some of the train cars have similar markings. Perhaps you've wondered what that is all about.

Well, dear readers, the recent Toyota recalls have opened up many opportunities to chat unofficially with MARTA officials at the Lindberg train platform. During a recent conversation the issue of the Red X came up.

So, what's with all the Red X's?
"It's all part of a PR campaign. See we want more money. "
"So we can spend it, duh! We want state funding for operations and capital expenses and this is all part of the plan to get it."
How will Red X's do that?
"Well, the Red X means that's a bus or a train car that we will take out of service. That does two things. First, ITP, it riles up the riders. You'll see 'em storming the statehouse, marchin' arm in arm, singin' "We shall over-COME!" That will be grand political theater. "
So, that will blow over...
"Maybe, but then there is the impact OTP. See all those conservative suburbanites who "pay more than they play" will see a bunch of empty buses with a big red X and think, "Finally! Somebody at MARTA came to their senses and we won't have all those empty buses barreling through our neighborhoods spewing fumes. At last they're using some of our money wisely". Once they perceive "we get it" then we've got them! They'll start thinking we are responsible stewards of the money they owe us and then we can crack open that "Capital Expenditures Only" lockbox and spend CapEx on operations. Before you know it all those buses, and more, will be back on the streets."
Won't that just pissfritter away the money that should be spent on new buses, train cars and rail lines? Why not just spend some of the CapEx on smaller, more efficient buses? Then you can improve services whilst decreasing operating expenses.
"That's exactly what's wrong with the general public. You seem to think this is somehow about efficient operation and top notch service."
At this point the unofficial official was interrupted by an announcement: "We are experiencing delays in our Northbound rail service".
"As I was saying...CapEx get's you nothing, it's all about OpEx. OpEx means more headcount. More headcount means a manager has a bigger budget..."
Which means the manager gets a bigger paycheck...
"...and a bigger bonus."
You get bonuses?
"You BETCHA! Big ones. The kind only public servants can get. And let me tell you, we don't want to lose them either. "
So if you spend all the money set aside for capital expenses on operating expenses what happens when you need new buses and cars, or you need to extend rail service?
"That's the beauty of this plan. Once we drain the CapEx funds we'll start pulling buses and trains out of service because they are too old and broken down. The the State will have to buy us new buses and cars to avoid a complete shutdown."
And since you've already spent every penny you have...
"...that's right. We still get our bonuses."
After the piercing screech of ill-maintained brakes deafened the crowd, this gleeful unofficial official boarded his train, a fitting end to this painful conversation.