April 30, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 18

Dr. Wes

Bus service is as boring as a machine that digs tunnels. When people refuse to pay for it, that’s wh

By Dr. Wes Browning

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Now that King County drivers have decided bus service isn’t something they need to help pay for, a problem remains: Who will pay for it?

If cuts to bus service go into effect, the economic consequences will hurt everyone because the loss of transportation will cost us a large part of a work force, which will undermine the ability of businesses to function and compete in the region. The end result will cost jobs and depress earnings.

Somebody always pays. They either pay in money or they pay in pain.

The whole reason we have had a subsidized transportation system in the first place is the same reason we have Medicare and subsidized housing and all those other signs of impending socialism: Companies don’t want to pay high enough wages and salaries so that workers can afford those things out of their pay.

Legislatures say, “OK, we get it. You want to do capitalism robber-baron style, like they did in the old movies.”

But there’s still a price to be paid. When we take the socialism away, the businesses paradoxically do worse, because the workers dry up. And that hurts everyone, but most especially the middle class, because they’re the ones with the most to lose.

Us poor folks, as I’ve been telling you since the last millennium, can go back to walking. We’re used to it. The rich CEOs who wouldn’t pay well enough to avert the need for subsidies will lose more in absolute wealth, but they’re well-cushioned, and they’ll do fine. It’s the middle class that will feel the jolt. And by middle class I include the marginally middle class who can barely afford cars. They, especially, will miss their jobs, when it no longer becomes possible to get business done in the next newest Detroit.

Or, we could raise the minimum wage an extra $2, beyond $15 to $17 per hour, and do away with bus subsidies altogether, because riders themselves could then pay for buses out of their earnings. Sure, that could happen.

Speaking of somebody always having to pay, how about that Bertha?

The folks at Seattle Tunnel Partners have been going around telling us that the repairs to the tunnel borer that are needed, which will take almost a year to achieve, will cost at least $190 million. They want WSDOT, the Washington State Department of Transportation, to pay that because Bertha ran into WSDOT’s steel pipe. WSDOT has been replying, “No way. We told you about that pipe; see, it’s this squiggle at the bottom of page 375 of this planning document we gave you, with the caption ‘look out, steel pipe’ clearly written in invisible ink under it,” or words to that effect.

Trouble is, if WSDOT doesn’t pay it, and the project continues, somebody still has to pay for the repairs. The repairs aren’t going to pay for themselves. There are no elves that repair tunnel boring machines.

There’s only one solution that I can see.

Seattle Tunnel Partners has to take up a life of crime. They have to build a meth lab. There’s no other way they can raise that kind of cash when all they’ve got to peddle is a giant metal dirt grinder no one wants buried 60 feet under Chief Seattle’s Little Crossing Over Place.

Last time I checked I didn’t have $190 million in my pockets. I’m pretty sure I don’t have $190 million in a bank account somewhere that I forgot I had. So they aren’t getting it out of me.

If they had something to sell that I wanted, like a tunnel to Disneyland, I’d see chipping in a dime or two, and maybe if enough of us helped out, they’d have what they needed.

But, you know, it’s like that whole car-tab-for-someone-else’s-bus-service thing. I don’t happen to want a tunnel from here to Aurora Avenue. Let the folks who want it pay for it.

What? They can’t? Gee, times are tough.

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