The Cost Of Everything

“Something for free is the most expensive thing of all.”
“Those who know the cost of everything end up not knowing the value of anything.”

Anonymous

As I wrote in my last blog post about how fare free transit cost more than its worth, so are the cheapest things around. “Those who know the cost of everything end up not knowing the value of anything” and that’s because that person who advocating for the cheaper price doesn’t think things through and lacks the understanding that with a lower price, something that can’t be measured in dollars was lost. Before I heard what happen in Kansas City, I was going to write a fictional story on this, but now I’m going to focus on real world issues where I do see actual results of going down the cheaper hurt everyone in the end. The three examples that I’ll be using is the Flint Water Crisis, Walmart getting rid of its greeters and Innisfis using Uber instead of a fixed bus route system.

Flint Water Crisis:
In an effort to save money, the emergency manager of Flint Michigan diverted the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint river. The River being a more acidic type of water, ended up eating away at the old lead strewn water infrastructure causing the current crisis that city is facing today. The initial cheaper cost is way higher now than just keeping getting water from Lake Huron. It’s not over and the damage is done. It will take generations just to fix the situation for now the cost will be carried by the state by the increase in welfare, crime and healthcare cost.

Walmart Removing Greeters:
Back in 2015, in an effort to cut costs, Walmart decided to stop having greeters. Well that went extremely well when in a number of communities started having to keep half of their police force at the Walmart, those communities rebelled and forced Walmart to bring back the Greeters. It’s interesting to point out that Bloomberg.com pointed out in reporting this story that paying for security brings back millions in savings.

Innisfils, Uber instead of Buses:
On May 1, 2017, in an effort to lower transit cost, the town of Innisfils, Ontario decided to use Uber instead of a fixed route bus. The initial cost Uber was $100,000 Canadian compared to $270,000 for buses. Well 2019 rolls around and it ends up costing well over $900,000 Canadian. As a result, they had to limit the number of times someone uses it, the opposite of what transit is suppose to do, which is to increase and improve the mobility of people.

But this lesson isn’t absolute for there is something about spending to much money on something and getting a negative return. We can go into transportation for examples and look at the results such as the Katy Freeway in Houston. This project had a huge price tag and a promise to end congestion only to become the most congested road in the United States. Apparently the people proposing this project never understood “induced demand.”

This is a nuance lesson for I cannot for certain say that if you spend more for this thing, you get a better value compared if you spend less for something and get a similar or same value for how do you measure a “value” that can’t be quantify into dollars? Recently I got into a dispute with my friend with was in my opinion was a overpriced solution for pedestrian safety and my argument was that particular overpriced solution would rear it’s ugly head when maintenance bill was due. My argument that this particular community wouldn’t have the capital. This is a nuance lesson for I cannot for certain say that if you spend more for this thing, you get a better value compared if you spend less for something and get a similar or same value for how do you measure a “value” for I cannot measure the value of walking in increase dollars over the traffic instead of simply crossing the street.  What I could do is point out how the suburban development wouldn’t bring in the capital needed to maintain the bridge over time. 

These are ‘what if’ question I could bring up something similar like if VIA actually was allowed to build it’s proposed Light Rail System, would the independent suburbs in the north east of Bexar County kept or invited VIA back to serve their communities?  In this case I have an example to point to in Dallas with Richardson threatening to leave DART (Image 8-1) if it didn’t get rail service and Denton, north of Dallas creating it’s own transit agency. I can compare what happened there to San Antonio with Schertz, Live Oak, Universal City all leaving VIA during the the late 90’s and early 2010s.  Dallas went with rail and San Antonio didn’t and because of this, VIA had to reinvent itself so now we have more bus service within VIA’s service area but no service in places like Schertz, Live Oak and Universal City.

At the end of the day we can’t measure the value of something, only the cost. I can’t measure the value of Denton County having transit and compare that to Comal County not having transit unless you are car-less. I can’t tell you that an investment in that pedestrian bridge will make it safer for the people walking across the bridge. All I can do is point to are similar projects and say, hey this is what happened to Dallas, this is what happened to Austin, this is what happened there and ask do you want the same thing to happen here? But my point is and it is usually the case, “Something for free is the most expensive thing of all” and “Those who know the cost of everything end up not knowing the value of anything.” I should combine these two saying and say “Those who advocate for the cheapest price end up costing everyone else more money in the long run.” The lesson that should be learned here is how to measure something that you can’t measure in dollars and is the expense worth it.

Images:
8-1:  DART Light Rail arriving at Lovers Lane Station.


Sources: 
Richardson city officials define priorities for DART passenger rail line:  https://communityimpact.com/news/dallas-fort-worth/richardson/

Walmart’s Out-of-Control Crime Problem Is Driving Police Crazy:  https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-walmart-crime/

Why Walmarts Are Becoming Hotbeds of Crime:  https://youtu.be/Jsqk1jsO94s

EXCLUSIVE: Flint Water Declared ‘Restored’ After Michigan’s Environmental Agency Broke EPA Testing Regulations:  https://medium.com/status-coup/exclusive-flint-water-declared-restored-after-michigan-s-environmental-agency-broke-epa-testing-3e2fc1f91a70

Flushing Flint Documentary:  https://statuscoup.com/flint/

The Innisfil experiment: the town that replaced public transit with Uber:  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jul/16/the-innisfil-experiment-the-town-that-replaced-public-transit-with-uber

‘Uber Was Supposed To Be Our Public Transit’:  https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/04/innisfil-transit-ride-hailing-bus-public-transportation-uber/588154/

How a small town is using Uber to fill its public transit void:  https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/04/03/innisfil-taps-uber-to-fill-public-transit-void.html

Reducing congestion: Katy didn’t:  http://cityobservatory.org/reducing-congestion-katy-didnt/

The Katy Freeway cautionary tale on addressing congestion:  http://www.offthekuff.com/wp/?p=71534

Boondoggle: A Texas-Sized Mess of a Highway Plan:  https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/06/19/highway-boondoggles-lone-star-states-texas-sized-mess/

The 23-Lane Katy Freeway: A Monument to Texas Transportation Futility:  https://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/05/28/the-23-lane-katy-freeway-a-monument-to-texas-transportation-futility/

Denton County Transportation Authority:  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denton_County_Transportation_Authority

What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse:  https://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand/

2016 Urban Vision Symposium Presentation featuring Chuck Marohn:  https://youtu.be/8rS2GVb7_M4

Kansas City Makes Transit Free; WARNING!: https://aatblog.com/2019/12/13/kansas-city-makes-transit-free-warning/