Category Archives: Silly Laws And Stupid Regs

On ‘Free’ Community Colleges

Over on Facebook, my friends and I have had an interesting discussion on the elusive details of the President’s budget/SOTU proposal for ‘free’ community college education.

Because of a New Year’s resolution a few years ago, I rarely delve into long, drawn-out debates on Facebook. It’s usually not worth your time. But I made an exception here, in part because of the thoughtful insights from my friends (and a friend/former teacher!) and partly because I wanted to weigh in further.

Here’s my (lightly edited) rant:

Edward and Shawn, I agree with points you both make. The cost of ignorance is high and not everyone has the opportunity to attend a Jesuit school with great science teachers like Mr. Nolan. (Though the Jesuits are trying as hard as they can with the Cristo Rey model, which is phenomenal.)
 
I love community colleges. My grandfather was a professor at one, and my mother attended there before going to tOSU. I’m just opposed because I don’t think this level of involvement by the government is appropriate. It’s my libertarian side coming out.
 
Realistically, this has ~0% chance of passing Congress. The “Pay Go” rules don’t help because anyone who proposes it on the Democratic side will “pay for it” with a tax increase and not a cut, which is how the game is played in Congress these days.
 
If Obama / Congressional Democrats wanted to be clever, here’s how they’d structure it:
 
1.) You apply for this program and by doing so, you agree to forfeit your Pell Grants entirely.
 
2.) Under Pell Grants, you get up to 12 semesters (six years) worth of grants, which, under maximum level at max time before exhaustion represents a little under $35,000. Of course, not everyone qualifies for Pell Grants, or gets the full amount. But you could argue savings by doing this.
 
3.) Cynically, if you wanted to obtain a 4-year degree, then you’d likely go to the student loan market (effectively nationalized since 2010!) where the government could make the money back. (Though, they’ve already used the “profits” from that to defray the cost of Obamacare and it would be hard to count that twice.)
 
A friend of mine, an analyst type, observed that this would be among the cheaper proposals Obama has proposed, even though the costs would be in the tens of billions, according to some estimates.
 
Two states (and others I am sure) have tried “free college programs.” Their examples are instructive. (I still am weary about government involvement in this, but at the state level it is at least appropriate from a federalism perspective.)
 
Arizona, when I worked for Senator Kyl, had something called an AIMS scholarship. If you met certain requirements under their AIMS program — you got a full tuition waiver at in-state schools, provided you were accepted. Of course, the test was not terribly hard and lots of people qualified. Now, it covers 25%, and is renewable — subject to college-specific requirements — over the remaining three years.
 
It was poorly planned. And it was done by Republicans!
 
Tennessee has the “Tennessee Promise” program, a brainchild of their Republican governor, gives free community and technical college tuition (for 2 years) to high school graduates in the state. The program is funded by the lottery. The program, which I also think was poorly implemented as such measures often are, has seen 58k applicants. Double what they expected. They’re learning Freidman’s adage of “no such thing as a free lunch” despite being well-intentioned.
 
Details on Obama’s plan are still forthcoming, but right now we know you have to have a C+ average, these CC’s have to agree to certain stipulations about their programs and credit transferability, and some vague notions of “student outcomes.” The feds expect states to pick up 25% of the cost.
 
While I agree with Mr. Nolan about college/knowledge having an effect on real-world life outcomes, Shawn’s point about high school and those outcomes is also worth delving into. To paint with my partisan broad brush, Democrats only seem to be interested in spending more money, not reforming public education in meaningful ways. (Thanks, teachers’ unions!)
 
So, rather than improve the K-12 system, I think there is room to criticize this proposal as keeping the bad and just inflating the bar.
 
White House director Cecilia Muñoz told Politico that “Obama aims to make college ‘the norm in the same way high school is the norm now.'”
 
Depending on your partisan lens, this statement will be interpreted differently. I see this as what I alluded to earlier — education inflation rather than education reform.
 
Granted, we’re all wasting our time in a thought exercise because this has about the same chance of happening as anything in President Obama’s budgets. Budgets these days are a thought exercise in “how I’d like things to be, but obviously won’t be.”
 
This started the last two years of the Bush presidency, when Congress was controlled by Democrats. They became “Hope Documents” or “Wish Lists.” Even after Obama was elected, his budgets were never taken seriously by Congress because Congress was not serious about budgeting.
 
They quickly abandoned regular order and the normal appropriations process in favor of continuing resolutions and omnibus packages. A power grab by the leadership, disenfranchising moderate and oddball Democrats and castrating Republicans in the minority.
 
Presidential budgets have always been blueprints. Congress is under no obligation to consider them, but Presidents are still obligated by the law to churn them out. It used to make sense, but now it’s sort of a pointless partisan exercise.
 
Boehner tried to restore regular order when I went from the Senate to the House as a staffer. In that, he failed. McConnell has signaled he wants to try his hand at that, too.
 
I wish them luck and hope it succeeds, but I’m not optimistic.
Prospects for reforming K-12 education are equally dire, but then again, while I agree with conservatives on their reforms, I’m of the view that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in the first place on education, a position many conservatives share. Hard to argue that when you’re voting to essentially maintain some semblance of federal control over it, even if it is diminished.

 

New Yorkers Complain About Economics

From the ever-expanding “This Isn’t Price Gouging” Department, the New York Post reports:

Passengers are blasting the Uber car-service app for its “surge’’-pricing scheme, which kicked in during the city’s first snowstorm of the season — in one case pricing a short trip across town at a whopping $132.

But in Boston, blogger Jessica Gioglio — who bills herself as “The Savvy Bostonian” — shelled out $91 for a 3.18-mile, 16-minute trip from Beantown’s Back Bay to Central Square.

Posting a screenshot of her e-mail receipt, she called the fare “price-gouging” and said, “I’m really disappointed in u guys.”

Uber, much maligned by regulatory fiends and taxi cab sympathizers, has really upset the taxi cabal in many major U.S. cities. Namely by providing better, more convenient service for a more premium price.

Unlike taxicabs, whose drivers can usually only impose a change in prices when allowed by decree from the government (i.e. during a snowstorm, or when gas prices are unusually high), Uber can raise prices to reflect market demand. And users are clearly made aware of this before they agree to take an Uber, as seen below.

The Post continues:

The app’s practice of surge pricing is actually designed to help consumers, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian insisted Sunday. The higher rates “get more cars on the road quickly when demand outstrips supply, helping to guarantee that New Yorkers can get a ride when and where they want,” she said.

“As soon as demand falls or supply increases sufficiently, prices return to normal.”

Uber cars and their drivers, like everything else, are a scarce resource with alternate uses. Uber is right to raise prices to incentivize more drivers to work than to accept private contracts (as many Uber drivers do in Washington), hunker down with their family, or go out and get supplies for their homes. Just like laws prohibiting so-called “price gouging” during a storm serve as a disincentive for shop owners to stay open, the rules that govern taxi cabs often result in less taxis being available.

Which, in turn, might cause Uber’s demand to surge even higher than it normally would if taxis had greater flexibility to charge market rates. bsig

The Sriracha Story … How Will It End?

The timing for Griffin Hammond’s documentary on Sriracha sauce couldn’t be better. More on that in a bit. This holiday season, I highly recommend this 33 minute documentary, which you can buy for $5 on his site. Put it on a flash drive, tape it to a Sriracha bottle, and give it to a loved one as a stocking stuffer.

My only complaint is that I wish it were longer and included the current fight over the ability of Huy Fong to sell its products.

Fans of the sauce will especially love the film, and those who can’t stand anything spicy will still find the story of it fascinating.

Hammond tells the story of one of America’s favorite hot sauces with a cult-like following from a societal perspective, from that of David Tran, the Huy Fong company’s founder, and from a historical perspective about the sauce’s origins in Thailand. Now, Sriracha isn’t my favorite hot sauce (it’s hard to pick one), but it was one I stupidly avoided at burger joints. I’m happy to admit I am wrong, because this sauce is wonderful.

Just the “how it’s all made” portion of the documentary, which is well-filmed and produced, would be enough to interest me. Hammond bills it as “The origin story of an iconic hot sauce, finally revealed.” He’s not lying.

Tran, the founder of the most known version of the Sriracha-type chili sauce (with a green cap and a rooster on it), came to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong after the fall of Saigon. As an ethnic Chinese man, he wasn’t really welcome in Vietnam after it went communist.

hf2Tran got out of Vietnam on a boat. When the British told the boat to turn back, it stayed there for a month. The British relented, and Tran made his way to America as a refugee.

In 1980, he founded his company, selling his version of the Sriracha sauce in the Chinatown neighborhood in LA to local restaurants. The company’s name?  Huy Fong — the name of the ship that saved him from communism and a society that didn’t welcome him.

He has never marketed his sauce, though fans appear eager to do so for him — including the webcomic The OatmealTran seems more interested in bringing his product to the masses.

Much success has come to David Tran and his chili sauce factory. His former factory was once a Wham-o factory that made frisbees and hula-hoops, but demand grew too much. So, in 2010, he arranged for a bigger factory — a few times the size of his old one — in nearby Irwindale. In 2012, he sold 20 million bottles of the stuff.

In the making of chili, during the fall harvest, the peppers need to be pureed and mixed with other inputs at the most ripe point, when they are red. So, for much of the ripe-times for these chilis, the Huy Fong plant excretes a delicious chili aroma. Then it’s aged and stored before it is bottled and sent out.

Irwindale’s citizens, fewer than 30 of the city’s 1,400 residents– including a city councilman’s son — complained about the chili odor. And because of this, the city sued, saying the smell of chili was a “public nuisance.” This, after Tran and Huy Fong installed filters not once, but twice in response to complaints. The South Coast Air Quality Management District visited numerous times, but didn’t cite Huy Fong for violations.

Tran won the first round, but on appeal, the city won — even though the judge said there was a “lack of credible evidence” tying health problems to the factory’s smell — on the public nuisance complaint. For now, it doesn’t matter that much until next fall, since the harvest is over. The fight, though, isn’t.

According to the LA Times, some of the closest neighbors to the plant, however, fail to see what the problem is:

Sal Hernandez, a 75-year-old former Irwindale councilman who lives on Azusa Canyon Road, just a few houses from the Huy Fong plant, said he has never noticed a smell. He said he was surprised the city went after the maker of Sriracha hot sauce so quickly and aggressively.

“It hasn’t bothered me yet. I haven’t had any effects from it, and I’m right next door to it,” Hernandez said.

A former reserve police officer who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, Hernandez said few people go before the council to complain about the smell from other factories in town – like the huge MillerCoors Brewery or a dog food manufacturer on Arrow Highway.

“Things we should go to court for we don’t, and for this thing, we’re taking [the Sriracha company] to court,” he said. “I’m surprised. They were praising this thing before they even came in. Everyone was praising it.”

Praising it, indeed. The city even went out of its way to attract those Huy Fong jobs, offering a really good loan for a small town that, when you think about it, is kind of nuts.

The LA Times reports:

Huy Fong Foods decided to locate its factory in Irwindale three years ago when the city offered a loan with “irresistible” terms: pay only interest for 10 years, with a balloon payment at the end.

Huy Fong took the loan and contributed $250,000 a year to the city of Irwindale each year as part of the deal, Tran said. The company then built a $40-million factory that at full capacity could generate about $300 million a year in sales, according to Tran’s statements.

But after complaints about the smell began last year, Tran said he began to get an “odd feeling” about the city’s behavior. In response, the company has taken out a loan with less favorable terms from East West Bank to pay off the city’s loan.

Could Irwindale be suffering from buyer’s remorse? Perhaps. The town with 1,400 people did offer to front a loan for Huy Fong similar to the interest only mortgages popular before the housing crash in exchange for jobs and commerce, which seems like a bad idea. Tran’s premonition led him to pay off the loan early, like some TARP recipients did in the wake of the financial crisis when the Treasury imposed special regulations on loan recipients.

Or is Irwindale angling for a settlement deal? Also possible.

The city could be taking action for all 20-some citizens who have a problem with the plant, though based on former councilman Hernandez’s comments, the city’s actions seem strange — like that of a spurned crazy ex-girlfriend.

One thing is for sure, taking loans from the government may save you money up front, but the special terms of the deal often appear after you’ve signed on the dotted line, as seems to be the case here.

Tran looks like he is taking this personally. He put up a big banner that reads “NO TEAR GAS MADE HERE” and hung it out in front of his factory. The sign gives the impression Tran plans to fight this in court, but the company is largely keeping quiet.

Los Angeles County, where Irwindale is located, has a higher than average unemployment rate — 9.5% as of October. Like the Dollar Shave Club commercial says, “I’m no Vanderbilt but this train makes hay” — Tran’s brought commerce to Irwindale, but do they really want this litigious NIMBY reputation? It doesn’t appear the city has put much thought to the trade offs such a lawsuit brings.

If Irwindale’s sudden and bizarre reversal weren’t enough for Huy Fong, the state of California has made matters worse.

According to a report by ABC News:

The Southern California-based maker of Sriracha has been told it can’t ship any more of its popular hot sauce to food distributors until next month because the state Department of Public Health is enforcing stricter guidelines that require a 30-day hold on the product.

Health department spokeswoman Anita Gore told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the 30-day hold is needed to “ensure an effective treatment of microorganisms present in the product.”

The move by the California Department of Health might be seen as suspicious by some, given the timing. But it appears that the regulation that went into effect wasn’t specifically targeted at Huy Fong.

LA Weekly reports that the 30-day requirement “has existed for years but that it was recently modified in a way that now applies specifically to Huy Fong’s hot sauces.” The Department of Health cited federal regulatory law as the justification for the change in their enforcement, despite the sauce being produced there for over 30 years. The regulations were changed in 2011, under the Obama administration, state that companies that deviate from the scheduled process for acidified food must “set aside that portion of the food involved for further evaluation as to any potential public health significance.”

California has stricter rules than the rest of the U.S. for guns, cars,  and apparently, hot sauce.

One wholesaler is very unhappy, telling ABC News that he’s already received 30 angry phone calls — more than the total number of complaints in Irwindale — about the problems it’s causing. Unfortunately for consumers, they don’t have a city to sue on their behalf, only David Tran, Huy Fong Foods and his legal team. The delays, the wholesaler says, could cost him $300,000 in lost business.

Other cities’ officials are trying to lure Tran and his company to relocate to their city. One such place is Philadelphia. While it’s unlikely Huy Fong — which only uses one chili supplier — would ship its chilis across the country in an expedited manner to make their product there, nearby Arizona and Nevada might be a better fit.

In the film, Tran tells us that if people no longer like his product, he’ll stop making it. His product’s popularity isn’t the problem at present — it’s California, and Californians. David Tran waited a month on a ship to escape Vietnam, so Irwindale should expect no lack of patience from him.

I doubt Tran will go full Atlas Shrugged and deny foodies, hipsters, and hot sauce fanatics his great product. But its fans should take notice to see what the NIMBY crowd and regulatory overreach is doing to one of their prize condiments. Don’t expect any hilarious criticisms of regulatory overreach by The Oatmeal.  Unless Tran wins in court, the price of Sriracha is set to rise, or the California label might be coming off the bottle.bsig

Could Pop-Up Hotels Solve Disaster Housing Shortages?

I read with interest a recent piece in Businessweek about an innovate company that has managed to make something akin to a hotel food truck:

This year, Snoozebox Holdings is shipping 40 to 400 stackable containers to house guests at events including Le Mans, the Edinburgh Festivals of plays and concerts, and the G8 Summit. The prebooked rooms are equipped with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and running hot water.

Who would want to stay in one of those, you might ask? The company, Snoozebox, has already found some markets for its product.

snooze

The answer is, mostly, rich people. However, like with most innovations, what starts as a toy or luxury for the rich (telephones, VCRs, televisions, internet) usually becomes pretty affordable and widespread.

Take the devastating tornado that recently ravaged Oklahoma. Or the one in Joplin, Missouri. Housing is one of the most needed commodities in the wake of natural disasters. Could Snoozebox, or its competitors save the day and provide a market-based solution to help people in need?

While the obvious answer is yes, the reality is probably not. Or at least not anytime soon.

Whenever an innovation disrupts the current natural order, vested interests often use the law and politicians in an attempt to stifle competition. Economists call the former “creative destruction” (good) and the latter “rent seeking” (bad).

Creative destruction, in the form of the Uber car service or food trucks, is really great for consumers. Their competition — well established taxi cabals and brick-and-mortar restaurants — don’t see it that way. They get politicians to enforce laws that would inhibit any competitor from setting up shop, and if the laws doesn’t exist for that purpose, those interests usually push politicians to pass them.

Let’s rewind the clock to a day after the tornado hit Oklahoma. You work at Bomblebox, a fictional competitor of Snoozebox. Oklahoma would be an ideal place to offer your services to a populace coping with disaster. Hotels are overbooked, people are cramped in the houses of friends — often far away from the site of their former home. There’s a natural market for the Bomblebox.

Could Bomblebox drive a couple of trucks over and set up shop somewhere? In this hypothetical, it’s unlikely.

Each of the fifty states has their own laws and regulations governing hotels and lodging. And it’s unlikely that a company not already licensed to do business there could get all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted before the window of opportunity closes.snoozebox-exterior-sunshine

Second, local hoteliers, their trade groups, and other interest groups would probably object. There are a ton of ways they could do this:

Would Bomblebox’s products be up to snuff with Chapter 285 — the part of Oklahoma law that regulates lodging establishments?  Is the plumbing consistent with the Oklahoma Plumbing License Act? Is the electricity system consistent with the Oklahoma Electrical Licensing Act? Does each unit “maintain at least one lighting fixture suitable for reading”? Do all the bathroom floors have “impervious floor surfaces?” Is the sewage disposal system consistent with “regulations adopted by the Oklahoma State Board of Health?” I don’t know.

Remember, these laws are for your safety. Created, supposedly, to protect you — but they also often serve to protect the current natural order from competition.

You get the point.

The time and money it would take to ensure compliance would probably guarantee that such a plan wouldn’t get past the research phase. There are a lot of questions to answer just to drive a box that people would pay $400 a night to stay in while watching a race or stay at a festival like Bonnaroo. Put another way, if people are willing to pay that much to stay in a box at a race or a festival, my guess it’s probably good enough for  to stay in after the wake of a disaster.

But that’s not how regulation and the natural order operate. Mutually agreed upon and beneficial transactions, even under extenuating circumstances, are often illegal outright. You’re not necessarily free to transact with others as you see fit. While FEMA does provide disaster assistance — think FEMA trailers —  some people probably would be willing to pay more, and could afford to get something a little nicer than a crappy camper because for their well being they want the comforts of home.

Let’s pretend for a second that Bomblebox is a Missouri company, and has plans to do business all over the southland to help people recover from disasters, and provide housing during political conventions and festivals.

Could Bomblebox then, had it complied with all the varying laws regulating hotels and motels, go into business? Again, the answer is probably not.

Ill-advised price gouging laws in each of the states would likely prohibit Bomblebox from charging the market rates necessary to make it profitable. And thus, local hoteliers and the government — which also hates competition — would likely object and prohibit the “evil” Bomblebox corporation from helping people at a time when they need it most.

What about renting (or selling) house-like version of the Bomblebox? At first glance, that might appear to be a better option.

But, again, the complex web of laws and regulations would make that difficult, and in addition to hoteliers, the competitors of the natural order (RV makers, prefabricated home makers) would likely throw in a monkey wrench to complicate things.

In my lifetime, we’ve seen creative destruction move at an amazingly fast pace. The days of radio-dispatched cabs that come because of a call from your home phone or payphone are over. We’re in the Uber era now, where my smartphone will get me a black sedan in mere minutes. Instead of having to go and wait in a long line to get a Georgetown cupcake, food fad fetishists can be satisfied by a 3 minute walk to Farragut Square where multiple food trucks offer similar (and often better) products with shorter lines and often at lower prices. Or, if you really have your heart set on Georgetown cupcake, Seamless can deliver it for you.

Generally speaking, our regulatory system and laws are outdated. Uber is discovering that first hand across the country, most recently in Los Angeles. The byzantine shackles of a outdated laws and regulations that keep cities (like my hometown of Cleveland) from returning to their former status of greatness exist all across the country in various degrees.

What keeps them there is politicians who cater to the special interests, and who see themselves as wizened sherpas of the regulatory Mt. Kilimanjaro rather than people whose job it is to make their constituents’ lives easier through good policy, not political dependency.

Going forward, the cities and states that recognize the burdensome constraints of outdated regulations and laws are the ones that will prosper. They’ll have the Ubers, the food trucks, and — when times are tough — people willing to provide innovative solutions to help them in their time of need.  Their citizens will lead happier, better lives, and bounce back from adversity faster than their friends in the cities and states whose leaders who let archaic policy and outdated thinking rule the day.

Few people argue for no regulations at all, but the people who think that deregulatory advocates believe this are often the very politicians who say “everything is fine.” Odds are, it’s not. And the joke’s on you if you believe them.

 

 

 

Unintended Consequences of Price Gouging Laws

gouge

From The OK Disaster Scam Prevention Packet, as prepared by OK Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt’s “Public Protection Unit”

Most states have laws that purportedly protect people from evil “price gougers” in the wake of man-made or natural disasters. Some are toothless and silly, affording publicity seeking politicians to give themselves some good press, while others are draconian or invasive.

One point to consider is that price gouging laws do nothing to address or fix the shortage of a certain commodity due to either high demand or diminished supply. They’re not a solution.

These laws impose a “finder’s keepers” marketplace, where those conveniently situated to suppliers can hoard much needed goods at what are effectively below-market rates, rather than a market-based economy where buyers and sellers can decide what prices they’d like to charge or the price they’re willing to pay.

Oklahoma’s law seems especially pernicious because it restricts the ability of prices to rise by 10% not just for the immediate time after the disaster, but for 30 days after – and for “dwelling units, storage space and goods related to home repair and restoration”, 180 days after.

While big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have the size and scale to absorb potential losses from such a prohibition, it’s doubtful that your local mom-and-pop hardware store will escape as unharmed.

Of course, there are individuals who would try and skirt the law, and that’s not hard to understand because it is a bad law. Jim’s Hardware could mark up all items by 55% immediately before the disaster, and presumably be able to better absorb the price shocks they’d experience afterwards. However, you can bet that your local “consumer reporter” would be all over that in about a New York minute.

Lastly, even if price gouging laws do result in savings before the shortages occur, it’s worth asking whether, on net, the prosecution of violators if price gouging laws ends up costing taxpayers more than the money the few who were lucky enough to stock up on D-Batteries and bottled water saved?

Put another way, can you put a price on feeling good that you weren’t “ripped off” — even if you are living in the dark and thirsty? Will that round out the balance?

Could it be that these laws harm more than they help?

Here’s a good video on the topic:

I can picture the signs already…

md

When you cross the bridge into Virginia from Maryland or Washington, D.C. you are greeted by an ominous sign that warns “RADAR DETECTORS ILLEGAL.”

Maryland’s state senate OK’d a bill today that would “ban smoking in cars when there is a passenger younger than age 8.”

Should this bill become law in Maryland, I expect they will put up similar signs to avoid non-residents challenging a ticket. That will give me a chuckle when crossing the Wilson bridge. At this rate, they might as well put up electronic boards informing motorists of all the do’s and don’ts.bsig

Bomblecast #20 — The Minimum Wage

ep20

In this podcast, we talk about the minimum wage and President Obama’s proposal to raise it $9 an hour.

Here’s Episode #20:

That Time I Almost Got into a Fight in N.J.

I’ll admit, there are times I can be a curmudgeon. There are other times, and I blame my genes for this, that I can go from being perfectly calm to going straight through the roof in short order. Driving contributes to this frustration, setting the floor a bit above normal — driving with Swift men can be an annoying experience.

Earlier today, I was talking with my friend Brian about stupid state and local laws we don’t like. Yes, this is seriously what I do for fun. New Jersey’s gas pumping law came up, and a vivid memory came back to me.

Rewind a few years to when I was a recently minted college graduate. My cousin’s employer, Johnson & Johnson, was having a sort of employer fair at their headquarters in New Jersey. (When I got there, it turned out to be a rehashing of “how not to shoot yourself in the foot during a job interview” — not actual people looking to hire.)

I drove from Cleveland to New Jersey and checked into my hotel. I went to the event, made a few friends, and left not having really learned anything new. I was low on gas.

I pulled off the highway — New Jersey’s highways are great by the way — and pulled into the gas station. I got out, put my card in, and started pumping gas.

It’s been a few years, but here’s how I remember that confrontation:

A guy come out from the side of the building, where the stinky bathrooms that reek of rancid piss are, and looked at me with a glare you’d think would be reserved for somebody who actually was, you know, doing something wrong.

Demanding in one of those comical Jersey accents (he may have been Snooki’s father) he asked “Now what do you think you are doing?”

“Just pumping my gas.” I said.

“You can’t do that,” he said, “I have to do that.”

I replied “I am not paying you to pump my gas. But thanks, though.”

“New Jersey law requires me to pump your gas.”

“That’s stupid, I was raised perfectly capable of pumping gas, and I don’t have any cash to pay you to pump my gas.”

“You don’t have to pay me, I just have to pump your gas.”

“So, I have to pay a higher price to pay for employees to come and pump my gas? That’s stupid.”

I relinquished control of the pump to him. The glare persisted. We both stood there awkwardly until the pump went click. He removed it, looked over at me, and said “Have a nice day.”

I fumed all the way back to Missouri. What a dumb law.

There’s a special place in hell for politicians who continue to keep these absurd laws on the books.

It’s called New Jersey.

 

Should D.C. Taxis All Be the Same Color?

That’s the question being asked by D.C. regulators. Well, it’s not a question they’re asking, it’s what they’ve proposed (and enacted).

I say no.

Despite not being a fan of the D.C. cab cabal, I like the varied colors and funny cab names. Especially the ones that are spelled wrong. There’s even a “Swift Cab” in D.C.!

D.C. is trying to be like its political big sister, New York, and achieve branding with all cabs the same color.

According to the Examiner:

The requirement for a citywide uniform cab color was approved by the D.C. Council earlier this year as part of its taxi modernization plan. The plan also requires cabs to install credit card machines and GPS navigation systems.

The change won’t be easy for cab drivers. Waters estimated that painting a cab in the new color scheme will cost between $1,000 and $5,000, and some cab drives are already unhappy about having to change at all, let alone having to pay for the paint job.

“People tell their kids to pick the orange and black cab. That’s our brand name. That’s our marketing. And we’re going to lose it because they want to go to one color. Does one color improve service?” said Roy Spooner of the Yellow Cab Co.

Does one color improve service? Not one bit.

In fact, if you get shafted by a D.C. cabbie who refuses to play by the absurd rules they usually support being imposed, you can refuse to hail cabs from that company in the future. That’s what I did. (Now, whenever I rarely require such service, I use Uber.)

But not under this new regime. In the future, all cabs will look the same and bad actors will look no different than good ones.

Some “reform.”

UPDATED: I Thought the Durbin Amdt. was supposed to help consumers?

Via email:

Dear Valued Member,

Beginning October 29th, transaction fees in DC will increase from $0.32 to $0.45 due to increased costs triggered by recent federal legislative reform enacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s Durbin Amendment.

To help offset this increase Parkmobile has developed the Parkmobile Wallet which will provide a more cost-effective parking experience in DC – Wallet transactions will carry a $.30 transaction fee. You can update your payment method to the Parkmobile Wallet via your Personal Pages at www.parkmobile.com or from your mobile app (if using iPhone or Android). If you have forgotten your username/password you can retrieve it using your registered mobile phone number and the last four digits of the credit card on file. The Parkmobile Wallet is FDIC insured.

For more information please visit our website at www.parkmobile.com and click on the Parkmobile Wallet link. If you have further questions click on the orange ‘Help’ tab or email helpdesk@parkmobileglobal.com.

Sincerely,

Tina Dyer
Marketing & Sales Support Manager
Parkmobile USA, Inc.

And from a Press Release:

They can continue to use existing payment methods, but due to increased cost related to the Durbin Amendment the transaction fee will be changed from $0.32 to $0.45.

I guess the Durbin Amendment isn’t as beneficial for consumers as we were told…

UPDATE: HOH reports:

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) fired back by penning Mayor Vincent Gray a sternly worded letter.

“Mayor Gray, in order to avoid any potential confusion,” Durbin began. “I request that you and DDOT make clear that the District of Columbia Government does not agree with Parkmobile’s analysis of the cause of these fee increases or endorse Parkmobile’s disingenuous assignment of blame.”

This Wednesday, “plus 13 cent Durbin tax” stickers have started popping up on parking meters.

UPDATE 2: ParkMobile has backpedalled. I wonder what Mayor Gray threatened them with.

Dear Valued Member,

Last week in a press release and email announcement introducing the Parkmobile Wallet, a simpler, lower cost way to pay for parking in the District of Columbia, the company made an overly simplistic statement about the underlying cause of increasing card transaction fees. In an attempt to explain why costs have increased the company left the potentially confusing impression that Federal legislation is to blame. The company apologizes for any confusion caused by this statement.