Five Ideas: What are your thoughts about these items in the news this week?

Friday, September 19, 2008 | 10:19 a.m. CDT; updated 12:56 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 19, 2008

Bus fares double

This week saw the City Council increase bus fares twofold for riders — the city's first fee hike in 22 years.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The very thing that has made public transportation increasingly attractive to riders — high fuel prices — has been costing the city more money as well. That, coupled with 22 years of inflation, has made public transit unsustainable for the city at 1986 prices.

But one can't help but wonder if the city is going about supplementing bus funding all wrong: The people who will bear the brunt of the cost increase are those who can barely afford them to begin with. Where else could the city look? There is federal and state funding to be had for public transportation projects, but news came down Thursday the city had been denied federal grant money for the second straight year.

But perhaps it wouldn't be unreasonable for the city itself to take a bigger role in subsidizing the service. With emissions and gas prices now firmly in the public consciousness, expanding public transportation could benefit more than just those without cars if implemented properly.

Do you think city taxpayer dollars should foot a bigger part of the public transit bill, or are fare increases a more reasonable revenue source?

Bailing out AIG

In what the New York Times called "the most radical intervention in private business in the central bank's history," the Fed took control of American Industrial Group on Tuesday, citing concerns that the financial giant's demise could have disastrous effects on other businesses.

The move came after a day in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 500 points, the largest dip since the stock markets plummeted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Americans — particularly Wall Street types — tend to get queasy whenever the government tinkers with the free market, so it was interesting to see the market rebound the past few days in response to the $85 billion bailout. But can we really expect the Fed to continue this sort of behavior if more financial stalwarts go under?

More importantly, should it?

Do you think the Fed has overstepped its bounds in saving AIG or was it necessary to stave off further economic crisis?

Rethinking red-light cameras

Pending Missouri Department of Transportation approval, the city plans to install a pair of red-light cameras at the intersection of Worley Street and Providence Road. Violators would be docked a hefty chunk of change — more than $100 in fees — some of which would go to the private company that supplies the equipment.

This has been subject to criticism on two fronts: the "Big Brother effect," and the potential for profit mongering by the private company.

While it's wise to err on the side of caution with regard to civil liberties issues, the "Big Brother" argument doesn't hold much weight in this instance. The only people who have to worry about the cameras are those violating the law, thereby putting others in danger. Is it possible that the fees could be directed at the wrong person? Certainly, but not the wrong car, since license plates are photographed. It is OK to put the burden of responsibility on the car owner — it can be up to them to collect the money for the fine with whomever was driving.

But the role of a private company in this is worthy of re-evaluation. The current system would give LaserCraft, Inc. nearly $28.50 per ticket issued, giving the company managing the cameras every incentive to catch as many people as possible. If the city's goal is deterrence rather than profit, it should consider paying LaserCraft a flat fee to discourage any temptation for false positives.

Will the city's red-light camera plan cut down on motorists running lights? Why or why not?

Commercial development around new high school inevitable

A city-county joint commission met Tuesday to discuss business development around Columbia's new high school.

One topic of discussion was whether the school should allow students to leave campus for lunch, a decision likely to encourage commercial development. It is, of course, up to the school, but the commission's argument seems suspect.

Citing safety concerns is one thing, but preventing commercial development is not a fair or useful consideration.

For one thing, fast-food restaurants will pop up sooner than later anyway. Cheap food is a big seller among the high school crowd, and if the city wants other businesses in the area, employees of those businesses will have to eat somewhere.

And what would be the aim in stunting commercial growth? Having a few extra shops in the area could be a boon for kids looking for a nearby job, especially in light of increasingly prohibitive gas prices.

Should the city take measures to stunt commercial growth around the high school?

Street fighting in the District

In the wake of an apparent bar fight that spilled onto the street, Sapphire Lounge has canceled its weekly hip-hop night, concerned that the crowd it brings in is disturbing the peace downtown.

It's not unreasonable for Sapphire to cancel the event if it thinks it's hurting the company's image.

But surely there's a better solution out there. Hip-hop has no other home in Columbia. Is it worth stamping out an artistic medium because of a few fights?

More importantly, would canceling the event really cut down on crime, or simply relocate it? Hip-hop doesn't throw punches, people do.

From a purely business perspective, the hip-hop event was highly profitable — the bar's best night of the week, in fact. Maybe piling a little of that revenue into extra security would alleviate some of the problems.

Is it right for businesses to put the brakes on hip-hop in Columbia because of fighting?

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John Schultz September 20, 2008 | 12:45 a.m.

Some information for the writer of the five questions.

First, the city sales taxes already subsidizes both the transit system and the airport quite handily - over one million dollars the last time I looked.

Second, regarding the comment "It is OK to put the burden of responsibility on the car owner — it can be up to them to collect the money for the fine with whomever was driving." Just how does one transfer the points assessed against the driver's license of the car's owner in the hypothetical situation? It's not just a monetary issue. Columbia is also seeking to submit the violation to the state, which will tack on however many points one is fined for running a red light (two I would guess).

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