In politics, a bad idea never goes away, especially when it is campaign gimmickry designed to boost the fortunes of a politician desperate for headlines. The problem is these silly campaign gimmicks can often end up becoming very bad, very expensive policy, and you, the citizen, end up paying the price.
The latest example has been this ongoing media barrage BART board member James Fang has been creating over his half-baked idea to use cell phones to pay BART Fares. Today’s Matier and Ross detailed Fang’s $4000 trip to London to go to a conference hosted by vendors of said technology. All this in addition to BART resources directed to “study” this issue at great cost. This, during a budget crisis.
But let’s take a trip in the political Wayback Machine to Fang’s 2006 campaign. Fang is a Republican in one of the most non-Republican parts of California. In a re-election bid against Emily Drennen, an advocate for transit and other Good Things, he had to find a way to ensure his re-election, using, of course the taxpayer-funded resources BART could offer.
The result was a completely phony “demonstration” of technology that simply does not exist in the United States (on the scale it does in other nations), with a whole slew of media on hand to “document” a completely falsified event. Naturally, in the closing days of the campaign, Fang, with a local press ready to reprint his every word like good PR people, was able to eclipse any discussion of real issues and win re-election. All based on a lie.
It should be noted that yes, you can use cell phones in Europe and Asia to make purchases of all sorts. Cell phones in Europe can be used with vending machines to buy sodas, and Japanese cell phones can show television broadcasts and so on. There’s just one problem – not one US cell carrier currently supports any “pay by cell” techonlogy, nor do any other transit agencies, any vending machine companies and so on. So Mr. Fang is either a liar or a fool when he somehow suggests that magically, within a couple of years, the US will be falling in line with European or Asian standards for cell phones amongst all its cell phone carriers.
The TransLink system, which cost a ton of money and allows for more efficient fare collection with BART, MUNI, AC Transit, and Golden Gate Transit, is FINALLY almost ready to go. MUNI passengers are already finding that using a TransLink pass is easier, and it’s expected to help all beleaguered transit systems with money issues. And yet Mr. Fang insists on spending scarce taxpayer dollars to go on junkets and insist on repeating his campaign gimmicks – on our dime. Worse, he’s actively undermining a significant regional project the public seems to like for no other reason than his own personal political gain.
The press needs to be admonished for going along with this phony baloney gimmick during the election and not asking the tough questions instead. However, Mr. Fang should also be admonished for wasting taxpayer dollars at a time of crisis, as should BART’s management for allowing this to continue. Mr. Fang’s actions are no longer a matter of political disagreement, but are costing taxpayers money, and the lies and foolishness need to stop NOW.
BART riders can’t afford it any more.
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