Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Bus Analogy

I've mentioned before that I work for an electric utility. Lately we've been fighting a steady stream of battles over the fact that a few local politicos think they can do a better job managing power delivery than our executive staff. They've been doing their best to get ballot measures passed that would carve out parts of our service territory and turn them into Public Utility Districts, or PUDs. They hold up a bunch of Perot-ist charts that use spurrious data to draw suspect conclusions on how they could've done things better than we have over the last [insert period of time here] and how we're risking the lives of old people and the infirm by our mere existence. They print up flyers, whip the media into a froth of enthusiasm, and make speeches about how it's time for a change.

[I should say here that I am by no means a member of the executive staff. By "we" I mean those of us who work for the company. We all feel like we have a certain amount of ownership of the problem of delivering safe, reliable power to our customers.]

What they neglect to do in all this, much like any salesman who leaves out the bad parts of any deal, is tell the people, our customers, about how much more its going to cost them in the final analysis. They neglect to mention that they're going to have to buy power on the same open market as everyone else, bidding against California consumers for their megawatts. Nor do they talk about where their corporate infrastructure is going to come from, such as an IT department to write and maintain code for the customer information system, a human resources department to handle the warm body infrastructure, or line crews to go out and fix downed power lines in the middle of a stormy night. I'm sure all of this is just too complicated to fit into their basic message, and that's why their not mentioning it.

So, it struck me that I could use a charter bus as an analogy. Not that you're too dumb to figure this out for yourself, but I like analogies, and I'm going to use one.

It seems to me that these people are riding along on the bus, and they decide that, after all this time watching what the driver is doing, that they could drive the bus better. Their fellow passengers listen while these dissenters tell them about how, if they were driving the bus, they would always maintain the same speed no matter how steep the hill, only drive on roads without potholes, stop at every spot that someone onboard wanted to, and make ticket prices so cheap that no one ever need worry about getting onboard, even if gas prices far outstrip ticket prices.

The way they're going to accomplish all this is by starting with a few seats, passengers and all, off of this very bus. You see, with seats, passengers, and competent drivers, you're most of the way there. Sure, you're missing a few minor things like wheels, brakes, and an engine. But those are minor, and surely things will work out so that the new bus will run. And don't worry, ticket prices will be low, that will get figured out, too. And, if ever the new bus breaks down, why this bus line we're on will give us a free ride, because it's the law.


I'm just starting to realize that I never should have written this. I've gotten this far and it's got me mad, so I'm going to stop. I should come to my point before I leave you, though, so here it is:

If you see a ballot measure this election season that proposes the formation of a PUD, carved out of the service territory of your local power company, look closely at the details of their plan before you vote. I'm not even asking you to vote "No" (though I sure would like it if you do), I'm just asking you to pay close attention to what they say and what they don't say. I think you'll be able to decide for yourself that it's a bad idea. As a matter of fact, I sure of it. Like I said, you're not so dumb that you can't figure this out for yourself.


If you don't stir the pot,
the stuff at the bottom just sits there.

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