Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sour Grapes for Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Stop the Bus
The silly idea of mass transit on our tiny island is rearing its head again. The huge waste of money that would result from big buses careening around the island belching black ash and diesel fumes would be shameful. A mental image of near empty buses picking up an occasional straggling passenger waiting in the rain comes to mind.

Even in large cities with big populations, the mass transit systems usually lose huge amounts of money and have to be subsidized by the taxpayers. The idea of having that type of time scheduled, large capacity transportation actually work here on Saipan is an impossible dream, or rather nightmare that will cost us dearly if enacted.

It should be pointed out that we had a perfectly workable ‘mass transit’ system operating here until a few weeks ago. It was working so well that you could go anywhere on the island, at a time of your own choosing, for a paltry $3. We had access to good, reliable transportation without the huge costs associated with government run boondoggles. In fact, it cost taxpayers here or in the US nothing at all. So what did we do to help that working transportation system along? Arrested the producers.

I’m referring to the meterless ‘illegal’ taxi industry that has blossomed here on Saipan providing reliable and near instantaneous pick up and delivery of people to where they wanted to go. Not only was this system affordable even to the lowest paid workers on the island but by running the business efficiently, it was quite profitable to the operators of such taxies. They bought and paid for brand new, fuel efficient cars and used an on the go mobile telephone dispatch system that would be the envy of big taxi companies anywhere. All for 3 bucks a ride.

The private sector can do this job a lot more efficiently, environmentally cleaner and a heck of a lot cheaper than some rambling, top-heavy government bureaucracy can. I suggest we let them do what they do best; provide us all with cheap reliable transportation when we want it. Let them alone and let them do the job. They benefit and we benefit, so what is wrong with that?

The sticking point seems to be that the government does not get it’s cut if done the way it was in the past. There is a simple remedy for that. I recommend a moderate increase of the fee to $4 a ride. We still pay the taxi man $3 for a comfortable air conditioned ride, but we also pay the CNMI Treasury $1 per ride. Now everyone should be happy. The taxis keep operating and provide us with a necessary and useful service, and the government collects money for…um, being able to.

The last thing we need are big empty busses roaring around the island adding to pollution and using lots of fuel at the taxpayers expense.

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A lotta regatta
Well the 33rd running of the Saipan Laguna Regatta is in the books. It is the sailboat race held annually in the Lagoon and is the longest continuously running sporting event in the Marianas (some say all of Micronesia). Hobie Cat sailors gather each year to duke it out and see who has the best skills and the most capable strategy to win the most points during several heat races held over two days.

This year the team of Tony Sterns and Janet McCullough won the coveted ‘Brass Bat’ 1st prize given and took possession at the awards banquet held at Porky’s Beach Bar in Garapan Sunday evening. Tony and Janet have won several times consecutively and seem to be the team to beat in next year’s Regatta as well.

Ron Smith and Ted Parker amassed enough points to place second while Lino Olopai and Amada Rabauliman finished third. Fourth place went to the husband and wife team of Tyce and Angie Mister. These winners and all the competitors finished the 2 day event with smiles on their faces.

To see photos of this year’s race, the Managaha picnic and the awards banquet go to http://www.otryc.org/ where photo galleries from the last several races are cached. You can also find other information about the Over the Reef Yacht Club, sponsor of the annual event at that web site or contact the club’s Commodore, Ron Smith, via the website for membership or scheduling information. The club holds weekend “fun sails’ off Oleai Beach from time to time and offers free rides and free lessons so come on out and have some fun sailing around Saipan’s beautiful Lagoon. You might be the one to beat Tony and Janet next year.
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People with Power

Recent promises by the new CUC Director, Mr. Tony Muna, pave the way to a ray of hope. If he can nudge CUC into keeping the promises made at a recent Saipan Chamber of Commerce meeting we will see the last of the rotating ‘brown out’ power outages “sometime in June”. He didn’t specify whether early or late in the month, but the promise of 24/7 electric power for all customers was made. That in itself is welcome relief.

But Muna went on to promise that by September of this year the repairs to all the engines would be complete and CUC will finally be producing more power than consumers use for the first time in quite a while. If true, that bodes well for all businesses and residential users. Instead of struggling along barely able to cope with demand, the powerhouses will have a substantial surplus of available power at long last.

Mr. Muna did not say when he would ask the biggest users, the major hotels, to rejoin the grid but that event will probably signal that the health and reliability of our power generators has been greatly improved.

Another promise he made was to be back at the next meeting of the Chamber next month in June with hard data about the actual costs to produce power and administer CUC broken down by category. He further promised to show up with ledger proven data on how much CUC actually collects versus how much is billed, and who the main non-payers are. This should be very interesting information. Most people don’t mind paying the real cost of producing electricity efficiently, we just want to see what those costs and payments are. Let’s hope he will be able keep all these promises.
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Or do it yourself
Many islanders are interested in generating their own power using one or more alternative technologies and want CUC to gear up to buy or give future monthly credits for their small excess power sent back into the grid for others to use. A recent law mandates CUC be able to buy this power from individual producers. By producing more power than they use, they will be able to make their meters “run backward” showing that they are due a payment or a credit. The real accounting system is a bit more complicated.

Only a handful of people are set up to take advantage of this ‘sell-back’ option right now but many others seem interested in moving in that direction. As the international price of oil keeps going up and the availability of reasonably priced power goes down locally, these people and their off grid systems will look more and more like self actualizing prophets of the future. Web searches will provide a wealth of information about these systems and the various options that are viable and available to you today. Right now it is still a back up system at relatively high cost but the day is fast approaching when alt power systems may outperform mass generation systems. It is worth checking out.
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Quotes of the week:
Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still. Lou Erickson (

It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up. Muhammad Ali ( 1942 - )


cactus said...

I'm not as hostile as you are to the idea of mass transit. It doesn't have to be big, empty fume-belching buses. Some refitted pick-ups, like the old Korean jungle tour trucks, could do the job, if you could count on them to come by frequently.

You are absolutely right about the illegal taxis, though. We have perversely chosen to crack down on one bunch of people who were doing a real public service.

What I wonder is: Since they can do the same job, and apparently prosper, at $3 per ride, why is it that the licensed taxis are so much more expensive?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

I agree, Cactus. The idea of smaller vehicles going over a route with increased frequency makes more sense than behemoth buses.

But remember, this proposal is for the government to provide the service. Since when has this, or any government opted for the reasonable, cost effective solution? Wait and see, after pondering it and spending for a professional study, they will come up with... buses.

Several factors enter the profit equation as I see it Cactus. The licensed taxis have meters and the associated costs. Theoretically they are paying taxes and fees. That's about it for additional costs. If added up and divided by total ridership it doesn’t amount to much. So I say inefficiency causes the meter boys to charge more.

The previously meterless taxis allow multiple riders in some cases and that helps the bottom line. They also work hard to stay busy. They use advanced communications to keep themselves hopping. Ever see the meterless jobs sitting in the shade WAITING for business to happen by from hotel? No.

One other point, the meterless guys make a nice living and provide a great service without benefit of access to the hotels and the airport by in large. Think of how much better they would be doing if they could advertise their phone numbers and get access to the two biggest taxi markets. Whew.

I say let ‘em rip!!

cactus said...

Actually, they do advertise their phone numbers all over the island -- they just do it in Chinese, so no one notices who can't read it!

Another benefit of the illegal taxis is their accessibility to people who are too drunk to drive home. As a bar owner you may know more about this than I do, but it has got to be easier to talk somebody into leaving his car in the parking lot for the night for his own good when it only costs him $3 to do so, rather than $40.

Is there some regulation that requires the licensed taxis to use a meter and to charge such high fares?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

I've seen those posters. Since the Chinese garment workers left there are far fewer of them. They used to literally paper the walls of some buildings and cover the lower 6 or 7 feet of telephone poles. Now there are just a few, at least up here in Tanapag.

I think the current regs for metered cabs state a maximum limit for fees, instead of a minimum, so the cabbies charge what they think the market will bear.

You are right about the drunk taxi service,,,it is one that is used to good effect sometimes.