GELFAND’S WORLD - It's been a week of surprises and outrage, but when isn't it a week of outrage? This time, it's the opening of toll roads as part of the 405 in Orange County. More about that below, but first, let's consider the continuing monetization of college football.
The television comedian Seth Meyers does a routine where he puts on a Mister Rogers sort of sweater, sits in a rocker, sucks on his old-guy pipe, and tells us what it was like "back in my day."
Well, back in my day there were 4 bowl games, which were the Rose, Cotton, Sugar, and Orange bowls. Maybe there were other bowls, but the big-time, televised, New Years Day games were those four. And the names were in fact Rose, Cotton, Sugar, and Orange, suggesting that if not actually foodstuffs, the bowl names had to be at least of some botanical origin. Somewhere along the line, the Fiesta Bowl crept in, and after that, the deluge of "bowls" played in half-empty stadiums (stadia?) before desultory crowds. And each of these bowls has adopted a name that is basically just an advertising slogan.
It seems to be all about money.
Just like what is happening to our freeway system -- no longer entirely free, but determined to squeeze every ten dollar bill out of the motorist -- the bowls multiplied and monetized. Nowadays, it's hard to find a college football bowl that isn't named after a corporate sponsor.
Just for fun, instead of naming them all as we have done in previous years, we're going to do it as a quiz. And what a fun quiz it is.
Your job is to solve the following problem:
Which is the real football game, and which is a made up name?
We will supply the answers at the bottom.
1) Which is real and which is made up?
- a) Heinz 57 Bowl
- b) Duke's Mayo Bowl
2) Which is real, and which is made up?
- a) Washington Mutual Bank Bowl
- b) 68 Ventures Bowl
- c) Neptune's Net Chowder Bowl
3) Which is real, and which is made up?
- a) Pop-Tarts Bowl
- b) Guaranteed Rate Bowl
- c) Idaho Potato Bowl
4) Which is real, and which is made up?
- a) LA Bowl
- b) Frisco Bowl
5) Which is real, and which is made up?
- a) North Dakota Bowl
- b) Famous Toastery Bowl
6) Which is real, and which is made up?
- a) Quick Lane Bowl
- b) Andre's Marijuana Shops Bowl
- c) Guaranteed Rate Bowl
- d) Deputy District Attorneys Coalition Bowl
The latest outrage, and why it is an outrage
Over the weekend, the transportation authority that deals with Orange County proudly proclaimed that it was opening toll road sections on the 405. You may remember that the Los Angeles authorities did the same thing more than a decade ago. Such things are known up here as Fastrak lanes, or officially the Metro ExpressLanes (that melding of the two words is not a typo, but what they call the part of a freeway that isn't free).
So now the Orange County authorities have done something similar. They have had a toll road that runs parallel to the freeway for years, but this is something new and radical.
Aside: People who live in the harbor area, Torrance, and other southerly places have dealt with the Fastrak problem for years. Either you sign up and pay for a transponder, or you are stuck on the peasant section. Those who have plenty of money and intend to take the 110 can enjoy unimpeded travel along the sections where the rest of us move forward fitfully, sometimes in bumper to bumper jams.
In effect, the Fastrak is a tax on people who can't or won't pay the toll, which is sometimes surprisingly high. It is, if nothing else, a tax on people who live in the southern end of the city and county. Early on, people dubbed this system "the Lexus lanes," and there is no reason to change that moniker other than to upgrade the make and model of the rich man's car.
Interestingly, the L.A. Times ran a piece which basically repeats the crowing of the Orange County authorities along with their academic cheering squad. You can find the piece here. Just to give you a feel for it, I'm going to provide one short paragraph:
"Boarnet said he expects to see transportation officials continue their shift from building and expanding freeways to multi-modal systems and what he called “demand control” measures, such as toll roads."
Let's translate that into English. "Demand control" refers to making it so miserable (or expensive) to drive that you give up and do something else. For example, the city of London is now famous for what it calls the Congestion Charge. The current price to enter the congestion charge zone is 15 British Pounds, which translates to about $19. Of course England has lots of public transit including trains, the subway, and those double decker buses, but that congestion charge certainly lets the non-Bentley drivers know who is on top over there.
My objection to demand control isn't that it could be useful in some distant theoretical way, but that its current incarnation is simply to screw the poor people and turn the streets over to the rich. This is particularly true when it comes to commuters who need to get from, say, Wilmington to the downtown area. Spread out over a month, the cost of using the Fastrak lanes could amount to well over $100. This is chump change to a neurosurgeon commuting to a downtown hospital, but it is real money to somebody who is scraping along.
I suspect that the academics and traffic engineers are considering tolls and congestion charges the way they would consider a momentary increase in the price of bananas, as opposed to rice and pasta. The standard economic argument is that people do comparison shopping and will substitute the one for the other depending on the relative price. The traffic engineers ignore the fact that there is pretty much a monopoly on freeways (there are only so many of them, and there aren't many which run close together in parallel).
The consumer (in this case the driver) is faced with three possible choices. There is the choice of the Fastrak lane, which requires paying for a transponder and daily Fastrak charges, or he can take the slow lanes, or he can stay off the freeway altogether.
In a very real way, the Metro authorities have you by the throat if you want to use the 110. You can't very well do comparison shopping and take the other freeway that runs right alongside the 110 but is cheaper.
Put it this way: You are either on the freeway or off the freeway.
You might also take note that congestion pricing has been proposed for the downtown Los Angeles area by none other than the Metro, as you can see here.
At first, it seems a little weird to compare college football and the California freeway authorities, but there is this one striking similarity: They are trying to squeeze every dollar from the product, whether or not it harms the consumer or makes for some amusing names for holiday bowl games. So without further ado, here are the answers to the quiz.
Quiz Answers for which is a real bowl game:
1) b (Duke's Mayo Bowl is real)
2) b (68 Ventures Bowl is real, although it seems to be a corporation, not a 1960s era band)
3) a&b&c (Pop-Tarts Bowl, Guaranteed Rates Bowl, and Idaho Potato Bowl are all real bowls)
4) a&b (LA Bowl and Frisco Bowl are both real)
5) b (Famous Toastery Bowl -- whatever a Famous Toastery is)
6) a&c (Quick Lane Bowl and Guaranteed Rate Bowl are real)
And -- I looked it up -- the Famous Toastery is a restaurant.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)