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Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

January 27, 2022 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Decisions Applicable To Bus Rapid Transit And Local Bus Service

Monday’s post Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis certainly ruffled a few feathers — at least among non-transit riding civic boosters. Lots of good discussion on the Facebook post.  What we need next is to go through specifics one by one to see if there is any consensus. BRT has been implemented worldwide with great success. In general, BRT projects in the United States have been less robust than in other countries. That’s ok.

The Healthline in Cleveland, 2015. Click image to see my 4th post on Cleveland’s Healthline from November 2015.

My previous post was simply saying we can’t have a gold-level bus rapid transit system, per the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) Scorecard. To date no BRT system in the USA has achieved a top gold rating. The ITDP has ranked 10 BRT lines in the US with the following results:

  • Three (3) Basic
  • Five (5) Bronze
  • Two (2) Silver (Cleveland’s Healthline = 76, Hartford’s CTFasktrak Busway = 79.2)
  • Zero (0) Gold

Countless others being marketed as BRT don’t even qualify for a “basic” designation. Ouch. I guess as long as the users are pleased with the line compared to a conventional local bus then it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. Interestingly none of the 10 in the US have BRT as part of their name.  Our light rail system has two lines: Red & Blue.

Two battery electric 60 foot articulated buses recharging in November 2021. The right bus just arrived, the left bus is about to leave. Note that these buses have a unique color scheme to separate them from regular local buses.

Perhaps we come up with some criteria to use for calling a very high frequency bus route by a color name rather than the legacy bus number. For example, our busiest bus route (#70 Grand) could be the Green Line. Maybe if we made big changes to the #95 Kingshighway bus route it becomes the Orange Line?  And so on. Then we wouldn’t need to quibble over the BRT term.

Where I think we can agree is our next big transit investment in the city will have rubber-tired transit vehicles, not rails. How St. Louis County invests their transit dollars is a separate issue, they might opt for light rail in a street and/or an extension south from the Shrewsbury station. Today’s post is focused on the city, though applicable if the county considers a BRT-esque bus project.

Beyond the marketing name & tires there are many other items to be considered:

  1. Type of propulsion (diesel, hybrid, compressed natural gas (CNG), fuel cell electric, battery electric, overhead cable electric (commonly known as a trolleybus)
  2. Fare collection (on-board, off-board, honor, no fares)
  3. Boarding (curb height or raised platforms for level boarding; front door only or all doors)
  4. Stop intervals (2 blocks, 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, more; if more than 2 block local will a local bus also run the route less frequently to serve those unwilling/unable to walk to the farther stops)
  5. Stop locations: center of street, right lane, or a mix of both)

Let’s go through each, discussing pros and cons to consider when making decisions.

#1 Type of Propulsion

In 2022 I  think we should invest only in transit vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions. That would eliminate diesel, hybrid and CNG. The three electric options each have their own pros & cons, infrastructure needs. Battery electric buses, like the 60 foot articulated buses on the 70 are presumably heavier than an electric trolleybus. Overhead wires vs increased wear & tear on streets and sourcing of rare earth metals. Battery electric buses (BEB) need to be quick charged during service, whereas the trolleybus doesn’t need to — but not everyone likes overhead wires.  Some trolleybuses have small batteries to allow them to operate any from overhead wires. Hydrogen fuel cells are another option, not sure if one can go all day without refueling during the day. If so, is that feasible. Fuel cell buses are heavier than trolleybuses but presumably lighter than BEBs.

Metro has historically purchased buses from Gillig, but the new articulated battery electric buses used on Grand came from New Flyer. The latter offers more sizes and propulsion choices.

#2 Fare Collection

This is an important area because it determines how the stops are designed.  First is getting our transit agency caught up on fare technology — assuming we’re going to continue collecting fares from users.

In August 2006 a Metro engineer explained the then-concept of smart fare cards to me.

That was in August 2006, at the opening of the most recent extension of the high-floor light rail. Metro’s Gateway Card finally appeared in spring 2018 — twelve years later. It has been almost four years now and nobody uses it. When I ride the bus or light rail I don’t see others tapping their cards. These cards are available for full fare & senior customers only — I think I’m still the only non-senior reduced-fare user with a Gateway Card.

Metro was working on a website login and app to go with the card, but it seems they’ve abandoned it in favor of a smartphone app to use for fare payment. Millions were spent changing bus fare boxes to allow cards to be tapped, and readers were placed at the entrances to the 38 MetroLink stations so security could see the green light as each person taps their card to enter.  Huge investment of time & money for nothing. People do use the Transit app to buy digital tickets & passes.

I prefer having a reloadable card that calculates if my second tap qualifies as a transfer or new ride. I’ve seen systems that use both smart cards and apps. The goal for all is to not have fare payment holding up boarding, When I visit Chicago locals and the vast majority of visitors use their smart card — boarding is so much faster.

A faster bus route isn’t going to have the driver give those who paid more a daily transfer. Yes, currently every Metro bus in the region gets little pads of transfers to use for that date only. Massive waste of time & money that Metro continues. You’ll often see these as litter around bus stops, especially since most bus stops lack basics like a trash can.

Moving on…

Lets assume everyone has a smart card. By tapping it on a reader at MetroLink station entrances (off-board) or on the bus farebox (on-board) the appropriate fee is deducted from the card balance. If funds are insufficient it gives you a red light & buzzer instead of green.

Since opening in 1993 our light rail has had off-board honor system fare collection. In response to calls for turnstiles it’s going from an open platform to a closed system. If we’re going to build nice new bus stops for a rapid line we need to decide where the user taps their card. Currently bus riders using the smartphone app show the driver their valid ticket upon entering, but that wouldn’t work if boarding is allowed at all 3 doors (60 foot articulated).

Would bus stops for a new rapid bus route have the honor system for accessing the platform & bus? I can’t imagine that would go over well. If we want fare verification performed off-board that means turnstiles.   The current smartphone app isn’t designed for use with turnstiles in mind.

#3 Boarding

Two questions here, both related to #2 above. Platforms level with the bus floor speeds up the boarding process for everyone, whereas curb-level boarding requires passengers to step up into the bus.

In the case of us disabled users (wheelchair, walker, etc) typically a ramp is unfolded to come down to curb level. The BRT scoring is better for smaller horizontal gaps between the platform and the bus floor:

Even corridors that have been designed to accommodate platform-level boarding could have gaps if the buses do not dock properly. A significant gap between the platform and the bus floor undermines the time-savings benefits of platform-level boarding and introduces a significant safety risk for passengers. Such gaps could occur for a variety of reasons, from poor basic design to poor driver training and technical opinion varies on the best way to minimize the gap.  (ITDP)

Some buses designed for BRT use have a bridge that can pop out to close the gap, others the driver has to come set a lightweight bridge in place.

The other aspect of boarding is if everyone enters through the front door only, or all doors. If the decision is made to eliminate fares, have turnstiles to access the platform, or the honor system, then boarding can happen at all doors.

#4 Stop intervals

This is a big one. With my power wheelchair I can go miles without any issues — assuming curb cuts are in place, snow & ice are cleared, etc. But many are used to frequent bus stops, people who use walkers or a cane might struggle if their local bus stop no longer exists. They might already walk a good distance to reach the bus route.  The solution in some cities is to have the BRT bus stop roughly every half mile while also operating a less frequent local bus. By having fewer stops you increase the possibility of having new development occur at these points, assuming zoning is sympathetic to requiring increased density at these spots. Fewer stops requires public & political buy-in to make it successful.

#5 Stop locations

Where the stop is located depends on where the bus operates. If it’s in the center of the right-of-way then obviously you’re going to have center platforms. Keep in mind some systems have a mix — some center, some right. Like our light rail vehicles, BRT vehicles usually have doors on both sides to accommodate different platform locations based on particular conditions. Having center dedicated lanes with center stations, even part of the length of the route, improves performance. If so you’ve got to make sure pedestrians crossing to/from the center are safe from motorists. The nice thing about center platforms is if you want to go the opposite direction from where you are, you only need to cross half the street to get to the stop.

Closing Thoughts

Even if the ITDP doesn’t consider a big transit investment BRT the only two groups that matter are the public and the feds — the ones determining if a project qualifies for matching funds. Other regions are ok with their BRT line not meeting ITDP’s minimum criteria to be considered. It’s up to all of us to participate, listen to others.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis

January 24, 2022 Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Not Right For St. Louis
Much of the length of Kingshighway is occupied by auto-centric businesses like car washes.

When considering costly new transit infrastructure it’s import to look carefully at existing conditions — identifying problems and offering solutions that solve them without creating new ones. Many in St. Louis are now pushing for investing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in St. Louis. The most recent is for the Kingshighway corridor.

BRT is a form of bus line that uses a few key elements to increase speed compared to regular bus service. These include:

  1. Dedicated right-of-way (ROW)
  2. Off-board fare collection
  3. Traffic signal prioritization
  4. Platform-level boarding

BRT is widely recognized as offering greater efficiency than conventional bus routes at substantially less initial cost than light rail. Everyone of the above differences is about moving the bus faster from start to end, all are necessary to be considered BRT. To justify the up front cost there needs be significant improvement in performance.

Retail at MLK & Kingshighway, one of many intersections where the right of way is curved, tight.

BRT for Kingshighway is a solution looking for a problem. The article states investing to improve the system. Tens of millions spent on BRT on the Kingshighway corridor wouldn’t improve the transit experience for those who currently use the #95 Kingshighway MetroBus. We shouldn’t spend big money just to make non-riders all warm & fuzzy inside unless it gets them to go car-free.

Right now if a weekday #95 bus travels the 11-mile 95/Kingshighway route northbound, just before 8am, it takes 56 minutes end to end. Driving the same route takes only 30 minutes. How much would each of the above BRT changes improve speed?

Since St. Louis doesn’t have any traffic congestion to speak of, having dedicated ROW or lanes wouldn’t make any substantial difference. Yes, the sub-mile Kingshighway between I-64 and Lindell gets a little backed up at times, but this less than a 10th of the route.

The biggest difference in this area between driving a car or taking the bus is the convoluted route the bus must take to reach the CWE Transit Center — connecting to other bus routes and light rail. The BRT could stay in the center of Kingshighway, but the 10-15 minute walk to connections would offset any gains elsewhere.

Off-board fare-collection is definitely a way to reduce boarding times. What does this mean? Currently bus riders enter a bus at the front door, paying their fare as the pass the farebox. Off-board fares are collected before allowing the rider onto the platform — a closed/turnstile system. If the fare is already paid then boarding passengers can enter via both doors, reducing dwell time.

Turnstile systems are more expensive and require more space than open platforms. Metro plans to retrofit existing light rail stations to require payment to enter. Unless fare gates are full height able-bodied riders can jump over the turnstile to avoid fare payment. The better alternative is simply to eliminate fares altogether.

Signal prioritization is effective, the bus communicates with a traffic signal to keep their light green for just a little longer. Reducing time spent siting at lights.

Platform height boarding reduces the time necessary for most passengers to board. Because of the horizontal gap, us wheelchair users still need more time to board. Light rail vehicles have a narrow enough gap that it’s not a problem. Higher platforms with turnstiles are more expensive than a regular bus stop. To save more time the number of stops is reduced, requiring some riders to walk farther to catch the bus compared to the existing bus.

Millions of dollars might reduce the total time from 56 minutes to 50 — easily offset by increased time walking on one or both ends of the trip.

My approach is to list problems and solutions:

  • Problem: #95 buses are often at capacity. Solution: use longer articulated buses like the ones used on the #70 Grand. Operate buses more frequently, also like the #70 Grand.
  • Boarding takes too long. Solution: stop accepting paper tickets & transfers. Require use of the Gateway Card for fare payment, or eliminate fares completely. Build raised platforms.

I’m not sure what problem(s) BRT is supposed to solve.

— Steve Patterson

 

How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population

January 20, 2022 Environment, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Transportation, Walkability Comments Off on How To Address North St. Louis’ Shrinking Population
Graphic from November 2020 post showing area predicted to have population loss.

The 2020 Census results results for St. Louis showed what I had predicted, the bulk of our population loss came from northside wards.  This was also true in 2010 and in 2020. No reason to think 2030 won’t be more of the same. We can sit back and do nothing, or we can help manage the situation — possibly reducing some losses in future.

By mange I mean see where population is dropping more than in other areas. We can’t just write of a third of our geographic area. I propose a group comprised of experts, residents, business owners, etc to examine data and evaluate possible solutions.

Here is some of the data I’d like to see on a big map(s):

  • Population by age & race
  • Parcels of land being used (water connection) vs unused.
  • Parcels of land with new or substantially renovated structures vs severally deteriorated, condemned, or vacant.
  • Parcels of land owned by the city, out of state owners, owner-occupied, LLC, .
  • Historic properties, sites.
  • Schools, current & former.
  • Employers and numbers of employees
  • Crime
  • Topography
  • Probably other criteria as well…

Since north city is not declining uniformly we need to see which parts that are doing better than others. Is this because 0f newer housing?  Access to transit?  All we know at this point is some blocks are stable and occupied while others are rapidly declining. Mapped data can tell us a lot, people on the ground familiar with their area can confirm or dispute what the data tells us. Get everyone on the same page, then reassess every few years and make adjustments as circumstances change for better or worse.

What we all need to accept is that it’s very unlikely these neighborhoods will see a major population growth. Ever. Thus some land can be returned to nature, used for agriculture, etc. The maps will show us the least populated areas with the worst housing stock — contrasted with pockets of denser areas with housing unlikely to be abandoned this decade. I’m not talking about large areas the size of Pruitt-Igoe, NGA-West, or Fairgrounds Park. It might be possible that smaller nature areas could be linked together by a trail system. A few great vacant school buildings not reused for residential might get filled with hydroponics to grow produce.

The major corridors like MLK, Page, Natural Bridge, Kingshighway, Grand, etc should remain. Many connecting streets would also remain. However, it’s possible in some areas we might be able to justify removing unoccupied streets and alleys. As St. Louis begins to look at replacing lead water supply lines those areas that’ll benefit most from the infrastructure investment should get priority over areas that can be back to nature by 2030. Old water & sewer lines might get abandoned completely in isolated areas.

The goal isn’t to cut off services to existing residents, but to use resources to strengthen and grow the existing strong pockets. On a block with say only one resident we can wait until that person moves or dies of old age. The children of longtime residents aren’t really interested in moving into the house their relative refused to leave. Conversely, a nice block with one newly-abandoned house needs help to make sure that one house gets maintenance and reoccupied as soon as possible. Quickly reoccupying a vacant building helps prevent others on the block from also being abandoned.

An example of a strong pocket would be MLK & Burd Ave. You’ve the Friendly Temple church and Arlington Grove housing (new housing around a renovated school that’s also housing). Substantial investment has been made, and this is home to many. We can reinforce the positives and look to expand upon that a block at a time.

Former Arlington School has been residential since 2013
Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps

Just north of this pocket is a largely vacant area, part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood that has gotten attention for mass demolitions. Other bright spots throughout north St. Louis include numerous tree-lined streets with well-maintained houses — it’s just hard for everyone to see & appreciate the them with so much decay. Whenever I see people wanting to raze vacant “problem” buildings I do get upset, because tearing down buildings in a random manner doesn’t improve neighborhoods for the long-term. It simply removes the current problem while likely speeding up others being abandoned as neighboring  owners/residents die or move.  By designating different areas for bright spot village and others as moving back toward nature we can reduce fights over razing vs preservation. I can even imagine a decent house in an area set to become nature/agriculture –it might be kept as basically a farmhouse. It wouldn’t necessarily be razed, just reimagined.

Along the way we can reevaluate I-70, an old interstate that winds its way through north city. Can we minimize this as a separating barrier in spots? Can we create areas for interstate drivers to pull off and get a bite to eat while their battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges?

One spot I see as the center of a future village is the intersection of Grand & North Florissant. That’s in part of 2 current neighborhoods, with a 3rd very close. It should be the very center of a thriving area.Why here? The intersection of two corridors should be treated as special. Both Grand and North Florissant are angled toward each other, so a person living or working here can pick either corridor to travel south — southeast on North Florissant or Southwest on Grand. Thanks to the odd street grid they have easy direct access to different parts of the city. Going northwest on North Florissant will eventually get them into St. Louis County.

By 2050 I see north St. Louis as being dotted with nice little villages, with nature in between. Primary corridors will be a line of density with restaurants, retail, offices, and multi-family housing. Rail &/or rubber tire public transit will connect these villages to each other and the larger city & region. I see walking & biking within and between villages.  I see jobs growing produce outside and indoors, more jobs along the corridors.  I see trees — thousands of them providing some relief from increased temperatures. The major corridors will be tree-lined, many new nature areas will become forests. I see all races, proportional to the mix in the population. Some villages, like The Ville, are predominantly black (75%, not 100%) with strong black-owned businesses. Again I’m talking 30 years, not 3.

What I don’t see are big surface parking lots for big box chain stores. I also don’t see blocks and blocks of obvious vacant residential buildings/lots.

St. Louis should use some of the money from the NFL to kick start the planning process to examine north St. Louis as I’ve described — taking stock and what we have (and don’t have) and then collectively finding solutions to change the trajectory. In the process others could come up with better ideas.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive 2022

January 17, 2022 Featured, History/Preservation, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive 2022

Today’s post is a look at Martin Luther King Jr  Drive in the City of St. Louis — my 18th annual such post. As in the 17 times prior, I traveled the length in both directions looking for changes from the previous year.

Streetsign

Not much has changed since MLK Day 2021 but I’ll detail them later. First I want to address how the street gots it name, and when. After Dr  King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 some cities began almost immediately to rename major streets in his honor. St. Louis took four years.

In 2017 I quoted the following 2013 post on Facebook:

Stl250
February 17, 2013 

This Day in St. Louis History, February 17, 1972:
Martin Luther King Boulevard is dedicated
A Board of Aldermen bill was passed that changed the name of Easton Avenue and portions of Franklin Avenue to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Alderman C.B. Broussard was a primary sponsor, and he announced that the change was part of a nationwide organized drive to rename streets in honor of the murdered civil rights figure.

Sounds good, but in fact-checking I discovered it is partly inaccurate. I should’ve checked the accuracy in 2017. “Dedicated” implies an event, media, long-winded speeches, and big scissors to cut a ribbon — which did not occur.

Here’s what really happened:

  • February 18, 1972: A bill was introduced to rename part of Franklin  Avenue and all of Easton Avenue. (Post-Dispatch 2/19/1972 P7)
  • March 21, 1972: Board of Aldermen gave final approval to bill 20-2 earlier in the day. (Post-Dispatch 3/21/1972 P27)
  • Spokesperson for Mayor Cervantes said he would sign the bill the following week. (Post-Dispatch 3/31/1972 P19)
  • Post-Dispatch editorial expressed “reservations” about renaming Franklin & Easton for Dr. King. They weren’t sure it was a worthy honor. They favored a new park or boulevard. (Post-Dispatch 4/2/1972 P108)
  • East St. Louis mayor James E. Williams Sr. announced his city would rename the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Illinois Ave to honor Dr. King. This would mean a person could travel from the east limits of East St. Louis to the west limits of St. Louis on roads honoring Dr. King (Post-Dispatch 4/11/1972)

After the official change before businesses changed their letterhead, and the public continued to use the old names. Unfortunately it was only a few years after MLK was honored through East St. Louis IL and Saint Louis that construction began on a convention center, closing two blocks of King Blvd between 7th and 9th. D’oh!

Ok, let’s start on the east end and heading west.

On MLK, facing west toward Tucker Blvd. On the right is the former Post-Dispatch building, now housing the St. Louis offices of digital payment company Square. On the left is Interco Plaza. This block is now one-way westbound.
Interco Plaza, a public park, after being “closed for renovation” in September 2021 as a way of relocating the unhoused that had set up camp. The background is St. Patrick Center, a non-profit organized to “combat homelessness.” This public park has not yet reopened to the public.
A year ago I mentioned the old buildings that were razed on MLK just east of 14th. Now we have a surface parking lot with zero fencing, landscaping, trees, etc. Plus a new driveway. Why do hip tech businesses locate in downtowns if they don’t want to design for downtowns?
Imo’s Pizza is adding onto the east side of their headquarters/warehouse. 16th Street has been closed to vehicles and pedestrians for years — a subtle way to say “keep out” to north side who want to enter the more prosperous Downtown West neighborhood.
Hard to see in this photo, but clear plastic bottles have been put into the holes in a chainlink fence. I found it interesting. NW corner of MLK & Vandeventer.
Last month the non-profit Dismas House announced it bought the former 15-acre Killark Electric Manufacturing property at 3940 MLK.
Liked the 100k SF building for many years, not a fan of the replacement windows that were installed decades ago. Killark first leased the site in 1918, not sure when they bought it or built this building.
“KILLARK ELECTRIC MFG CO.” is in stone at the top of the main building. City records list 8 buildings on the site, but I can only see records for six. Of the 6, the oldest is from 1892 and the newest is 1966.
The glass-enclosed entry doesn’t look original, but it has been in place as long as I can recall.
From MLK I could see a community garden at Sarah & Evans. Click image to see Good Life Growing’s website.
More bricks have fallen off the front of 4277 MLK.
4749 MLK has looked bad for years, but thankfully it has been getting some stabilization.
4859 MLK has also looked bad for a long time, noticed a little bit of the side wall has collapsed. 4961 next door is also in poor condition. The building on the left is privately owned, right is owned by the LRA. Both were built in 1905.
The setback building at 4973 MLK, just east of Kingshighway, has been mostly finished for many years. New this year is temporary construction fencing. The side lot out to Kingshighway has been disturbed recently.
5084 MLK is now a Moorish Science temple.
The nice composition of buildings at 5700+ MLK still look stable.
5736 MLK is a medical cannabis dispensary, or will be once it actually opens — click the image to view their currently bare bones website. The space next door is a meeting/event space. Both very positive in an area short on good news.
Just west of Goodfellow we see one unit worse than the others.
Floors and the roof are gone, accelerating deterioration of the brick walls. 5810 MLK
5861 MLK, built in 1907, is showing some wear. The stone plaque over the center doors says it’s the “Kinsey Building”.
The former JC Penny department store at 5930 is still standing. Would love to see this building renovated and occupied.
The buildings across the street may not survive as long. The gap is where a building was lost in 2020.
The famous Wellston Loop transit building continues being exposed to the elements.
The west side is no better.
The sidewalk between Irving Ave and Kienlen Ave was just replaced. This is in Wellston — St. Louis County, just beyond the St. Louis city limits.

Like previous years a few bright spots, mostly depressing decay.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags

January 6, 2022 Featured, Local Business, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Retail, Taxes, Transportation Comments Off on Loop Trolley and the Story of Joey Pennywise & Uncle Samuel Moneybags
The green car over the service pit is a Melbourne car from Seattle

Joey Pennywise sold widgets and wanted to increase sales. To do this Pennywise thought to buy 5 smart outfits to standout from generic & common widget salespersons. But Pennywise didn’t have the funds to buy the desired outfits.  Pennywise likes all things vintage and knows used outfits can be purchased much cheaper than those fancy new European outfits. Even after good cleaning and a tailor having to rework each outfit it’ll be cheaper ($3,700 vs $10,000).

This is where frequently generous uncle Samuel Moneybags enters the picture. Pennywise asks Uncle Sam for the money to buy five really nice game-changing used outfits. Uncle Sam grants Pennywise the requested $3,700.

All of Pennywise’s friends thought it would be better to get brand new outfits, even though they cost substantially more initially. They warned the continued cost to repair seams, replace buttons, fix zippers, etc would be easier to live with. Plus, they thought their friend should get something that’s fashionable now, not something worn many generations ago. Something better suited to the needs of the 21st century widget salesperson, not one from a century ago. The widget game just is different than it was more than a century ago.

After purchasing the used outfits Pennywise had them cleaned and altered to fit. Looked just like a widget salesperson from 1915. Additionally Pennywise got a new closet organizer to keep the outfits neat and ready.

Initially everyone was supportive, but Pennywise was often late to meetings because of wardrobe malfunctions. Plus walking in century-old shoes wasn’t nearly as fast as new sneakers. Still, sales the first few days were great, but then they dropped off considerably. Pennywise couldn’t afford to keep up with the expensive dry cleaning and fixing fragile threads. After failed attempts to get additional funds from uncle Sam, Pennywise reduced how often the vintage outfits were worn.  Until it was zero times per week.

Friends suggested Pennywise invest in the cleaning & repair costs, but there was no money left. So the expensive outfits hung in the beautiful new closet not getting used. Pennywise was still proud of the fact these outfits cost a fraction of what new outfits would have. The irony was lost on Pennywise.

Friends, miraculously all fans of Marie Kondo, said to wear them or give them up. “Sunk cost” proclaimed some friends advocating for getting rid of them. “They money has already been spent, spending even more isn’t going to change that,” they’d say. Over and over.

Meanwhile, Pennywise inherited a bunch of money from another relative, the family blacksheep Stanley K. Pennywise wasn’t sure if any of the new money should be invested in the vintage outfits taking up space in the closet. Pennywise surveyed friends and a majority said to use the funds for other needs, like sourcing better widgets. “Sunk cost!” Blah..blah…blah…

Then uncle Sam said if Pennywise doesn’t begin wearing the outfits soon they initial outlay would need to be returned. If not, small claims court to recover, no new requests will be considered. None. Pennywise depends on the generosity of uncle Sam,  but isn’t sure how to decide what to do.  The now-angry mob of friends begin chanting “SUNK COSTS!”, but this doesn’t help Pennywise reach a conclusive decision that will make everyone happy — especially rich uncle Sam.

Finally one friend (named Bla Gher) came forward, disclosing initial preference for more expensive modern outfits and opposition to vintage outfits, offered some additional accounting terms nobody had yet considered.

“Relevant costs” and Incremental analysis” Bla Gher said enthusiastically.  One friend in the group quickly stood and said “Sunk Costs!”  as others nodded in agreement without fully understanding any off the terms. Bla Gher explained that sunk costs are funds already spent that can’t be recovered, incremental analysis is a process of looking at all options and comparing the relevant costs — since sunk costs are, sunk, they’re not relative to the current discussion about figuring out what to do next.

Bla Gher repeated: the initial $3,700 cost of the outfits is no longer relevant to discussing future options.

Gher then outlined Pennywise’s possible options, all to be priced and evaluated:

  1. Do nothing: Leave the outfits in the closet to collect dust. Don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  2. Reduce sunk amount: Auction the vintage outfits, use that recovered money to remake the closet so it looks like it did before. Also sell all sewing machines, steam irons, bolts of fabric, buttons, etc.  And, like above, don’t take any angry calls from uncle Sam, accept that previous generosity has just ended. Set aside $3,700 plus fees in case you lose in court.
  3. Double down: Rather than the small amount to cover cleaning and repairs for a short while, put $3,700 from uncle Stanley into adding more vintage outfits so Pennywise can be seen only in a vintage outfit. Seven days a week, morning to evening. For analysis purposes, estimate if this would impress widget buyers enough to justify the additional expense.
  4. Mix & match: determine if anything, such as the closet, platform shoes, etc could still be used with those sexy modern European outfits. If so, Pennywise could expand the sales territory — serving the needs of more widget buyers and users. Funds to do this can come from $3,700+ of the money from uncle Stanley, and possibly more from uncle Sam! However, Joey Pennywise should no longer be involved in outfit decisions.

Bla Gher doesn’t know which of the above is the best option as the pricing and analysis hasn’t been done.

The End.

— Steve “Bla Gher” Patterson

Bla Gher concluded by saying until the above options (and any others) are impartiality analyzed there is no good way to know which option is best.

 

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