Math Only a Corporate #wilfare Queen Could Believe @mnunitedfc

I was hoping that MN United would somehow be different than every other professional sports franchise in our local market, but then I read stuff like this:

We will pay our fair share of tax. The entertainment/sales/food/beverage taxes the facility generates will be 5x current tax. @edkohler

If you’re a business or resident in Minneapolis and you buy a property and improve it, you’re expected to pay property taxes. That’s the deal. It’s really quite simple. But, MN United seems to think that they deserve to redefine “fairness” based on sales tax generation.

It’s as if pro sports are the only industry that competes for entertainment dollars and generates sales taxes. Why should they be subsidized while local restaurants aren’t? If we were going to subsidize an entertainment business, how about subsidizing ones that are open more than 17 days per year?

But, the bigger issue with MN United’s claims is the math. It’s the kind of math only people who mistakenly trust pro sports franchise owners can believe.

Here’s the problem with their sales tax math. It assumes that every single dollar of sales taxes generates at the soccer stadium would not have been generated anywhere else in the entire state of Minnesota if there wasn’t a publicly subsidized pro sports stadium.

It’s an utterly preposterous assumption. Put another way, they’re lying. And, people who mistakenly trust MN United’s statements are falling for it:

@edkohler @_NickRogers_ Ed, if you didn't pay property tax, would your provide 5x those taxes in sales tax? Your analogy seems flawed.

People blindly trust pro sports owners that are in the business of subsidizing their businesses rather than competing fairly for entertainment dollars in the private market.

But, what makes this situation particularly interesting is that even loyal MN United fans seem to be embarrassed by the requests to shift property tax burdens onto homeowners and local business in order to further enrich some of MN’s richest residents. This is my assumption based on the lack of response to questions like this:

@lockstockspock I noticed that you ignored this tweet, which makes me wonder why you're so concerned about handouts:

Let’s try being honest. MN United doesn’t need subsidies. The team will be here. A stadium will be built. And Minneapolis will benefit from hosting a new local business while expanding its property tax base. That’s what fairness looks like.

@mngop Math: Light Rail Fare Edition

David Montgomery with the Pioneer Press has an article about a recent audit of fare skipping by light rail riders:

A recent audit conducted by the Met Council found around 3 percent of Blue Line riders and between 4.6 and 9 percent of Green Line riders were evading their fares. That adds up to between $800,000 and $1.5 million per year in lost money.

This created some outrage from a MN GOP rep:

Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, said during a Monday transportation bill discussion in a House committee meeting. “We have $1.5 million in taxpayers’ money that we’re being cheated out of.”

Let’s go with the absolute high end figure Rep. Uglem latched onto. I’m 100% confident that no level of fare enforcement or implementation of more rigid boarding systems would bring in anywhere near that kind of money.

The fallacy in his statement is assuming that every fare not collected actually would still exist under more rigid boarding/enforcement scenarios. It’s the same mistake the MPAA makes when they claim that every illegally downloaded movie should be treated as a lost DVD sale.

In the reality based community, it might be worth considering whether those fare skippers would have still taken the LRT if they had to pay the fare. I’m willing to be that a significant portion of them would not, because they likely have little to no money. But, they still need to get to work, visit their family, or get to the grocery store.

So, we could dump a whole bunch of money into attempting to increase revenue generated from the LRT’s poorest riders.

In the end, Rep. Uglem could proudly state that he helped kick poor people off the trains. But, there’s little chance that he’d see the uptick of $1.5 million in annual revenue he claims can be recovered. A good example of why can be found in the same article:

The fare-dodging audit said that all mass transit systems, even those with turnstiles, saw at least 2 percent to 3 percent of riders avoid paying their fares.

If we take the average of the Blue and Green line fare skippers (6.8%), and put that up against the reality that people will skip fares even if expensive turnstiles are installed, it becomes pretty clear that the potential savings – even before reality checking that many people would simply stop riding – could be more like $235k – $440k/year.

The article also mentions:

Once installed, turnstiles would cost about $1.3 million per year to operate, he said.

Even ignoring the huge costs of retrofitting LRT stops to make life harder for poor people and less convenient for all transit riders, this seems like a colossal waste of money.

If the goal was to invest taxpayer money into increasing the amount of money generated by light rail trains, there is probably a much better options such as increasing frequency. This would likely increase ridership among those who can and do pay.

Or – I know this is going to sound crazy, but we already do it for airline travelers – how about making the LRT free? We could save a ton of money on turnstiles and enforcement.

But, I suppose that’s less interesting to a Rep from Champlain than picking on poor urban people.

Adam Heskin: One of The Pioneer Press’ Racist Commenters

The Pioneer Press posted an Associated Press article about a group of Somali immigrants who’re dealing with discrimination and bullying. They claim that they’re being treated unfairly by fellow students and staff and, based on the original piece in the St Cloud Times, they’re right.

One of the parents involved in the protest, Sadwda Ali, said similar issues exist at South Junior High. Sadwda Ali said students there have taunted her 11-year-old daughter for wearing a hijab and spat in her face.

Sadwda Ali said she’s particularly disheartened to hear about students trying to link Somalis with the Islamic State group.

“They think that all Somalis and all Muslims are terrorists,” Sadwda Ali said. “That’s totally wrong. Our religion is peace.”

Here’s what Pioneer Press Commenter, Adam Heskin, had to say about this:

adamh2o: Is that all liberals know how to do anymore? Protest this, protest that, who cares if it even makes sense, scream and yell about it.

Adam Heskin Racist
Adam Heskin – Racist Commenter*

I’m not sure if it takes work to willfully ignore the concerns of protestors, or if racists like Adam Heskin save time by jumping straight from headlines to the comment box.

Heskin goes on:

Somali’s should be thankful we even let their Muslim terrorist a$$es into this country.

Adam Heskin - One of the Pioneer Press' Bigot Commenters
Adam Heskin – Pioneer Press Bigot

It looks like the “Heskin” surname is English. It’s really unbelievable that we allow English people into this country considering how much blood is on their hands.

Heskin goes on to explain that recent immigrants from a war torn country are a menace to society.

Get everything off the government dole, work for nothing, send money back to your terrorist families and yet you still whine and cry every chance you get.

Adam Heskin - Not a Fan of Today's Immigrants
Adam Heskin – Not a Fan of Today’s Immigrants

But, that was just a warm-up up for his big bigoted close:

Filthy animals should be grateful you aren’t put on the first plane out like you should be.

Adam Heskin can be found on Twitter @adam_heskin and Facebook adam.heskin.3 and as a racist commenter on many platforms that use the Disqus commenting platform as @adamh2o.

For those of you thinking “There’s no way that comment was actually published to the website of the second largest newspaper website in the State of Minnesota, here’s a screenshot of the article and comment with ads for Cub Foods and the Parade of Homes.

Screenshot 2015-03-19 09.33.19

* I figured that it was important to include pictures of the racist Adam Heskin in order to make it clear which Adam Heskin is the racist commenter on the Pioneer Press’ website. Personally, I find most people named Adam Heskin to be peaceful individuals who’re doing the best they can for themselves and their families during their stay on this planet. To suggest that all Adam Heskins are racist web commenters would be a broad generalization that tarnishes the reputations of the vast majority of Adam Heskins and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.

Minneapolis MLS Stadium Location: The Stripper Perspective

Word on the street is that Major League Soccer wants to enter the Twin Cities sports market with an expansion team.

Some analysis has been done in the past showing that the Twin Cities are already over-saturated with pro sports entertainment options while attempting to support an NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL team, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s a private business using private money to take private risks. Right? Right?

While mainstream media companies tend to talk about the success the only bar near the Hennepin County Medical Center, Hubert’s, when discussing the economic impact of sports, I contracted with an anonymous reporter to take the temperature of a different ancillary industry: strippers. Here’s what she found out (all names were changed to protect the identities of the strippers*):


Are you busier on game nights?

Merlot (Dreamgirls) [Other job: Cashier]: Totally. You can tell when Twins games must have ended. Or, maybe it’s just a because it’s boring game or their losing again? Either way, it fills up with guys in Twins stuff on game nights.

Which sport has the best fans?

Meredith (Seville) [Other job: Part time pre-med]: It depends what you mean by best. If you mean most respectful of the dancers, Twins fans. They bring a subdued attitude and appreciate what we do for them. If you mean people ready to party, then it’s Twolves fans. They’re up for partying to forget.

What are Vikings fans like?

Amber (Rick’s) [Other job: Sophomore, Elementary Ed.]: First, there’s the Saturday night crowd. They tend to be from the Dakotas and are really grabby. It’s like they’ve never seen a tit other than their mom’s before. They show up drunk, don’t tip well, and hardly ever offer to buy me a drink. A lot of them get kicked out.

Then there’s Sundays. It takes guys a bit to get adjusted since they’re stepping inside from the daylight. There are some big spenders. Especially guys in town on business trips. But, there are also ridiculously drunk tailgaters who can barely walk. I kind of feel sad giving lap dances to guys in AP jerseys with whiskey dicks, but if you knew what I owed in student loans it would make sense.

What are Wild fans like?

Elsa (Lamplighter Lounge) [Other job: Taco Bell Drive Thru]: We don’t see a lot of Wild fans in here, but we’re not exactly downtown St Paul. But, maybe they have brain damage or something?

What do you think of the Twin Cities getting an MLS team?

Victoria (Deja Vu) [Other job: craft brewer]: I think soccer players are hot. They have awesome abs and are in really good shape. I’d love it if they came in here.

There is speculation that a soccer stadium may be built near the Twins stadium. How would that effect your career?

Dominique (Downtown Cabaret) [Other job: Uber driver]: How many games do they play?

34, not including playoffs, so 17 home games.

Dominique: That’s like three times the Vikings.

Closer to 2 times.

Dominique: Still. How many do the other teams play?

The Twins play 81 home games and the Timberwolves play 41, not counting pre-season and . . . playoff games.

Dominique: You know, I been thinking about getting closer to the warehouse district for some time now. There’s something going on over there like half the year.

It’s closer to a third.

Dominique: Still, that’s way better than eight weekends with the Vikings plus the Monster Truck show.


While it may be too early to have a strong opinion about this, it sounds like this particular ancillary industry favors clustering sports venues on the entertainment district side of downtown.

* The questions, other jobs, and answers were made up too.

Glen Taylor’s StarTribune: Crunching Minneapolis’ False Alarm Costs

Imagine how you’d feel if you figured out a way to save 26% of the time your employees spend dealing with worthless stuff only to read an article claiming that you’re being wasteful. Here’s an example of Glen Taylor’s StarTribune reporting on the Minneapolis Police Department’s handling of false alarm responses at businesses in the city.

Alejandra Matos has an article in the StarTribune about the Minneapolis’ costs of dealing with false alarms at businesses. It contains incredibly poorly supported comparisons of costs to Minneapolis’ neighbor. Is this an example of the Glen Taylor ownership era at the StarTribune? Misleading people to justify cutting government costs seems pretty GOP to me.

Matos provides background on Minneapolis’ false alarm response costs:

[Minneapolis] used to give alarm users two free false alarms in a year and charge $200 for the third, with each additional alarm costing an additional $100. But heavier fees were implemented in 2007 after the city estimated it was spending more than $800,000 to respond to them. In 2006, police responded to 15,600 false alarms.

The article seems to suggest that Minneapolis’ false alarm fees are ridiculous, while St Paul’s are far more fair because they’re cheaper for businesses that waste extraordinarily large amounts of police time (yes, you read that right).

It looks like Minneapolis spent $800,000 responding to 15,600 false alarms at businesses operating in the city in 2006.

If I divide $800k by 15,600, I come up with an average false alarm response cost of $51.28. The problem the city appears to have been trying to address wasn’t that it spent $800k on false alarms. The problem is that the costs of dealing with false alarms exceeded the costs businesses generating them were paying. This isn’t a gross cost issue. It’s a rate problem that the StarTribune didn’t explain.

The article continues:

When an alarm is triggered, the alarm company must try calling the key holder, often the home or business owner, twice before they ask for police response. If that person can’t be reached, the police usually send two squad cars to respond to the alarm. If the officers find nothing wrong, they can designate a false alarm.

Is it just me, or do these numbers seem extraordinarily reasonable? What does it cost to have a plumber or Geek Squad show up at your house? The last time I called a plumber for an emergency it was a lot more than $51.28 with a 12 hour response time. The last time I called Geek Squad, the costs were more than double that, and that was well before 2006. Yet, Minneapolis sends TWO squad cars with at least two cops to address an active alarm and the cost is less than $26/person? I’m pretty sure that the cost per hour per police officer is at least $50/hour after equipment, training, and benefits, so these cops are somehow responding to alarms and writing up their cases in under 30 minutes? That seems unlikely.

The article mentions that the cost of clerical processing of an alarm statement alone can be $27. Yet we can send multiple cars with fully equipped, trained officers for less than $26 per cop per call?

To me, based on the information presented in this article, it sounds like Minneapolis was severely underestimating the cost of responding to alarms in 2006.

I would like compare the $800k figure to what Minneapolis is bringing in on average now after updating their fee structure, but the StarTribune didn’t provide that information. The article does mention that response calls have dropped:

False alarms have dropped 24 percent in the six years since the stiffer penalties were put in place. Although city officials say they are pleased by that, local business owners are not.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a 24% drop in false alarms sounds like a $206,000 savings in otherwise wasted police time based on the reported 2006 false alarm response cost figure. You may have a hard time finding that $206,000 savings in the StarTribune’s column because it’s not mentioned.

Matos many paragraphs explaining that fees have gone up in Minneapolis while they’re cheaper in St Paul (under certain circumstances if you read closely enough).

Matos offered an explanation of St Paul’s system:

St. Paul requires all alarm users to purchase a yearly permit for $27.

Ricardo Cervantes, director of St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections, says this system anticipates that alarm users will have at least one mishap. St. Paul gives residents and business owners two free false alarms, then charges $35 for the third. Adding all the fees together in one year, a seventh false alarm will cost a user $427. In Minneapolis, the cumulative cost would be $2,130.

Matos didn’t explain how much St Paul brings in through those yearly permits, how that compares to Minneapolis, and how that breaks down on a per-false alarm basis. And, she didn’t offer any quotes from business owners in St Paul who has to pay a yearly fee of $27 even when they have no false alarms.

What did we learn from this article? Nothing. To learn something we’d need comparisons of 2006 numbers vs 2014 in Minneapolis. Or Minneapolis’ numbers vs. St Paul’s. Since no actual, honest, relative comparison was presented, I can only assume that the goal was to sell a bias for Glen Taylor that’s not supported by the numbers.

Basically, her editor – assuming their was one – wasted the StarTribune’s reader’s time with a handful of non-apples to apples comparisons that give the perception that Minneapolis’ fees are outrageous compared to St Paul’s without actually proving that point. Was misleading readers the editorial goal of Glen Taylor’s StarTribune with this article? The StarTribune was better than this article.

Lyft and UberX Receiving Permission to Legally Discriminate

If you don’t own a smartphone in Minneapolis, keep an eye out for pink mustaches on cars. Those cars are driven by people who will soon be able to legally discriminate against you. No matter how much you want or need a ride, they won’t be allowed to pick you up:

Despite a push for one ordinance to cover both industries, the final language delineates clear differences. Only taxis can pick up passengers who hail them on the street…

Here’s a breakdown of smartphone ownership rates from Pew:

Pew Research on Smartphone Demographics

Lyft and UberX have amazingly good lobbyists. They’re managing to legally deny service to poor and poorly educated people.

Critics of the proposal said that Lyft and Uber, now known as “transportation network companies,” will . . . discriminate against certain passengers.

Like, the majority of people making less than $30k/year.

The proposal’s sponsor, Jacob Frey, countered that the city will audit where the companies have been accepting and denying rides. Plus, he noted, taxis are already discriminating.

This sounds like a great deal for Lyft and UberX. They can’t be accused of denying rides from the majority of people making under $30k/yr because they’re not capable of requesting rides since they don’t have smartphones.

“As a cab driver, I cannot raise my rates,” said driver Fred Anderson. “And I’m obligated to take all customers unlike [transportation network companies]. This is not a level playing field.”

Sounds like Fred Anderson and his fellow drivers need UberX and Lyft’s deep pockets in order to hire better lobbyists so they can discriminate too. Or, UberX and Lyft could be held to the taxi standards and already exist.

The city will impose a license fee of $35,000 a year on transportation network companies, and another $10,000 as a surcharge if they do not have handicap-accessible vehicles.

Here’s a breakdown of the licensing costs for traditional taxis in Minneapolis:

Minneapolis Taxi Licenses

As I read that, it sounds like the annual licensing costs for a taxi include:
$59 taxi drivers license renewal
$475 per vehicle
$135 per inspection
____________
$669 per year total

Assuming Lyft or UberX have more than 52 drivers, the differences in licensing costs appears to be another example of the advantage of having good lobbyists on your well-funded side.

Listen up, Poors. If you want access to all forms of government regulated transportation in our world-class city, you’re going to need a smartphone with a data plan. We’re not discriminating. That’s just the way it is because world-class cities welcome innovators.

LRT Speeds Vary by Station Pairs

Is the new Green Line slow? Well, that depends. Where did you start and where did you end?

Bob Collins has a post up on Newscut about his decision to NOT take the Green Line from the 10th Street Station in St Paul (the 2nd stop on the line heading west) to a Twins game (the last two stops on the Blue Line). With four in the car on the 4th of July when there is hardly any traffic between cities, that’s a really easy choice.

Talking about time time it takes to traverse the entire LRT line seems overblown to me since that use case is so limited. Are there really that many people who live at or east of Union Depot in St Paul who want to get to Target Field or points north? I’m sure it happens, but must be a small fraction of all rides, assuming other 22 stations have any popularity at all.

To illustrate this, I used MapMyRun.com to trace out quick estimates of distances between each station on the Green Line and divides them by the scheduled time for a westbound train (weekday, arriving before 9am) to get a feel for how fast the train moves throughout its route. This isn’t a measure of max speed, but average speed between stations:

Average Green Line LRT Speeds between Stations

What this tells me is you’ll experience diminishing returns on commute speeds when you’re in the downtown core of either city. This makes sense. We see the same thing any vehicle operating at street level.

The easiest way to shave 17 minutes of the commute between downtowns (and increase the train’s speed by nearly 50%) is to define the commute between downtowns as when one leaves the first and arrives at the second (Robert St Station in St Paul to Downtown East in Minneapolis).

This is even more pronounced on the Blue Line, which has higher speeds between stations outside of downtown:

Average Blue Line LRT Speeds between Stations

Putting the station speeds of the Green and Blue lines on the same chart helps illustrate how much faster the Blue Line is over most of its route compared to the Green Line. (Northbound Blue vs Westbound Green with the same set of stops once they merge in downtown Minneapolis).

Green vs Blue Line Average Speeds by Station

Personally, when I travel on an LRT to downtown Minneapolis, I hop off at “one of the state’s largest corporate welfare projects off all time station”, then hop on a NiceRide for the rest of my trip. That’s much faster than the 6 MPH average speed (10MPH) of either train through downtown. For example, I can NiceRide to Brit’s far faster from Downtown East than taking the train to Nicollet then walking or NiceRiding from there. Google Maps seems to agree with me on this. They estimate 16 minutes for LRT to Nicollet followed by walking:

LRT from Metrodome to Brit's

Compared to 8 minutes biking:

Biking from Metrodome to Brit's

But, the bigger takeaway to me is that trains are painfully slow in downtown cores when they’re built at street level. If they’re above or below ground, they don’t have to compete with everything else going on at street level, which is better for everyone. At this point, I suppose we’re stuck with the decisions we’ve made for the next generation or two. Longer term, perhaps we’ll straighten things out?

And, if I was going to park and ride to Twins or Saints games from the suburbs, I’d probably hop off the Cretin/Vandalia exit of I-94 and ditch my car near The Dubliner. That combined free parking, cutting the LRT trip in half, and provides a cool spot to drown postgame sorrows. That neighborhood is also home to some new craft brewpubs worth checking out, including Bang Brewing. Strategery.

Watch Lyft Redlining in Minneapolis

Considering the criticism that taxis received for not being willing to pick up individuals based on race or fares in this StarTribune article, it seems like a good time to point out that Lyft is redlining entire neighborhoods of Minneapolis.

If a taxi is going to operate in Minneapolis, it’s expected to serve the entire city rather than cherry pick certain neighborhoods. But, “disruptive” companies like Lyft seem to take a different approach to serving the city by only serving portions of it. Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Here are two animations that illustrate this. Notice that there are Lyft cars available for pickup when I tell the Lyft app that I’m south of Dowling. But, if I move myself north of Dowling, no cars are available:

output_C09ceM

Lyft Redlining in North Minneapolis

In Northeast Minneapolis, 30th Ave NE appears to be Lyft’s redline (note the message switch from a car being 12 minutes away to “available” [but not hailable]):

Lyft Redlining in Northeast Minneapolis

Imagine what would happen to a licensed Minneapolis taxi company if they refused to serve customers north of Dowling Ave? Why is Lyft any different?

Forbes reported in April that Lyft raised $250 million. It sounds like it’s quite lucrative to outsource drivers, cars, and insurance coverage while cherry picking neighborhoods to serve.

Loosening Minneapolis Taxi Regulations – Still Tougher than Uber Standards

Minneapolis has a list of proposed changes to current taxi regulations that may be long-overdue. But, considering what Uber and similar services are allowed to do, this particular provision seems rather strange:

Reducing the total cabs a company must possess, from 15 to five.

That provision also mentions that the 5+ cars must be a similar color scheme.

So, if Uber can own zero cars with no requirements over color scheme while taxis must own at least 5 cars of a similar color scheme, it seems like the changes in regulations would still allow outstate startups to cherry pick fares in Minneapolis while sucking 20% of each fare out of our community. That’s a great deal for Uber, but seems like an unfair playing field for our local taxi businesses.

Taxis Acting like Uber gets Taxis in Trouble

The StarTribune ran an article over the weekend looking at how difficult it can be to hail a cab in downtown Minneapolis if you’re looking for a short ride or aren’t white.

For example, a group of black people who wanted to go two mile ride had to deal with this crap:

One driver finally took the group, but he started his meter at nearly $15, instead of the required $2.50.

But, as Eric Roper (one of the article’s authors) pointed out, the illegal price gouging by taxis was still less than Uber’s price gouging:

I don’t know of any examples of Uber proactively discriminating against potential riders based on race. Instead, they’re equal opportunity discriminators based on price. If you’re not willing to pay nearly $40 for a 2-mile ride, race has nothing to do with it. But, if a city councilmember were to look at the race breakdown of who Uber actually serves, we’d probably see similar results by different means.

For example, Uber does a good job serving people like failed Minneapolis Democrats Exposed blogger, Andy Post:

Clearly, GOP operatives working for a gubernatorial candidate like Marty Seifert shouldn’t have to interact with the common taxi driver.

I can see why the GOP would like a service that ignores unions, government regulations, people with disabilities, and people who can’t afford to spend $35 on a 2-mile ride:

But, that doesn’t mean it’s in the best interest of Minneapolis residents to allow a company to blatantly disregard regulations meant to protect passengers (ex. proper insurance, ADA compliant vehicles). And, it’s not clear how it’s in the best interest of Minneapolis and Minnesota residents to have 20% of every fare sucked out of the state and into the pockets of companies like Uber and Lyft.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Uber or similar dispatching businesses. We just need to remind ourselves that they’re not above the law and have the resources to comply with existing taxi laws. If those laws are antiquated, let’s change them for all taxi services rather than allow start-ups to disregard those laws in order to cherry pick fares through price and technology.