@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.

Should Stealing Electricity be Legal in Minnesota, @PatGarofalo?

Let’s say that you have solar panels on your house that produce electricity. At times, you may use more electricity than you produce, so you cut a check to your power company for the difference. At other times, you may produce more than you consume, so you’ll get a check back from the power company. Either way, you settle up. That’s fair.

Another way to do things would be to carry forward any net production you’ve created as credits on your bill. This is basically an interest-free loan to your utility company, so they’re cool with that. Pat Garofalo’s energy bill includes language that allows for interest free loans from rate payers to utility companies:

Screenshot 2015-04-06 23.35.23

But, it doesn’t stop there. Just look at this:

Screenshot 2015-04-06 23.35.23 copy

Legalized theft.

What’s also interesting is that the theft of rate payer’s energy generation credits isn’t unique to Minnesota. Similar language is popping up in bills around the country, including this one in Montana:

Screenshot 2015-04-07 08.55.56

If, at the end of the year, I told Xcel, “Looks like I owe you $20. I’m going to cancel that with no additional compensation.” they’d shut my power off. Legalizing the inverse of that is legalized theft of energy producers’ electricity.

I can understand why utility companies that fund and write example legislation for ALEC members would find this valuable. Free electricity is a great deal if you can convince state legislators to make stealing legal.

This is just one example of the language inserted into Pat Garofalo’s energy bill guts clean energy programs in Minnesota. If you legalize theft of energy production from residential solar producers, you reduce the incentive to install panels. That’s a good thing if you’re in the pollution business, but not good for asthmatics, environmentalists, and local small business owners who benefit from increasing our ratio of energy generated from clean sources.

Energy Incentives: Rooftop Solar vs. Electric Cars

Rep. Pat Garofalo’s energy bill in the MN House has $5 million in incentives for purchases of electric cars and $5 million toward solar installations. Here’s why that’s a strange mix.

The US Department of Energy has a calculator where you can type in a zip code to determine what carbon impact electric cars and hybrids have based on where you happen to live. Where you live makes a difference since the sources of electricity vary by region. Here’s how it breaks down for Xcel users in MN:

Electric Vehicle vs Hybrid vs Gas Car

What that’s saying is that all-electric cars actually produce more carbon than plugins since we burn so much coal to create electricity in MN. The assumptions can be found here.

For comparison, here’s the same chart using the 90210 zip code:

Electric Vehicle vs Hybrid vs Gas Car

Electric cars are a lot cleaner when they’re not burning electricity generated at Xcel Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Becker, MN that GOP Rep Jim Newberger continually defends. Freedom’s just another word for increased rates of asthma and other respiratory issues.

Electric vehicles certainly do reduce carbon emissions compared to normal 27.6 MPG gas vehicles. The above report shows a reduction of 1.8 tons of carbon output per year. And, again, that amount is only saved if someone switching to an electric car made that move from gas rather than hybrids.

Compare that to the solar system on my house, which is projected to save 3 tons of carbon output per year.

Then, consider that a solar system lasts 30 years while the average life of a car is probably 10 years since the battery would likely need to be replaced by then, which would probably not be justifiable in a 10 year old car.

So, Pat Garofalo’s energy bill has $5 million in tax incentives for two different forms of clean energy improvements. Solar panels, which could save, say, 90 tons of carbon over 30 years. Or electric cars, which need to run, unrealistically, for 50 years to achieve the same carbon output savings as solar panels.

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.

A Few Inflammatory Statements

1. Not everyone graduated at the top of their class.

2. Nearly every industry has some excellent people, a ton of average people, some incompetent people, and some criminals.

3. If there is significant money or power to be gained, the extreme cases for #2 become greater.

If you took extreme offense at any of the above statements, you just may be a spokesperson for a police department that’s been in the news for the wrong reasons in 2014.

Some Gadget Ideas for Christmas Shopping

Here are some gadgets I’ve used over the past year that I’d recommend as presents for people into that sort of thing:

Chamberlain MyQ WiFi Garage Door Opener – This allows you to open and close your garage door from your phone. And check whether your garage door is open or closed. I’ve found it useful when I leave the house but can’t remember for sure if I closed the garage door. I’ve also used it to let people working on my house into the garage while I was out. It took around 30 minutes to install. The only thing that’s not 100% about this is the app, which is slow to open. But:

Wink Hub. – A Wink Hub allows you to control a large number of WiFi connected devices from a single app that worked quite well. You connect this to your WiFi network then tell it what WiFi connected devices you’ve got, such as the garage door opener. It also supports notifications, so you can see when your garage door is opened, or door locks, motion detectors, etc. And, it makes it easy to set up automated tasks, like turning things on/off at certain times of day. A lot of devices from a wide variety of companies can work with the Wink hub, which is nice. You don’t have to worry about buying this, then only being able to buy, say, Wink deadbolts for your house.

PWR+ Cell Phone Charger. – This is a Mini USB charger, so will work with most Android phones. The beauty of this is it charges your phone around 4X faster than the one that ships with phones. Basically, it’s ridiculous that cell phones don’t ship with chargers like this.

EyeFi Mobi SD Card – Assuming you still use a camera other than the one on your phone, this SD card connects to your phone and auto-syncs photos from your phone to your camera as you take them. You can then upload or email those pics from your phone without ever needing to take the card out of the camera.

Remembering Reusable Grocery Bags with IFTTT

Remembering to bring reusable bags into grocery stores is not one of my strengths. But, I figured out a way to make that happen. Geofencing grocery stores using IFTTT, then sending myself reminders. By the way, I don’t think IFTTT supports doing this on other phones, but there are other ways to do it. There are also apps that can be used to do this on Android phones, but I’d rather use a cloud service for this so I don’t have to recreate these every time I get a new phone.

For example, here’s a recipe I created on IFTTT that sends me a text message to remember to bring in bags when I arrive at Longfellow Market:

IFTTT Breakdown

These are really easy to set up. You just zoom in to the location where you’d like to have an alert triggered. I moved the range to the south a bit after getting some false-positives while driving by Longfellow Market on Lake Street.

IFTTT Map

Then set the message you’d like to receive:

IFTTT Message

The messages automatically pop up on my phone and watch when I enter that area:

IFTTT on Pebble Watch

What this doesn’t do is remind me to put the bags back in the car after bringing groceries home. That’s another step.

Another IFTTT recipe I like using is to adjust my phone’s volume to vibrate mode when I arrive home. This could be done based on a geocode, like the example above, but it can also be triggered based on the name of the WiFi network I attach to.

Small things like this make my days slightly smoother.

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.