Today Cranky Flier takes up the task of defending the undefendable — highlighting ‘worthy’ investments this year by the federal government’s Small Community Air Service Development grants.
There were 61 applications from communities for money from the government, 33 were funded (“because the ones who know about the programs are the ones that get the money!!” said the late night infomercial…).
Cranky highlights five and declares, “That’s it for my favorites.” Not a good ratio or one that the program can be proud of. And he promises that tomorrow we’ll hear about the silliest winners.
But I wouldn’t even come close to giving him his wins for the program. They’re wasteful and silly. Here’s Cranky on giving Los Alamos, New Mexico (9) flights a day to Albuquerque.
The Los Alamos Shuttle
Lastly, there were a couple of quirky grants that I just can’t help but like for their creativity. One was from Los Alamos, New Mexico. The government-run Los Alamos National Laboratory has some of the smartest scientific minds in the world. They are two hours away from Albuquerque’s airport, but I’d rather have them spending more time on important work than on driving back and forth to an airport.
It’s not like the scientists in town chose to live there – that’s where the feds put the lab. To me, this really should be an Essential Air Service route, but for various reasons (as detailed in the application), it’s not eligible. So for lack of a better option, SCASD it is. They want 9 flights a day to Albuquerque. Normally I’d think that’s crazy, but in this special case, it seems like a good idea to make them as productive as possible.
Great, we like scientists.
But here’s the flights we’re subsidizing:
Cranky says, “It’s not like the scientists in town chose to live there” but of course they did. It’s not like the scientists are members of the military, or are indentured servants. They took the jobs voluntarily, and are paid handsomely in a part of the country with low cost of living.
The service itself is silly. The application notes that service has never worked here.
- Peacock Airlines “only survived a few weeks.”
- Mesa Airlines “lasted four months.” Why? Because it wasn’t convenient, and it was expensive compared to other options. Like driving to Albuquerque. How expensive is ‘too expensive’ for passengers to choose to fly? The application notes that you could fly Mesa for $69. But customers didn’t find it worthwhile to pay more.
- Then Rio Grande Airlines tried Albuquerque service for four months and failed in 2002.
But if we just tried it one more time it would work! The application claims that if there were cheap, frequent flights on an airline that had interline agreements it would work.
But why assume that the airlines don’t want easy profits that are theirs for the taking? Because it doesn’t work to offer 9 flights a day to shuttle people 61 miles when they’ve made clear they won’t spend $69 for the privilege (and another carrier trying the route charged less than half that and failed). Clearly what we need is to double the flights, lower the cost, and the underpants gnomes will generate a profit!
But even if this were true, should the federal government be subsidizing it?
I think this claim from the application is really important:
The median household income of Los Alamos County is $103,643. This compares to the national average of $46,326 and the New Mexico average of $43,000.
Make no mistake: people making $43,000 per year are being asked to subsidize more convenient air travel for people making $103,000 a year. That’s what bothers me here. Los Alamos residents can drive to Albuquerque. But so they don’t have to do that, for their convenience (that past behavior suggests they don’t value very much), poorer people are being asked to dig deep.
And this is one of the 5 best investments out of 33 that Cranky Flier can come up with for the program.
More than any of the silly examples he points out tomorrow, the absurdity of the ‘best’ examples strike me as reason enough to end this program.