How CultureBus is Just Like the Abysmal Space Shuttle Program

Work with me here. The Space Transportation System (aka the Space Shuttle) was started up with a push from sciencey-type people, but it’s never lived up to expectations. Six “vehicles” have been dedicated to the program with just three (Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour) available to work these days.

Similarly, San Francisco’s CultureBus program was started up with a push from sciencey-type people, but it’s never lived up to expectations. Six “vehicles” have been dedicated to the program with just three available these days. Mmmm. Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

The women in the background wandered away from this dedicated CultureBus 74X bus stop after hearing about the “SPECIAL FARES” (a “thrifty” seven bones each) just for CB riders. The sole holdout, in denial, took some time to confirm her understanding with the driver before walking away in confusion as others have before her, and catching up with her friends:

The Space Shuttle program’s failure was ably predicted 29 years ago in this prescient article from smart-ass college-boy Gregg Easterbrook. On the other hand, the gestation period for the CultureBus was much shorter and less transparent so you couldn’t really assess how it was going to turn out, and really, things like this can be tough to predict.

No matter, it soon became clear shortly after the debuts of these programs that the amount of “cargo” moved around was going to end up being an something like an order of magnitude less than projected. But here’s where NASA and MUNI took different approaches.

NASA willed the Space Shuttle program to “work” by taking away all possible alternatives (like regular old rockets) and thereby forcing customers to use the shuttle. (That was foolish and inefficient and of course 14 people have died so far, but at least NASA didn’t fly the shuttle empty just to save face.) MUNI made a different choice – the powers that be simply cut service by 66% a couple of months back. That makes it tough to recommend CB to the average rich, naive, culture-seeking tourist.

This new once-an-hour service approach has certainly cut down on empty CultureBus sightings and now it certainly seems that the average number of people on any particular KulturBus has gone up. (We’re still talking about a 90%+ empty bus though.) An alternative would have been to reduce the fare to $1.50 just like most other MUNI rides, but that wouldn’t fit into the concept so it’s not going to get tried out. O.K. fine.

Look forward to seeing mostly empty CultureBuses for the next six months or so. After that, who knows. While we’re waiting for the next chapter in this saga, take solace in the fact that the #5 Fulton can handle a lot of the role of CB.

Oh look here, the San Francisco Examiner is weighing in on the issue right now. Taking the data given at face value, which is always dangerous to do, each individual “Culture_Bus” (in the vernacular of the ‘Xam) is now bringing in about $14 per hour, which is about what one would expect given recent anecdotal observations. Of course the trouble with CB isn’t that it “loses money” (pretty much every public transit system in the world outside of Japan loses money), the trouble is that it doesn’t move people around that much at all, the trouble is that the number of potential riders it pisses off and confuses is five times greater than the number of people who actually ride it.

This tiny blog is through with this issue. It’s through with the excuses forwarded for the shiny bright yellow-orange public policy failure known as CultureBus, because hearing the truth about this program is too vexing for some. Perhaps the spinners will turn spin into win, somehow, with the same old approach, with the same old song and dance.

¿Verdad baila? ¿Verdad canta?

Vaya con Dios, Autobús de la Cultura, Setenta y Cuatro Equis.

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