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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

The Right Stuff: Trains, pains and adverse selection

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Tom Jackson’s conservative opinion column is published each Sunday. Read The Right Stuff on TBO.com at tbo.com/tomjackson/

Plainly, the deadly, incredible movie house shooting inside the Cobb Grove 16 multiplex in Wesley Chapel was the story of the week, and I have had more than a little to say about it on the blog and in a couple of follow-up columns in The Pasco Tribune. All remain available online, and I invite the curious to go there.

Today’s distillation of what’s been happening on The Right Stuff visits other noteworthy concerns.

***

I like trains, to begin with. I’ve gotten around on light rail in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay area and in Atlanta, as well as in subways in London and Paris. And I have found all those experiences uniformly satisfying.

Moreover, this year I’m also in charge of ferrying the Heir Apparent to his high school 13 miles away. On a good morning, it’s a 45-minute grind, one way. I share Tampa’s traffic flow migraines.

But I’ve also boarded London’s iconic red double-decker people-movers and, in lanes dedicated for bus travel, breezed past traffic jammed up tighter than your worst Malfunction Junction nightmare. Lane exclusivity makes true Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, a dazzling (and, compared to rail, breathtakingly cheap) thing of transit beauty.

Know this: Whatever else happens, we’re going to lay more pavement. Streets and highways will be widened, so that’s an expense already baked into our getting-around cake. For the price of road-striping paint, signage, ticket kiosks and cutting-edge buses, the system urban planners call “light-rail on tires” could blossom here at a scant fraction of the billions needed to do even the most meager commuter train.

Yes, rail lines attract development, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe has made no secret of his fondness for light rail as a method not simply for encouraging new business activity, but also for directing where it goes. (Who will pick the land-owning winners and losers, Old West-style, is a post for another day.)

The same cannot be said for BRT, because if growth resists forecast patterns, transit officials simply summon the road-striping crew and lay new, more appropriate routes. Alas, rail supporters regard BRT’s thrifty flexibility as a flaw, not a feature.

As I say, trains are terrific. In urban areas far more densely populated than ours, there’s an argument for them. But as a key to relieving what ails local transportation, and given the alternatives aching for full exploration, they’re overpriced, hopelessly rigid and, frankly, antiquated 19th-century solutions to 21st-century headaches.

***

Grudging admiration for his political skills was my first instinct upon reading Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was making city venues available to “navigators” hired to “guide” people through the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare application process. Hizzoner gives a boost to his fellow Democrats and calls it public service. Nicely played, Mr. Mayor.

But that was followed by an epiphany: More enrollees means more people ambushed by the hard truths about the act’s dreadfulness, beginning with the growing notion that when using its official title, “Affordable” should never appear without quotation marks.

This is particularly true as it pertains to the young people Obamacare models rely on to make the system work. Turns out the youth cohort, who tend to be more robust and shied away from health insurance in the first place, are far less interested in changing their habits than the act’s architects counted on. Who needs the high premiums and stratospheric deductibles when you need money to go out Saturday night?

Increasingly, reports suggest the law of adverse selection is being fulfilled. By making insurance cheaper for the older and, presumably, sicker at bargain prices, that’s who dominates enrollment figures. Meanwhile, the younger and healthier, having sniffed out the scam, want nothing to do with it.

So set up those navigators, Mr. Mayor. The more your constituents grasp Obamacare’s perverse nature, the sooner its designed-in death spiral will be fulfilled, and we can begin to figure out a better solution to affordable, attainable care.

tjackson@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1851

Twitter: @tjacksonTBO

Blog: tbo.com/tomjackson/

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