Commentary

printed 11/22/2019

Isn’t it interesting how new technology butts up against the way we’ve always done things, and leaves traditionalists scrambling for a competitive edge?

Welcome to the world of bus transit systems and, somewhat incongruously, newspaper publishing, both of which have been beset by high-tech alternatives that purport to do the same thing, only better.

Except they don’t.

Newspapers, for instance, have been killed, allegedly, by internet news sites that steal and post material from print publications because they don’t have their own reporters.

But this isn’t about newspapers, which, incidentally, are doing fine in this neck of the woods. This is about bus systems, and an Ocean City Council that’s looking for a way to keep phone app-summoned ride-sharing services from siphoning off riders from its traditional, but still excellent, service.

In short, it can’t be done by the usual means, because there’s no way to make a bus ride sexy or exciting.

Putting more buses on the road to reduce the wait time at the bus stop won’t necessarily work either, since Uber can be just about anywhere anytime a customer calls or texts.

Public transportation, like newspapers, has to adapt by deciding what its true mission is and then doing something the new competition can’t or won’t do.

In the case of this area’s local publications, they have retained their readership by publishing stories other outlets won’t do — strictly local and in detail — and then adjusting their prices to match the market.

At one time, public transportation’s job was simply to reduce traffic, and the fares reflected that. That changed over the years, and now the system is expected to do more to pay its own way, even though it’s not the bargain it used to be.

If local government wants to go up against the Ubers of the world, it has to go back to what it once was and endure the losses, at least until the market changes.

There are times, after all, when the way we’ve always done it isn’t the wrong answer.

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