Monthly Archives: April 2011

How License Plate Frames Are A Barrier To Public Transit Use

A USC trustee was recently very forthright with me, “Let’s get real. Do you really think people on the (generally affluent) Westside (of L.A.) are going to take a bus?”

Thousands of USC alumni, and I’m sure the trustee included, outfit the backs of their cars with a radiant piece of metal or plastic. Often with some red, gold or black paint, it proclaims “Alumni USC.” These license plate holders are a status symbol if there ever was one. Whether on a Prius, a Rolls-Royce or an Accord, a USC alumni license plate frame tells the world you graduated from a prestigious university and you have enough money and care to boast about it. Visible to people driving in your exhaust or walking by your vehicle, it’s way more of a definitive symbol than a t-shirt that could just out you as a USC football fan.

But transit riders who shun cars on most occasions don’t have the luxury of signaling their collegiate accomplishments to the world. The problem of course applies to nearly every university that churns out a significant number of  high-income gas-guzzling-types, but I focus on the university since I know it best.

I would guess a strong majority of present USC students experience envy every time they see “Alumni USC” frames. Sure, that sensation is bad. It’s also unavoidable in our capitalistic culture. I mean, “Let’s be real.”

So as Metro and other transit agencies around the world try to up their ridership figures and get people out of their cars, another consideration they should make is how to replicate license plate holders in a form of transportation that lets many share one huge vehicle. Wearing stickers? That’s too tacky. USC Alumni briefcases, backpacks and cell phones cases? Might be overbearing since you can’t leave them behind in the parking lot all day. A creative genius out there surely has some other ideas. I would love to hear them.

Revamping Government P.R.

With the lines between journalism and P.R. becoming more blurred, government agencies could benefit from hiring journalists to work for them rather than or to augment dishing out millions to P.R. professionals.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has invested public funds to develop a website that is essentially a news website with former newspaper journalists writing content that seems every bit as good as the stuff they wrote for the paper.

L.A. County’s transit agency has a crew doing blogging. Both operations have become publications respected in the mainstream media. Sure, they don’t step on the toes of their bosses but its still a great service and more homely than navigating the websites of departments at the city of L.A. or state of California.

Instead of 50 state agencies paying say $10 million total each year trying to get their messages out with the help of a bunch of a different contractors, what if there was one team of 10 people with a greater degree of institutional and technical knowledge leading those efforts. Even if some of them work as independent contractors, people would view them more as a permanent fixture than as some outside P.R. guy or gal.

Rather than relying on ad buys on say, the agencies could focus more on getting the word out through cheaper techniques like say good old SEO and strong content.

Padres-Dodgers Rain Game: How Does This Make Sense?

The Padres and Dodgers just entered their fourth rain delay of the night at 1:15 a.m. local time for a game that was originally pegged to begin at 7:05 p.m.

The umpires kept trying to play the game to an end despite a persistent rain shower that somehow owned Orange and San Diego counties but missed L.A. With both teams struggling to score with runners in scoring position, the game was hopelessly tied, pitchers were wearing thin and umpires were cussing left and right.

The Padres and Dodgers see each other eighteen times a year. Not quite sure why the umps felt this game had to be finished today. They could have closed up shop at 10 p.m. Then, it could have easily been picked it up Saturday afternoon after the FOX exclusive television window under beautiful San Diego skies.

Strange thinking on the part of the umps and not enough fighting them from the managers.

Advertising On L.A.’s Hiking Trails

Maybe you’re just supposed to know the route or communicate with those already on the trails. Even so, it would be nice if some of the trails in the Griffith Park/Mt. Lee area had some signs of where different forks lead to. Even the streets in the communities below could have some signs pointing confused drivers in the right direction.

The city’s low on cash, so who could fund all of these signs? Why not an outdoors sporting goods company such as REI?

REI enjoyed its best year on record in 2010. Even some smaller companies could jump on board like Bobble, which manufactures water bottles with tiny filters integrated into them. Throw on a couple QR codes and you have yourself a cool private sponsorship. It wouldn’t be too different from putting ads all over trash cans and lifeguard towers and vehicles at the beach.

Project Street

I thought it would be possible to significantly help L.A. County’s unemployed population by paying them to beautify the region. They could clean streets, do some painting and do some gardening. They would also get financial planning instruction and job application tips as a groups. Showing that they were committed to hard work by participating in the program would boost their resumes. Turns out even paying half of them $20 a week for a month would be very expensive.

My plan was to raise revenues by adding a $25 property tax surcharge to each commercial and residential parcel in L.A. County that falls above the median property affordability index (i.e. like something along these lines).

A look at the numbers:

# of people unemployed in L.A. County: 790,000

# of parcels in L.A. County above index: 1.3 million (50 percent of total)

Overhead COSTS

5 staff members x 75,000 = 375,000

2 Financial coaches x 50,000 = 100,000

Other administrative = 25,000

Total overhead: 500,00


$25 surcharge per parcel

$32.5 million generated


50% eligible sign-up

Leaves $100 per person / 5 weeks = $20 / week

You can apparently buy enough groceries to survive for a week with $20. But overall, I thought the idea would generate a whole lot more.