Our view: A tale of two business owners

November 6, 2013 9:37:38 AM



Tuesday night, the Columbus City Council considered a request for a 30-day extension on its agreement to bring bus service to the city. 


Before we consider how the council voted on this request, consider a scenario. 


Imagine you own a small department store. One day, a salesman approaches you to ask that you carry his product -- let's say it's a line of vacuum cleaners. 


Naturally, you would ask for the salesman to do a demonstration. So he plugs in the vacuum cleaner. At first, it doesn't pick up anything at all. Then, after the salesman makes a few adjustments, it begins to work, sort of. In a minute or so, you detect a distinct aroma of something burning. The salesman, quite flustered now, goes into a series of excuses, apologies and explanations. He assures you the problems will be quickly corrected. 


But all you really have to go on is that demo. 


The question you have to consider is this: Should you agree to put those vacuum cleaners on your shelves? You might think to yourself, "Well, if a customer buys one of these things and it doesn't work, he can't blame me. I just sold him the vacuum cleaner; I didn't make them. That will be between the customer and the company that makes the vacuum cleaners. So whether it works or not, I'm in the clear here. It's no concern of mine." 


We hope you would not be that sort of business owner, who is a very foolish person. 


We hope, instead, that you would be a conscientious business owner, one who really cares about his customers. That's the sort of wise business owner who recognizes that the quality of the products he sells is, in a very real sense, a direct reflection on the integrity of his business. 


On Tuesday night, the council listened to the sales pitch and made its decision. 


By a 3-2 vote, the council is still intent on putting those vacuum cleaners on the shelves. "Caveat Emptor," the council said. "Hope it works out, but if it doesn't, hey, it's no skin off our nose." 


It's been 15 months since Indiana-based Lawrence Transit approach the council with its proposal to operate a fixed-route bus service to the city. It came with little more than a handshake and a smile; no studies of any kind that suggested the service was needed, wanted or feasible. 


The one thing the company did tell the council is that the city wouldn't be on the hook for it; financing would come from that manna from heaven we know today as grant money. 


Ever since, the company has hit one snag after another. Again and again, the company has come before the city to ask for an extension. It's always something. 


During Tuesday's meeting, some council members excused those delays by saying that there were obstacles the company had not anticipated. Well, excuse us, but it's the company's job to know what the requirements are. It's a flimsy defense. 


In reality, the only thing Lawrence Transit Company has done consistently is miss deadlines. 


Of course, the company assured the council that all those problems will be fixed within 30 days. Take their word for it, right?  


"OK," said the council. 


Who knows? Maybe buses will actually roll through the city in 30 days. 


But even if that happens, is there any reason to believe, based on experience, that the service will work as intended? 


The only thing worse than not having a bus service is haven't a bus service you can't rely on, as anyone who has waited at a bus stop in the heat, the cold or the rain for a bus that never arrives will surely attest. 


But if the bus service proves to be a miserable failure, it's not the city council's worry. 


It's not like it's the council's job to protect its residents, after all.