Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Security or just trying to hide something?

Portland OR - The Oregonian reports on a Tri-Met decision that would allow the transit system to further isolate itself from the public. This move is being repeated across the country as well and has allowed public transit systems to literally make up data that it spoon feeds to the public.

Light rail critic Mel Zucker recently asked Tri-Met for ridership data for analysis on a proposed rail line. He was denied for security reasons. What Zucker was requesting was the raw data, something most transit systems are reluctant to give up to start with, but the excuse of security is a rather new method of refusal. The excuse is one that is sure to come up more often in our post 9/11 world.

The problem as I see it is this. The new cover for public transit gives the transit systems a free pass to make up any data they wish and there will no longer be any way to verify it's accuracy. This data, such as ridership numbers, are used by transit systems to justify costly transit projects as well as the running of routes.

Public transit systems have always manipulated their data and have been reluctant to reveal the true raw data. Under various state and local laws, this data could be obtained if you were persistent enough. Now by using the catch-all term security, these systems can keep critics at bay and ram through expensive transit projects as the critics no longer will be allowed any access to the needed data to show that the project is not needed. In short, a critic now can only state opinion and observations and have no real data to back them up and the transit system is free to greatly manipulate its data to fit whatever they wish to do.

This move to hide behind the shield of security comes at a time when public transit systems are all finding themselves in a cash crisis. They are demanding more of the public's money and now can freely manipulate the data they spoon feed to the public through the media without the fear of being caught manipulating the data.

Even the media will be effected by this new method. Currently the media can get much of this information but sometimes needs to go to a local or even state court to get the release of data. Now the stakes are raised and the media will be forced to go to the Federal courts to get any information from the transit system beside the manipulated data that the system wants to spoon feed to them. A much more costly and time consuming proposition.

I can see the need for heightened security towards the data, even as far as a background check to obtain the requested data. What Tri-met is doing however is blocking off all access to the data and thereby giving itself the autonomy to make the data fit what they want it to fit without any chance of being discovered.

My take on this move by Tri-Met is this. Tri-Met has been caught with its pants down a few times with manipulated data that they used to ram projects through with. They now are ducking for cover and using a Federal law to hide behind so that they no longer have to answer their critics and can be free to spend whatever they wish on whatever project they wish.

The taxpayers who have to foot the bill for public transit spending sprees and the critics that look for waste in the industry have now had an important avenue of checks and balances closed off to them.

Tri-Met earns a Lance for trying to keep the public in the dark while they continue to pick their pockets to fund their operation and various spending sprees.

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