Sunday, August 16, 2015

ADVERTISE . . . OR DON'T

A few days ago I went to catch the 220 and there was a sign on the bus stop.


It reads:

UTA is pleased to announce the following service improvements beginning Sunday, Aug. 16


  • 15-minute weekday service on routes 54 and 220
  • Improved Saturday service on routes 470, 603, and  612
  • Sunday service on routes 6, 39, 45, 54, and 516
  • Extended Sunday service hours on TRAX
 Log on to rideuta.com for more details

I'm not sure which part shocks me more: whether that UTA is adding service without cutting other service, or that there is a well punctuated sign that actually announces the service increase.

(Personally, I would have put a colon at the end of the first sentence, but I'll let it go)

My feelings about some of the less articulate signs I've seen UTA put up in the past should be relatively obvious. As for signs that actually advertise the service, well . . . last year I took a picture of this sign:


In the first place, worst comma ever. Even worse than this one.

In the second place, this sign makes it sound like a service decrease, does it not? You would never know from this that the 45, which also serviced this stop, was going from 30-to-60-minute service to 15-minute service all day, nor that the part of the 228 that was getting shortened (the route was not eliminated) was covered by the new, improved (I mean old, restored) 45. If you were a loyal rider of UTA who didn't check the website (which is apparently a lot of them in Salt Lake County), you would walk away thinking that UTA was screwing you over again, instead of employing a respectable amount of ingenuity to increase the bus service on 45th South without increasing the overall operating budget or cutting other service; and you'd probably vote no on the referendum. I wanted to burn this sign with fire. Or amend it with a sharpie. Unfortunately, I had neither fire nor a sharpie with me that day, so I forbore.

I can't speak to exactly why the stop advertising for past change days was so poor, but I do know of a similar example: online textbooks at BYU.

As an office employee who worked in the back corner of an office in the back corner of the basement, I wasn't privy to a lot of administrative politics, but as far as I could tell the Textbook department was inhabited entirely by obstructionist dinosaurs who enjoyed being the perpetrators of as much student suffering as possible. As a student I stood in the hour-plus lines that had to stretch all through the textbook shelves because there wasn't enough space to accommodate them near the registers; I also interacted with hundreds of students who had just waited in those lines when I ran an extra register at the beginning of each semester. And I watched for years as my department, which (among other things) handled phone and online orders, forwarded phone calls and emails to the Textbook people so they could explain to them why they couldn't place a textbook order in advance. I'm not sure what answer they got ("no demand?" I'm calling you!), but it probably wasn't the real one: it was a change, and it would probably mean more work.

Then one year, somehow, it was agreed that the BYU Bookstore (so-called before subsequent rebranding) would accept textbook pre-orders on their website, but that they would not advertise for them. An inconspicuous link was added to the main site navigation, and a handful of textbook orders were received. At this point the Textbook department argued that there was no real demand for online textbook orders, and we should give up trying to make them a thing. At which point my boss's boss somehow convinced them that we should try again but advertise this time. Just once. If it didn't work this time, we would completely abandon the project. So posters and flyers were created, and textbooks were featured on the front page of the Bookstore website.

I may have played a small part.
The response was overwhelming. It was absurd. It was more than even the most ardent supporter of online textbook orders had predicted. We had to cordon off a corner of the textbook floor just to house the boxed orders. The director of the bookstore sent out a memo that all full time employees had to spend one shift that week helping to fill or hand out textbook orders (students still had to come to the Bookstore to pick up their order, so no shipping costs were incurred). Their long-declining revenues suddenly and dramatically reversed, the Textbook department raised no further protests.

(Since the school year is about to start again, let me be the one to tell you, if you don't already know, that BYU Store is not actually funded in any part by tithing money. So, complain about the price of textbooks all you want, but save yourselves and them the trouble of hashing this out.)

I can't say with authority that the same kind of thing happened at UTA; but it seems that in any industry, when customers don't get what they repeatedly want, it's because it will cause an administrative employee somewhere to have more work. In any case, whoever is doing the change day signs should probably keep doing them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

THERE'S A BUG IN YOUR BEARD

Many of you in the greater Salt Lake City area noticed that a few days ago there were a couple of days where the air was replete with mayflies. There was a news story about it one night; commutergirl and I marveled at the volatory insects that filled the air around the reporter's head. Then the next day I was waiting for the bus stop and they were flying all around my head. It was quite unnerving.

The bus came. The driver said, "What is with all these bugs everywhere?"

I said, "I don't know, but they're driving me crazy."

He said, "There's one in your beard."

I'm sure the scene that followed was funny to watch. Eventually my frantic scrabbling successfully removed the offending insect from my facial hair and deposited it on the floor.

I looked at the bus driver. He looked back at me. I left the bug on the floor and walked away. The bus driver didn't say anything. Bus drivers are, in general, a pretty unflappable bunch.

That was one thing they never told me about beards.