Replacing Humans With Machines Not Necessarily a Cost Savings

Posted by By at 1 May, at 07 : 43 AM Print

The Messeder Space Pod (for want, at present, of a better name) finally is ready to go. My co-pilot in life and other travels went visiting her sister a couple months ago, and came home in love with an r-Pod, a small (18-foot) camper trailer not much bigger than the original space capsule that carried Astronaut Alan Shepard from Cape Canaveral to a wet spot in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we got a Pennsylvania registration and license plate and we’re about take the pod out on its maiden, for us, voyage – to a park just across the state line.

I have good news for those who favor privatization of government functions. The concept is alive and well and taking reservations for Maryland state parks.

After snooping around the web, we found a park with an available parking place and a welcome sign out for Grady the Golden. I called the 888-number for a reservation. I listened to what seemed a two-hour talk on a variety of points (e.g. this call is being recorded, etc.) and a robot-conducted tour through a couple menu levels before being told the call would be transferred to the next available service provider – but if I wanted to make a reservation before the new year, I should try the 24/7 website.

I hung up, logged into the website, found the park and site I wanted was available, and got a screen inviting me to become a “member” or go away. I opted for membership, told the computer my name, address, and credit card information, and was presented a total bill: The basic fee for the camping spot, a little extra for being from out of state, and $4.56 reservation fee.

And there in a little piece of fine print: “Thank you for using ReserveAmerica.”

So the State of Maryland has replaced a human with a computer, used the otherwise excess tax-cash for other purposes, and the state’s camping customers get to pay $4.56 for the privilege of paying the state $28 and change for a camping space.

A little later I stopped at the coffee shop for the afternoon meeting of the Daily Joe Philosophical Society, where my friend Mickey Strasbaugh was, as he often is, complaining about the high unemployment numbers and wondering why the government doesn’t back off making regulations so there would be more jobs. I told him my story about the camping reservation.

“Sounds like a good decision to me,” he said. “Private enterprise can do a much better job – and why should the state be in competition with small business?”

“Small business!” chimed Kathee Nunemaker, who recently was laid off from her office clerk job with the county. “I know that company. It’s national, handles reservations for campgrounds across the country. We used it to find a campground in Maine.”

“That was before I lost my job, though,” she added.

“You know, more than 600,000 county, state and federal workers, especially at lower pay scales, have been laid off across the country, to meet the funding cuts taxpayers have demanded,” she added. “And $5 may not seem a lot, but it’s more than I was paid to do similar customer service work

“How do you figure?” Mickey asked. “You paid less than $5, when some office person would have cost taxpayers $12 an hour plus benefits.”

She turned to me.

“How long did it take to make your reservation,” she asked.

“About five minutes,” I replied. “Even counting getting a receipt, which was in my email a few seconds after I clicked to submit the order.”

“So that’s 12 transactions made and confirmed in an hour,” Kathee said. “That’s $54.72 an hour – for a machine stuck away in a closet, eating a couple dollars a month electricity.”

“While I get food stamps and unemployment and look for a new job so, maybe, we can have a camping vacation this year.” she said. “It’s a good deal for somebody.”

Photo by quite peculiar


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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