Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 3rd, 2011 at 11:36 am
"Drive Less, Save More," a marketing campaign run by a PR firm for the Oregon Department of Transportation, came under fire this week as Oregon legislators worked to trim the state's transportation budget.
A freshman Republican lawmaker, House Rep Mike McLane (Medford), led a push with support from several colleagues to end the $2 million (per biennium) expense, saying that the program lacks results and isn't necessary — especially when lean state revenues mean vital transportation services are underfunded.
"So we tell folks, 'We're sorry, get to the hospital yourself, but don't worry, when you're in a movie theater you get to watch an ad before the show begins.'"
— Rep. Mike McLane during a speech in Salem yesterday
McLane had support from The Oregonian Editorial Board and fellow members of the Joint Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. That committee forwarded a plan to take the $2 million from Drive Less, Save More and apply it to transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities.
However, in a meeting of the Joint Ways and Means Committee yesterday, McLane learned that his proposal was overruled by the committee co-chairs. Instead of the $2 million transfer, the committee decided to continue funding of the Drive Less, Save More campaign to the tune of $1.5 million and fund transportation for seniors and people with disabilities to the tune of $1 million.
When contacted for an update on his position about this issue, McLane said,
"Despite my efforts and the agreement of the Transportation subcommittee, the co-chairs of the Ways and Means overruled us... I am very disappointed in this result"
In the Ways and Means committee meeting yesterday, McLane made an impassioned speech about why — in large part because of this issue — he would vote "No" on ODOT's 2011-2013 budget. In that speech (full audio below), McLane said he and many Oregonians have "lost confidence" in ODOT:
"The people, from what I can tell, tend to agree with me that we've lost confidence that our money is being spent well... As you know, madame Chair, when you advertise to people that when you drive less you save money, it's silly."
McLane pointed out that ODOT spent $757,537 dollars in advertising in 2010, including $50,000 in movie theater ads, which prompted this line in his speech,
"So we tell folks, 'We're sorry, get to the hospital yourself, but don't worry, when you're in a movie theater you get to watch an ad before the show begins."
Below are a few more quotes from McLane's speech, followed by the seven minute audio:
"Oregonians drive less when the price of gas goes up, not when they see a billboard; but we're prepared today to fund it anyway and to not send that money to the folks that actually have less capacity like the disabled and the seniors...
And now we're even putting in a budget note where we'll going to tell ODOT, 'be sure to manage and look after this Columbia River Crossing'. There's comes a time that when you can't trust the messenger, you can't trust the message...
So madame chair, my frustration grows that we are going to continue to say to people that don't have the capacity to hire lobbyists [The Oregonian story pointed out that the PR firm behind the campaign worked hard to lobby legislators to keep the program], not the capacity to advocate for themselves, that they have to bear the brunt of this budget problem. And that's why I'm a no vote, because ODOT can do better."
Listen to McLane's speech below:
While McLane criticizes ODOT's spending, a recent report by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation found that Oregon was one of the highest ranked states when it comes to effective use of transportation dollars.
The debate about whether or not ODOT is fiscally responsible won't be settled any time soon, but McLane's point about the importance of spending money on marketing campaigns during times of lean budgets is timely. Also, if sources I've spoken to are any indication, he has opened up an important conversation about how we set spending priorities.
UPDATE, 7:41 pm: Below are comments I received via email from Tom Brian, the former Washington County Chair (now retired) who advocated for the creation of the Drive Less program back in 2003.
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Drive Less/Save More is far more than a “PR” campaign. It is about getting to the public psyche to really make them aware of and think about how we use our automobiles, and how they should be used differently. We spend about $2 billion biennially “building capacity” (ODOT, Cities and Counties) and of course over 95% of that is maintenance and expansion of roads and highways. Why don’t we spend $1.5 million to reduce the demand in the first place?
If we can all reduce our trips by only two a week, that is a 14% reduction. And it does not cost a penny…only that we “think” before we hop in our cars…that we plan our trips and accomplish more errands in the same trip; that we ride share, that we ride bikes, use transit. In a professionally designed and implemented survey, 84% of the citizens said they felt the COULD eliminate, easily, two trips a week (by the way 75-80% of trips are NOT working commutes but other personal and social purposes).
People often talk about the desirability of reduce consumption of fuel, reducing emissions, reducing traffic congestion, etc. So here is a successful program, making progress on those objectives for $1.5 million per biennium versus our $2 billion expenditures focused on roads and highways, and people want to kill the program?
It is an absolute fact that a professionally designed public education and advocacy program, carried out of several years, such as ten years, will make a difference. Maybe some folks are too young to remember the extensive and prolonged media programs to reduce littering, smoking, stopping forest fires by not throwing out cigarette butts, drunk driving and, to increase recycling (the latest campaign is not to use our cell phones and texting while driving). Doesn’t the public “already know” what the right thing to do is in each of these cases? But it took a prolonged media and public education campaign to instill these values with the public, including young people as they are growing up and bringing their values into focus.
So, after only a few short years, folks are ready to kill the Drive Less/ Save More program and claim victory while we are still over 75% Single Occupancy Vehicle and making 10 to 14 trips a day per household? I am all for senior/disable transportation. That is why I have supported and helped obtain financing for Ride Share (senior/disabled vans and operations) and of course the current cigarette tax dedicated to senior/disabled transportation used by transit agencies. I do not know what the transportation spending is for senior/disabled but I know it is in the many tens of millions statewide, perhaps approaching $75 to $100 million system wide?
I think it would be foolish to shut down the one, small program we have going that advocates for less driving and reduction of demand for more highway lanes. We need a little balance in our thinking and approach. One way to put it is that we need a consistent message to create the same kind of social pressure on smarter (and less) use of our cars as was developed about littering, recycling, drunk driving, smoking, etc. It would be extremely shortsighted to shut down the Drive Less/Save More program.