These are times in which tax dollars are spent to study the love life of the Peruvian mosquito, ancient Mongolian basket weaving and subjects of similar importance to mankind.
Let me suggest another question on which research is needed: Why are so many automobiles abandoned during a moderate snowfall?
Millions of people all over the world cope with deeper snows than the one that put us on our ear on Monday.
After all, the modern automobile is designed to operate in cold weather. A driver who combines prudence with a modest amount of skill can safely guide an automobile through rain and snow. Defrosters, wiper blades and tires are now more effecient than ever. Roads are better. Snow removal equipment is more abundant.
So I ask: Why were so many cars abandoned on Monday? What would we learn from a case-by-case study that produced firm statistics on why each car was abandoned? For example, is a car always abandoned because it won't run, or is it sometimes abandoned because of the driver's impatience with delay?
Some people think most of the trouble this week was caused by lack of snow tires. Others say, "At least 90 percent of those turkeys ran out of gas." Also blamed were lack of antifreeze, careless or inattentive drivers, lack of proper maintenance -- "especially the failure to replace radiator hoses that have given ample warning they're about to let loose," people who are selfish and uncooperative, weak batteries, drivers who crowd into blocked intersections, bald tires or tires that have insufficient tread, and, as one man put it, "people who are rotten drivers on dry days, too."
All these factors may have had something to do with the mess caused by abandoned vehicles, but a list this long does not center attention on the major reasons for automobile breakdowns during a snowfall.
I have a hunch that a serious study would reveal that one or two major causes account for a majority of the abandonments. If we had that kind of hard evidence to work with, we'd know what needs to be done to avoid periodic repetitions of such chaos.
Before Sen. Proxmire zaps me for suggesting the waste of tax dollars, let me hasten to point out that my project isn't really up to federal spending standards. It involves no millions. The basic data might be gathered by the police, or by private tow truck operators asked to report on each towed vehicle.
An irate woman called me on Monday to complain: "Traffic is moving past my bus stop just fine. Everything is normal except that there hasn't been a bus past here in more than half an hour and I'd like to know why."
The answer from Metro's Cody Pfanstiehl was, "You can tell the lady we are terribly sorry but her bus and a lot of other buses are hung up downtown because the farmers moved 250 tractors from the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Things may be running just fine where she is, but it's going to be a while before the buses can get out to where she is."
Fred Herbold asked whether Metro is being reimbursed for the buses it is using during the Great Tractor Invasion. The answer is yes. Metro is required by law to charge for its services. And the charges are substantial.
Thomas S. Trimmer, director of Metro's Office of Bus Service, tells me the police are renting 71 "older" buses and 34 modern buses normally used for charter work. Of the 71 clunkers, 49 were taken out of Metro's "mothball fleet" (reserves) and 22 were old buses recently replaced by new ones but not yet disposed of.
It cost Metro about $30 per bus to put the 71 old buses into running order (some didn't even have batteries), and it will cost about $30 more to prepare them for mothballs again."When this is all over," Trimmer said, "we'll figure out what our costs were and bill the police for them."
The 34 charter buses cost an arm and a leg. Each comes complete with driver so that the police can use them to shuttle their forces. The basic price is $23 an hour, with extras for premium time (rush hour), overtime, and "prep charges." Don K. Hildebrand in Metro's charter section indicated I could figure on $575 to $600 per 24-hour day for each bus.
When we add in damages to buses and other physical property, and overtime for policemen and others, we'll have a tidy little bill to pay.
My telephone bell was fixed by 9 a.m. Isn't science wonderful?