Thursday, May 9, 2013

The $35,000 Fullerton train station vending machine

A Better Inland Empire took note of the federal government potentially paying more for a library book vending machine at the Fullerton Transportation Center than what similar equipment sells for in the marketplace. The Fullerton Public Library installed the machine last summer which allows Fullerton area train and bus riders an option to borrow select titles from the public library without having to set foot into a physical library.

The idea is certainly noble. Giving more people free access to reading materials is very productive for education and gives regular commuters an incentive to continue using public transportation to get to/from work or school. However, the concept of expanding public library amenities beyond the building's walls may have fiscally played out better through a public-private partnership with a private retailer within the station area.

As mentioned, the federal government might once again be guilty of wasteful spending. The price tag for the book vending equipment was a whopping $35,000; the feds paid for that through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. At Aliexpress.com, similar equipment sells for about $5,000-$8,000 with shipping. The cost to convert the coin and dollar slots into a library card reader should not have cost more than a few thousand dollars. A small outdoor industrial book drop would be $3,000-$4,000 according to the marketplace. This does not add up to $35,000. This is another example of why federal spending needs to be policed better. $35,000 for a train station book vending machine certainly warrants a public audit.

To be fair, being able to complete government-related business remotely is a sound idea and deserves further exploration. Expanding the public's exposure to worthwhile reading material is certainly a productive option. Public-private partnerships is a practical means. The concept has worked before with private retailers selling RTA bus passes and is fiscally friendly.

2 comments:

  1. I'd bet that the difference between prices involves something having to do with checking books back in. The typical vending machine doesn't have to cope with taking goods back. Not to mention that there are probably installation costs, permit fees, and the cost of the books themselves.

    Furthermore, when our federal government is losing billions on infrastructure and (especially) military contracts, it's really probably not worth auditor's time to scrutinize a $35,000 book machine. Fix the big stuff first.

    Lastly, you keep talking about a "public-private partnership" here. I don't know of any private entities who are generally in the business of giving away books, with the exception of the pushier of the evangelical churches. A public-private partnership would not have accomplished this goal.

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    Replies
    1. The Fullerton Station uses a standard curbside book return bin like the one described, not an electronic one. While a full Single Audit may be going over the top, the point is that both federal and state spending needs to be policed better. When the public begins to question the $35K price tag for a train station amenity, somebody should investigate the transaction.

      PPP's and other partnerships have worked well in other areas such as smart growth and transit station development and could work here. The concept envisions a PPP under which a private entity would facilitate a small multi-use library annex on private property and by a private developer that includes basic library amenities, but also some other highly desirable community facilities which would generate a profit for the operator (e.g. tutoring, seminars, etc). The Des Moines Public Library for instance entered into a PPP with Tutor.com in 2008.

      Riverside County also nearly had a PPP-funded transit station built along the Ramona Expressway. The Villages at Lakeview development project would have provided RTA and RCTC with a fully paid-for bus transit station and park & ride, but because the development was too sprawl-oriented, the court rightly struck down its EIR. We have explored similar infill private development options to help pay for a bus transit station and downtown pedestrian bridge at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station and a robust courthouse square and transit station in downtown Hemet.

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