Time Part III: Right Turns Only, to Save the Planet

     One of the most ridiculous suggestions among Time magazine’s “51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference” was the idea of making only right turns. No, that doesn’t presage some political shift for the publication. Right turns, in this case, referred to traffic.

     According to the article in the April 9 edition, United Parcel Service announced in 2004 that “its drivers would avoid making left turns.” The UPS analysis said that would save lost time waiting at lights and lost fuel spent idling – a win for the company and the environment.

     But what’s good for a company with a fleet of trucks isn’t necessarily good for ordinary drivers.

     Look at ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” report on “one of the largest delivery companies in the world” – UPS. The April 3 story detailed the company’s “high-tech efficiency,” including what the reporter called a “low-tech secret,” having its drivers travel routes filled 90 percent with right turns.

    Of course, the idea is anything but low-tech. It’s reliant on an extensive network of computer-programmed delivery, mapping software and GPS positioning. Not exactly the kind of system ordinary people use to get from place to place.

     ABC reporter Brian Rooney claimed “You could do this yourself, plan your Saturday errands to the grocery, the dry cleaner, and the soccer field with as many right turns as possible.” But when Rooney interviewed UPS Operations Vice President Jim Winestock, Winestock described passing “drug stores, three or four on the left-hand side of the road, just to get to the one on the right-hand side of the road.“

     That’s exactly what Time magazine also advocated by placing this choice on its list.

     Each of the 51 things is rated by its “impact,” “time horizon” and “feel good factor.” Here are a few highlights (Time’s ratings on a scale of 1 to 10/low to high):

     ●  # 45 “Make one right turn after another” – The Time article referred exclusively to UPS and didn’t apply the idea to ordinary drivers. Perhaps that’s why this item rated both low in impact and feel good factor. Impact. 2 (And that ignores how many ordinary people would get lost, or simply travel longer distances, using this method and burn more gas.) Feel good factor: 3. (Much lower in places like New York, Washington D.C., or Los Angeles.)

     If you aren’t going to obey Time’s right-turn mandate, then why drive at all? That seems to be the magazine’s strategy – walk, take the bus, drive very little or make right turns.

     ●  # 14 “Ride the bus” – How many readers actually think Time employees take the bus to and from work or on assignment? Probably as many as who will listen to this lovely bit of advice. Time recommends we try “riding something many of us haven’t tried since the ninth grade: a bus.”

     The article pointed out that Americans drove less in 2005 because of high gas prices. It claims “The U.S. is ready to change. We’re just waiting for the bus.” Maybe at Time, but as the article points out, 88 percent of all trips are by car. Most people don’t give a darn about buses. Impact: 7. (It’s a 10 in Washington, D.C., where buses have impacted pedestrians several times recently.) Feel good factor: 3.

     It’s hard to do justice to all 51, so all this week the Business & Media Institute will be addressing the most entertaining or ridiculous of the suggestions. Here’s Part I and Part II.