Sticks and carrots • It’s understandable that, when Wasatch Front residents are warned of especially unhealthy air, some of them may ignore the pleas to reduce driving and, instead, head for the mountains. And that means they end up driving even more and farther than usual, defeating the purpose of “red” and “yellow” alerts. The Utah Department of Transportation and University of Utah researchers agree that has happened more than occasionally during wintertime inversions. While UDOT says signs help spread the warnings, still, too many people fail to heed them. This is just further evidence that relying on voluntary measures — simply hoping motorists will change their behavior for the common good — isn’t working. But what if state officials and UDOT teamed with the Utah Transit Authority to give away free bus and train passes during inversions. Still no mandate, but a worthwhile carrot for commuters. An increase in the fuel tax could provide a different kind of incentive as well as revenue for building more public transit. It could work.
Dollars and cents • It’s a bit of a joke: Many people will spend time and money driving to a gas station where the fuel is less expensive. Most of us shop around for the best prices, especially on big-ticket items. That’s the idea behind Randy Cox’s new website: pricinghealthcare.com. What’s more big-ticket than a hip replacement? But people suffering from hip pain don’t have a choice: There is no easy way to shop around for the best price on a new joint because hospitals keep their prices secret. Cox’s website will let consumers do just that online. It’s a new idea — sort of a Wikipedia for health care costs — and not without pitfalls. In order to use the site, you must enter data on a medical procedure and its costs. The site aggregates all the consumer-contributed data, and that will certainly take a while. Cox’s concept depends on enough consumers being fed up with rising costs to join him in introducing more transparency. Something health care has too long lacked.
Work and food • A corporate giant and a local social service agency have joined forces in a program that employs disabled people in a process that provides large amounts of food for charity. Smith’s Food and Drug is shipping large amounts of unsold nonparishable foodstuffs to a distribution center run by the nonprofit Columbus Community Center. There, workers scan each item to determine whether it should go back to the manufacturer, be discarded or, in the case of 360,000 pounds of food annually, be donated to area food banks. A cost-conscious corporation saves itself some work. Some people who might not otherwise have a job get a good one. And the poor get more to eat. A good deal all around.