Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crime And Punishment

Some of my professors, when covering the Middle Ages and the birth of Islam, applauded Muslim jurisprudence for its moderation. One key example was punishment for theives: under Sharia a convicted thief lost his/her right hand as punishment. In a time when Europe was hanging people for the same offense, on the surface this seems humane. However, one item that wasn't covered all that well is that in Islam the left hand is "unclean:" anything done with it is deemed evil, and eating with it poisons the soul. A faithful Muslim thief, without the support of family or charity (unlikely given the offense), would starve to death rather than risk damnation, and a thief who fed himself would be shunned by society as sinful and unrepentant.

In this context, the local flap over Nick Bollea's ability to drive has similar undertones. Bollea, son of wrestling star Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea, has a history of poor driving, including a spectacular crash in August 2007 that left his passenger John Graziano permanently disabled. Bollea entered a no contest plea and was sentenced to eight months in jail (he was released early for good behavior), five years of probation, 500 community service hours and suspension of his driving privileges. He's also facing civil action from Graziano's family.

In light of this, the hearing last month by the Bureau of Administrative Reviews to grant Bollea a hardship license is getting a lot of press here. DMV hearing officer Cindy Van Dunk was reluctantly persuaded to issue the license to Bollea after hearing his need for transportation for his new job. The decision is getting a lot of heat, at present from Bay News 9.

A "hardship license" in Florida allows someone who would ordinarily not qualify for driving privileges to get to work, school, church or medical services, but no more. There's also a strict work-only variant. It's not clear which version Bollea was granted.

Certainly Bollea is hardly a responsible driver from his prior actions. The job he cites as reason for the license - with a recording label - will likely put him on the streets at hours not unlike those where his prior accidents occurred. And Bollea has since then moved to California, which does not recognize the Florida document, rendering the decision effectively moot.

But consider this for a moment: regardless of all these things, depriving someone of driving privileges in a community with a bare skeleton of public transportation denies that person nearly all opportunities for employment. Transit in Tampa Bay is geared far more to getting residents to shopping than it is getting commuters to work. Many businesses are some distance from bus routes, and residential communities do not have ready links to commercial districts. Distances between bedroom communities and businesses make commute by foot or bicycle practically impossible. Unless one is content as cashier at a corner market or gas station, opportunity for those without cars is basically nonexistent.

I looked recently at commuting to work on the bus: staying within Tampa, and within the HARTLine service region, it would take me two hours at least, and two or three buses, to travel twelve miles across roads I could navigate on my own in twenty minutes. Much of that commute time would be spent waiting at the local mall for the bus traveling the next leg of the commute: a location five miles out of the way. It would also cost me $90 a month for a bus pass, versus at most half that in gas. Connections between Tampa and St. Petersburg are even worse: the only regular link is Greyhound, which runs only four times a day and requires a separate ticket, and HART and PSTA (Pinellas County's transit authority) do not accept each other's passes either.

Working in Southwest Florida virtually requires one to have personal transportation of some sort, and with the distances involved the automobile is the only practical solution. Denying anyone the right to drive essentially deprives that person of employment even as it makes the roads safer for the rest of us.

I'm hardly sympathetic to Nick Bollea. He is an irresponsible brat who deserved his punishment. However, his case highlights a problem here: public transit is not a viable option for anyone who has either a preference or a need for it, which makes suspension of driving privileges for any length of time effectively an inability to work. The suspended driver in this case is left little better off than the one-handed convicted thief in medieval Arabia.

1 comment:

  1. Why am I not surprised that mass transit is laughable there? Oh, right. Because it's laughable everywhere in the United States.