COL Keep bar closing hour
Highway safety more important than more profits
The Rochester City Council should back away from moving the bar closing time to 2 a.m. While some bar owners are clearly in favor of such a plan, the decision calls for a review of two simple questions: What's to gain and what is there to lose by the approval of an additional hour of operation for bars?
In the end, the best possible argument for later openings lends more weight to the reasons for keeping bar closing time at 1 a.m.
Monday, the council's Committee of the Whole met to discuss the later closing option given to cities by the Legislature.
The 2003 session was one of budget cuts. It forced counties and cities to bear a tremendous financial burden formally carried by the state. Given the Legislature's dominating attitude toward "lower" levels of government, its move to offer local control on this issue feels a bit out of place. Yet, here we are, the time for a decision on "last call" has been served.
Asking what's to gain begs another question. First, a quick look at what's to lose.
In the extreme, there is the obvious potential for the loss of life, limb and property. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to traffic accidents but to say more crashes will come with a later closing time is not a simple link. Establishing such a tie, though, would answer the question of what's to gain.
In large part, if bar owners want to stay open later they have to believe that their customers will buy more drinks. The possible gain, then, is more sales for bar owners. The link between later closing and more crashes is the additional alcohol consumption made possible by more time to drink. That, in turn, could lead to more crashes.
For sure, some bar patrons will buy more drinks with a later closing than they would with the current closing time. In this policy decision, it's majority numbers that matter for bar owners and a tolerable number that matters for the community.
For bar owners, the additional sales assumption means there would be a tipping point where more sales would cover the cost of an additional hour of operation.
Then there are the additional gains. For the state, and city more sales mean more sales tax revenue. Also, a decision in favor of a later closing might mean people, or more lucratively, convention-goers looking for late-night activity would consider Rochester, among other 2 a.m. closing communities, as a destination.
For the rest of us, there would be a threshold where the additional alcohol consumption increases the risk of alcohol related automobile accidents beyond the current risk.
A third question, then supports both the assumption for the benefits as well as the arguments for sitting pat on the closing time for bars. Will bar patrons drink more with an additional hour than they would without. How do we know the answer?
Consider former Navy Adm. John Poindexter, most recently with the Pentagon and the author of the much publicized, but ill fated market-based idea for predicting terrorist events. Poindexter supposed that when money is on the line, people put their best thoughts forward. Oversimplified, Poindexter believed that people's financial decisions could also predict human behavior.
It's a bit of a leap but if bar owners are willing to risk their financial resources on the assumption that a later closing will result in more sales then there is good reason to believe that is just what will happen.
Will the benefit to bar owners result in a crossing of the threshold of additional traffic accidents? To answer this question, there is no market-based social theory on which to peg an assumption, only a feeling that more liquor sales will lead to more unnecessary tragedies. The risk is not worth the gain.
The city council should reject the option for a 2 a.m. bar closing.