Bad Math Hits Home

Turnpike FaresI thought the story of George Vaccaro’s trouble with Verizon was a bit ridiculous. His Verizon Math blog chronicles his struggle to explain to Verizon the difference between 0.002 cents and 0.002 dollars. Apparently, before leaving the United States for Canada, he was quoted a data rate for his cell plan of 0.002 cents per kilobyte. He confirmed this with Verizon, and verified that this was the correct rate. Not surprisingly, he was charged 0.002 dollars per kilobyte when he got his bill, and had quite a struggle trying to convince at least three different people at Verizon that 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents are two different things. The audio recordings of the calls to customer service are truly amazing in that “I can’t believe these people are functioning members of society” kind of way.

Tonight, I was reading our local newspaper, the Stow Sentry. Journalistically, it’s in no danger of winning a Pulitzer, but usually it’s reasonably readable. Then, I found this little gem on page 12:

The Ohio Turnpike Commission announced automobile toll rates for the turnpike will increase in 2007 from the .037 cent per mile rate established in 1999 to .042 cents per mile in 2007.

We’ll leave Regional Editor Mark R. Potter’s sentence structure alone, and just focus on the math for a moment. On occasion, I drive from Route 8 (exit 181) to Route 77 (exit 173) on the turnpike, a distance of eight miles. According to these numbers, the fare is increasing from .296 cents for the trip to .336 cents. I’m figuring I can still afford to round it up to a whole penny. The problem is that the turnpike has been charging me 50 cents to make that trip for the last ten years. Even at twice per week (a very conservative estimate), that means I’ve been overcharged $1,036.92.

I’m not going to hold out for a check. According to the Turnpike Commission, the rate is changing from .037 dollars per mile to .042 dollars. Since they round the fare up to the next quarter-dollar increment, it’s still going to be half a dollar for me to make the trip.

What’s my point? Sure, the guy made a mistake. He probably knows better. Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe he had a deadline. Maybe he was an English guy in school who struggled through math. I don’t know him, I can’t say. And I’ve certainly made my fair share of typos on this blog. But the Ohio Department of Education says that students in third grade must “use place value concepts to represent whole numbers and decimals using numerals, words, expanded notation and physical models.” (Mathematics Academic Content Standards, page 132). It’s a good thing Mr. Potter isn’t in elementary school now — he might not get out. As it is, he may have a bright future with Verizon’s customer service department.

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