Cashless national park not acceptable

I am outraged and appalled that Lassen National Park is planning to no longer accept cash from May 1. This is a poorly thought-out policy that will result in unintended consequences, and inhibit public access, particularly to underserved communities. What if someone doesn’t use a credit card or smart phone? According to Forbes, 16 percent of US residents do not have a credit card (53 million people) and this rises to 27 percent of under 25’s (at a time of life when people need to be out enjoying our national parks). A further 16 percent of US residents (or 53 million people) do not use a smartphone, according to the US Census. How many have neither? It’s got to be in the tens of millions. These people will be shut out of Lassen Park after May 1 if this policy stands. We all pay taxes that national park employees depend on for their salaries and are legally entitled to access our national parks even if we do not own a credit card or a smartphone. Last time I checked, these items are not prerequisites to citizenship. I think it is more than likely that a lawsuit will be filed in response to someone with cash being turned away from Lassen National Park after May 1.

Even if you do own a credit card and smartphone, this still limits your options and access to public lands. What if your credit card is maxed out or if it has been unexpectedly blacklisted because of an unauthorized charge? What if the power is out and a credit card cannot be charged? This reminds me of the ill-conceived CalTrans policy that fails to properly maintain payphones (or even emergency phones) at rest stops, putting public safety at risk. If your smart phone runs out of charge or you forget it, or if you are one of the 50 million US residents who don’t own one, and there is an emergency and no one else is around, your safety is at risk.

This is the same attitude that depicts landline telephones as outdated even as people burn to death when VOIP or cell phone systems fail during wildfires, as happened in Paradise. The public pays a steep price for (perhaps) well-meaning administrators who eliminate legacy systems and don’t think things through or properly consult the public.

This policy raises many other issues, for example, privacy. A battered or victimized person may not be able to seek safe shelter at a campground if they are forced to use a smartphone app or credit card that their abusive spouse can track. Keeping cash payments is a cause that people from all political persuasions can support.

In speaking to the park administration, it appears that Lassen National Park will continue to accept cash if people insist. They are just telling the public that they will not accept cash. This strikes me as dishonest. If they accept cash, as I believe they are legally required to as a public agency, they should be upfront about this, and let people know it is an option. We need fewer barriers to accessing the outdoors, not more hassles and complications, particularly for low-income folks who may not have bank accounts or smart phones.

People need options and choices in their lives to increase accessibility and safety, and when administrators in charge of the public purse limit these options and choices out of a misplaced desire to “modernize,” people need to speak out.

Call Jim Richardson, Lassen superintendent, at (530) 595 6101 or e-mail him at jim_richardson@nps.gov.