Trafficking in Traffic
One of the most visible and obnoxious effects of growth is traffic congestion. Even among those Boulderites who aren't sanguine about government slow growth policies one hears gripes about congestion.
We're told that public transportation is the answer. If only the Hop and the RTD Eco-Pass get enough funding, the problem will be abated. If only enough bike paths are constructed, it will make a difference.
Reality: no amount of funding for busing is going to make more than a 2% difference. Good grief, many of the buses running now are all but empty. And plenty of people could not or would not use a bike as an alternative.
So a better question to ask might be: why do people choose to drive instead of taking the bus? I believe their are two main answers to this:
Automobiles are infinitely more convenient.
Automobiles appear to be cost effective.
Cars are more convenient because they can be driven from door to door, anytime the driver likes. And thanks to government subsidies for roads and highways, the driver doesn't have to pay the full cost of his driving.
But what if an efficient system of public transportation could be developed that would rival the convenience of driving one's own car?
This isn't necessarily a pipe dream. It is possible, using global positioning technology and dynamic route scheduling available today, to construct a transit system in which individual drivers, operating their own or corporate vehicles of varying sizes, receive dispatches from a central point and provide door-to-door service for customers. The customer picks up the phone (or modem!) and says "I want to go from this address to this address at this time." The request is passed to a jitney operating in the area, which stops by to pick up the passenger, together with other passengers headed for similar destinations. If necessary they can rendezvous with another vehicle to complete the trip.
Some taxi companies are already experimenting with this kind of technology. As usual, their biggest obstacle is government. Mr. Leroy Jones, founder of Freedom Cabs, Denver's first new taxi company since the Truman administration, had to fight in the courts for four years just to earn the privilege of going into business with a few cabs. In the transit business, one has to prove that there's a need for your services not being met by your competitors before you can go into business. (How would you feel if this standard were imposed on whatever business you work in?) Jones' tenacity is a credit to him and his associates, and a damning indictment of government transit regulation.
I propose to introduce legislation to strip the Public Utilities Comission (PUC) of its power to license transit for hire in Colorado. Any person should be permitted to offer their services who has a valid driver's license, a vehicle that passes a simple safety inspection (working brakes, seat belts, etc.) and adequate liability insurance.
Would this stimulate the creation by the free market of a public transit system that would actually be convenient and inexpensive enough for the public to use in preference to their cars? If so, what would it look like? I frankly have no idea, and you can bet nobody at RTD does either. But I do know that there's a tremendous potential market (hence demand) for such transit services. So I see two possible outcomes here:
- It's possible to build such a system, and we get one produced at the expense of the entrepreneurs who will profit from it, just as we get new computers, software, and fax machines today.
- It's not possible and we don't get one. But at least we'll have saved a lot of wasted tax money by not letting government try it.
And in the meantime, we'll have eliminated a lot of foolish regulation and probably created quite a few jobs. I believe this is what is commonly known as a no-brainer.
For a more general discussion of growth and traffic issues, please see my article Growth and the Free Market