[ExI] Efficient transportation was serfdom

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Sat Mar 5 15:44:01 UTC 2011

Damien commented on my post:
>> ### Users almost always refuse to use them if charged the full price
>> and given alternatives (private mass transport, private individual
>> transport).
>> QED, no?
> No.  This is multiply problematic.
> 1) How many concrete examples can you point to of this being tried?

### You mean, declining ridership in public transportation that is not
subsidized? Thousands, wherever people start earning enough to buy
their own cars. I remember the hell that was going to school in
communist Poland, and how quickly people started moving out of cities
once cheap cars became available, even though public transport was
still subsidized.

Or, the perennial problems of Amtrak - almost nobody wants to use a
train and pay for it, if they can use a car.

> 1a) And which examples would we be looking at?  I see two main purposes
> of public transit.  One, common in the US and in smaller towns, is as a
> subsidy for the carless, typically the poor.  If you're too young or old
> or sick or otherwise unable to drive, or can't afford a car, there's a
> bus provided.  That runs every hour, is slow to get where you need to
> go, and doesn't run late, so you have to organize your life around it.
> Charging full price or talking about efficiency compared to car
> ownership is missing the point and meaingless, because it's meant for
> people who can't have cars, or sometimes for the 8-5 working crowd
> who'll keep a car anyway for weekends and nights.  It's also in a sucky
> space with sublinear scaling; if you doubled expenses by running twice
> as many buses, you'd make the captive users happier but still not
> attract anyone who had a choice.  So yeah, it won't pay for itself in
> any direct sense, it's charity.

### Free buses suck as charity too - think, what would you prefer - a
bunch of bureaucrats getting to spend hundreds of millions of dollars
to organize a grandiose transportation system, and not ever asking you
where you actually want to go, or rather receive a wad of vouchers to
spend on competing jitneys (usually smallish vans, sometimes larger
buses) that look out eagle-eyed for people waiting for a ride? I can
guarantee you that the former suck, and the latter work, and I know
this from my own experience (minus the vouchers, I had to pay cash).

Seriously, efficiency is the *overriding* consideration always and
everywhere. Even in charity situations.


 Local governments
> often require parking to made available in various places, an unfunded
> mandate subsidizing car lifestyle at the expense of pedestrian choises.

### There should be no government mandates, I agree.


> Cars are useful in part because you can get in and drive almost
> everywhere in the country, if you have the time... on government built
> roads many of which probably wouldn't pay for themselves as individually
> tolled segments.

### Of course they would. Roads in private gated communities are
getting paid for, whether by toll or by a monthly fee, and the fees
tend to be lower than the taxes that would need to be raised otherwise
(of course, because private bureaucrats are more efficient than
government ones).


 Dispersed settlement favoring cars has received
> massive government subsidies, ranging from subsidized homeownership to
> the postal monopoly charging the same rate no matter where one lives,
> rather than having to pay more to recieve mail further from city
> centers.  And of course there's been the subsidy of the right to
> automotive air pollution.

### You are correct, these are subsidies and I am against the home
mortgage tax deduction, against the existence of the USPS, and against
people stinking up my air, just as I am against subsidies to public
transportation. Your point is?


> 2b) Metro systems are expensive in part because of a choice to reserve
> roads for cars, leaving subways as the main alternative for fast
> transit.  A light rapid transit system, running on surface rights of
> way, can be a lot cheaper to build ($30 million/mile vs. $1
> billion/mile) while making cars less attractive.

### So why there is not a single system that works without subsidies
in any American city, or maybe even anywhere in the world?

Answer - rich people (i.e. most Americans) dislike having no control
of their movement, dislike wasting time in coordination with others,
they prefer the sense of agency attendant to initiating and
controlling movement in an individual conveyance. That's why as people
get richer, everywhere, they want to use first bicycles, then cars,
eventually private fliers, subsidies or no subsidies.

> So, no, if you're going to be a libertarian purist, you can't point to
> the US system of roads and cars and assume that's the natural state of
> affairs, or say that explicit public transit subsidies are unfair and
> inefficient in the face of implicit private transport subsidies.

### I am not saying that US roads and cars are in some way "natural"
and proper. I am only saying that using a hierarchical bureaucracy to
disburse subsidies for and levy taxes on various activities is
inefficient, compared to arrangement of exchange of considerations
among multiple independent players. Sometimes it is efficient to ride
in trains, sometimes in buses, sometimes in cars - but the issue is
the mechanism you use for choosing between them. Free trade under
almost any circumstances more efficient than a large bureaucracy.

There should be no a priori preferred transportation system,
safeguarded by tailored laws, subsidies, bureaucrats, and lionized by
ideologues of any stripe - instead, there must be a finding-out, an
exploration of the space of possibilities achieved by the distributed
computational process of millions of people haggling with each other
over what they want to sell and buy. Whether they discover light rail
paid by yearly subscription or private jump jets as the correct answer
to their particular needs, is not for me (or you, Damien) to decide.


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