James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Free markets and mass transit

October 14, 2009
Matt Lewis favorably cites the book Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transport, as he makes the conservative case for mass transit:
For starters, their book seeks to shape conservatives’ views on mass transit by pointing out that our current system is anything but the product of free market forces. Since the invention of the Model T, the U.S. government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the highway system, while mass transit (which historically had been privately owned) received vastly smaller infrastructure benefits — while being taxed heavily to boot. What’s more, the government simultaneously prohibited these mass transit companies from raising fares.
Privately owned mass transit companies simply could not compete when they had to build and maintain infrastructure while their competition was funded by tax dollars. In addition, the authors note that post-World War II building codes in many areas created sprawl – a situation where homeowners cannot walk to work or to shop, and thus, must rely on an automobile. The authors present numerous and convincing arguments in favor of mass transit – especially street cars and electric-powered light rail trolleys – that are applicable to conservative thinking: Unlike automobiles, rail fosters a sense of community; increased use of electric rail would help accomplish national security goals by lessening our dependence on foreign oil; and mass transit policy is also pro-growth – something most conservatives favor.
Comments

Not much here to argue. I don’t particularly care for the highway system bashing… those links nationwide helped build the country after World War II, as if being the only major country NOT completely flattened by six years of all out war wasn’t enough of an advantage. More/better transit would be fantastic, but can never replace highways on any grounds.

Posted by the Shah | Report as abusive
 

If we could have just one example of a transit system that respects free-market principles, instead of mobbing up by adding dozens of city/county government officials to its board, then making unrealistic promises about service and unbelievable projections about traffic levels, and sticking the local government with the bond, all the while employing surly and underqualified people who cannot be made to operate their filthy vehicles safely, or to keep their stations crime-free, or to make their fares competitive with rider demand… then we might have the beginning of a conservative argument for mass transit.

Posted by nonono | Report as abusive
 

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