Free the Buses

by Conor Friedersdorf

Matt Yglesias writes:

Bus lines don’t have the power to transform neighborhoods that rail construction possesses. But buses are by far the cheapest and simplest way of adding mass transit, and municipal leaders should always have their eyes on potential ways to improve things. One possibility that naturally suggests itself is to let entrepreneurs start private intracity bus lines just as we have inter-city buses running from New York to DC, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.

Unlike the barbering field I would want to see regulation of this kind of activity since there are genuine public safety issues and it would be useful to consumers to impose some kind of uniformity so that buses are recognizable, have interoperable farecards, etc. New York City features sufficient demand for this kind of thing that the local authorities sporadically find themselves doing “dollar van” crackdowns. I’m not sure real market opportunities for this kind of thing would exist anyplace else, but it would probably be worth other cities’ while to try to find out. Ultimately, instead of a publicly-operated and publicly-subsidized set of bus lines, you could have a set of competing private bus companies with government subsidies provided directly to the consumer.

Or it could even work without subsidies! In any case, breaking the government monopoly on mass transit is a good idea. And so is doing away with a lot of the taxi cab restrictions in municipalities. GPS and smart phones would seem to open up better ride-sharing possibilities too -- the drivers could even be compensated (which would be illegal under current law in, e.g., Los Angeles).