The case for de-regulating public transportation
A recent posting by Adam Cohen on a local website started me thinking about the PVTA and our system of public transit around here. We see the buses go by every day, going up King toward Greenfield and Florence Heights, and out toward Williamsburg and the jail. And from time to time, like every year or so, I ride one. And always the buses, which are huge, run almost empty. The motivation for the routes they run, a lot of the time, are political and humanistic. They serve the poor, the people who live in housing complexes, and the elderly, who have given up their cars. The Mayors of our towns pack a lot of clock with PVTA and when they say we need a bus, they get a bus. Light ridership? One size (big) fits all. My wife and I saw the same thing when we spent last winter in California, these huge buses running up and down the Coast Highway through affluent beach communities. Often they had no more than four or five people riding in them, most of them hispanic domestic employees on their way to work or going home in distant communities where housing is cheaper. You just think five minutes about these buses and their carbon imprint and huge engines and their unionized drivers and their administrational expenses and you might think, hey, there’s got to be a better way.
I think of Peru and their collectivos. If you want to get around Peru and you don’t mind a little excitement, you go down to the corner of the nearest main street and look for a collectivo. Hold up your hand and there will be a shriek of brakes, and you jump in. They were usually Datsuns when I was there in the seventies. They ran on no particular schedule: they leave their destinations when full, will leave their passengers off anywhere along the route, and pick up anywhere. And yes, they are anarchic, but thats not necessarily a bad thing. You get a good driver, and you might get a bad driver. But God gave you a mouth and you can yell and tell the guy to slow down, and organize your fellow passengers to yell at him too. Public transportation by ten guys with ten cars and dues and a couple people hustling passengers in the bigger cities. A little more anarchism in our over-organized over regulated world might be nice. There is a good posting on jitneys in Wikipedia, which are mainly popular in the undeveloped world. Since we are heading toward being an post-industrial economy, maybe its time to break the back of the public transit monopoly and license and lightly regulate jitneys. A Boston-Amherst-Northampton route would flourish and drive down Peter Pan prices. And the efficiencies are obvious. Cars that operate full or nearly full burn a lot less gas that these big heavy buses with their Cummins diesels.