Thursday, January 4, 2007

The dedicated lane to serfdom

The LTC, the London Free Press reports, has a nine-year $105 million plan to increase public transit ridership in the city 54 per cent by 2024. The plan includes, among other proposals:

  • a new transit system design based on key nodes — shopping areas, major schools and businesses — and major road corridors,
  • $68 million spent on 102 replacement buses and 32 additional buses to expand service,
  • implementation of bus rapid transit, or BRT, with pickups on some routes every five minutes during rush hour, depending on demand,
  • special traffic signals giving buses a jump at key intersections and a computerized traffic signal system that gives buses priority to stay on schedule,
  • dedicated bus lanes expected on only the four corridors with the highest demand, including Richmond Street, Oxford Street East and all or part of Western, Wharncliffe and Wonderland roads, and
  • a $16.5-million satellite bus facility to ease congestion at the Highbury Avenue headquarters.
It is not at all uncommon for businesses and industries to invest in anticipation of and to stimulate demand for their services, but risk is assumed for these ventures by the investors with no guarantee of success. While some of the measures proposed in the LTC's plan are arguably only reasonable responses to present trends in demand, the plan differs significantly from private business plans with an explicit ambition to artificially engineer demand using tax-funded resources to make private transportation more inconvenient — dedicated bus lanes on Richmond Street! — and because the LTC will not assume any risk at all for the almost inevitable failure of central-planning-driven quotas because the $105 million will be funded more not less from taxes than fares. And given the history of cost estimates for government capital projects, the investment from taxes is likely to prove much higher than reported now, in addition to the estimated $19 million increase in annual operating costs by 2024.

A public monopoly enjoys the unique non-competitive privilege among service providers that it is closely wedded to the political structures that control public assets such as, in this case, roads, traffic systems and tax revenues. The legitimacy of its service as a monopoly, so far as it can be said to have any, depends entirely on its response to actual demand from the public itself, not the achievement of the political objectives of particular constituencies like environmentalists nor the self-seeking promotion of its legitimacy. The substantial subsidization of the LTC already demonstrates just how much actual demand there is for its service. This plan needs to be severely curtailed.

11 comments:

Jake L said...

As a student in London, I am forced to purchase a student bus pass out of the tuition fees I pay to subsidize a transit system that is ineffective and overcrowded. Even though I choose not to use it, I am NOT allowed to op-out if I wish.

Every time I have taken the bus to school, there is never a seat available to sit. Also, the bus arbitrarily travels through areas of the city (eg.downtown) that I don't want to go through to get to my destination. Besides, it takes one third the time to get from my home to my class via a car versus the bus. Not to mention having to sit or stand next to reprobates and other undesirables that frequently use the LTC.

Anonymous said...

Mapmaster,

"The substantial subsidization of the LTC already demonstrates just how much actual demand there is for its service."

Most of the users(other then students) of the LTC are not wealthy. We do not own cars nor can we afford one. We already pay $2.50 each time we use it the bus. It costs me $10/day to go to work, run errands and make it back home. You should really try catching a bus anywhere east of Adelaide between 8am and 6pm. You would then see the true demand, that is, if you can find room to get on one. In addition, many people use the bus because they recognize climate change as a significant problem. I was in my t-shirt today on my front porch...?

I dislike bureaucracy and government as much as you but making public transit open to the competitive market? I wouldn't be able to afford riding on that system after a few years of its existence.

Honey Pot said...

It is getting to the point where only the wealthy will be able to afford a car. With the lefties demanding emmission test, expecting people to have working brakes, headlights and stuff.

Have to use some common sense about this. The grunts still need to get to work, to make money for the non-grunts, who will be able to afford cars.

I think it is a great idea, the thought of me walking five miles to get to work everyday, was making my legs ache.

MapMaster said...

Please note that I did not make the suggestion in this post that public transit ought to be privatized or open to competition, although anyone familiar with my thinking would quite naturally make the assumption that that is my agenda. Like Jake L., I am forced to buy a bus pass with my tuition and I frequently do take the bus when the weather doesn't suit riding my bicycle or when my better half has the car — including out to the east end. I'm not particularly opposed, as I think I mentioned, to necessary responses to actual demand for an existing service, but I am opposed to trying to engineer a demand using tax-funded resources to justify a subsidized monopoly.

I should add, of course, that you pay far more than $2.50 for every ride, even if you don't immediately see it, through taxes. In the absence of countervailing examples of private intra-city bus transit, I can only speculate but I would be very surprised if that private transit could not find efficiencies, particularly in labour costs, to reduce the costs per ride. And, of course, I must note that public transit already operates to achieve a political objective, that of economic redistribution. Let's not go any further down the path of politicizing a basic service, please; specifically…

many people use the bus because they recognize climate change as a significant problem

They are welcome to use the bus for this reason if that motivates them, but it is not a motivation for everyone. The expectation of political engineering is that everyone must pay for the motivations of a the politically correct crowd and is obliged to pretend as though they share them. I had wondered when the nice weather we are having was going to make an appearance as an argument for something here in the comments section. I am reminded of the Christmas break when I was a youngster when it was warm enough for me and my brother to play outside in short sleeves, the only real difference being that people back then simply remarked upon the weather and now they remark on the need for regulatory or surrogate means to engineer behaviour. (I'm also reminded of how quickly everyone forgets the unseasonably cool temperatures we had back in September and October.) I can only imagine the cumulative benefits for the climate of herding a few thousand extra Londoners into buses… in other words, none!

MapMaster said...

By the way, I'm grateful that no one has yet pointed out the most important and troubling flaw in the position I've taken… troubling, because I don't want to be troubled to answer it until someone notices it.

Anonymous said...

Actually it wouldn't be so bad to privatize transit - it works in most places in England. Transit is good, quick and cheap.

Then again, the cost of actually have a car and fueling it are a little more inline with the true cost of the automobile.

It's funny that you complain about subsidizing transit, but don't seem to have a problem with the subsidization of personal automobiles.

You complain that the city is going to use its regulatory power to force people into transit, yet they have done the same thing for the last 50 years with the personal car and single-family subdivisions.

I'm all for choice - but let's put those choices on the same playing field and have all their costs assumed by those who want them, as opposed to the state picking up the tab for their negative externalities.

MapMaster said...

You're quite right about the privatization of transit, and I apologize for the weak assertion that there is an "absence of countervailing examples of private intra-city bus transit…"

I also agree with the last preference for having "costs assumed by those who want them, as opposed to the state picking up the tab for their negative externalities." However, given that neither will the transit service be privatized nor will the city relinquish tax-funded ownership and control of and decision-making over roads anytime in the near future, I steer an admittedly less-than-satisfactory course choosing between the lesser of evils which I tried to address by saying:

The legitimacy of [the LTC's] service as a monopoly, so far as it can be said to have any, depends entirely on its response to actual demand from the public itself, not the achievement of the political objectives of particular constituencies like environmentalists nor the self-seeking promotion of its legitimacy

which I would extend to the city's monopoly over other services, including roads, that use public resources such as taxes because they are public resources. There is, of course, no way to completely gauge actual demand in the absence of an unsubsidized pricing structure and competition, but it would seem evident to me that there is far more demand for automobile capacity on roads than there is for public transit. I don't quite completely agree with your contention that this is a product of regulatory engineering by the city re. land-use and road development — although many of the city's policies in these regards have created artificial incentives for sprawling and car-friendly development, I would claim that much of that would have occurred in any case simply as a response to actual demand from consumers for detached suburban dwelling, and that the city's land-use and road development policies have been in large part a bureaucratically-filtered response to that demand… obscured and misapplied, yes, but still more a response than an attempt to engineer anything beyond additional assessment growth.

Anonymous said...

I would claim that much of that would have occurred in any case simply as a response to actual demand from consumers for detached suburban dwelling, and that the city's land-use and road development policies have been in large part a bureaucratically-filtered response to that demand

So what created the demand for detached consumer dwellings?

Could it be the subsidies for oil that allowed people to drive further into the suburbs? Sounds like artificial demand created by government intervention to me.

Could it have been the massive subsidies through CHMC to build sprawling single-family subdivisions? Again sounds like artificial demand created by government intervention to me.

People will take whatever they can get at the cheaper price - if the government subsidized my condo and gave me free transit, I'd like it a lot more and I'm sure a lot more other people would like it too!

The point - today's market of personal automobile use and single-family homes is demand created by government intervention; no more than the transit orientated development you trash the government for promoting today.

Let's drop all the subsidies to each side and see what people really want and will pay for!

MapMaster said...

Let's drop all the subsidies to each side and see what people really want and will pay for!

I'll go for that in a heartbeat… but it's not going to happen any time soon, so where do you start? That's all I'm really trying to get at.

I've no doubt that subsidies of oil, roads and land uses outweigh the taxes on consumption of those products, but detached single dwelling residential development is a tradition in this neck of the woods that predates almost all of the market-distorting regulatory and subsidizing regimes. Historic developments like Old North and Old South are not really any less sprawling than modern suburbs — grid patterns and big trees tend to distort most people's perceptions of development, I'd say. Maybe I'm wrong, but individual home ownership is a cultural preference that drives demand quite apart from government actions, at least to a large extent. In fact, a detached dwelling with a front and back yard is my favoured choice, not simply as a calculation of the benefits and costs I can achieve from government actions.

Anonymous said...

Could it have been the massive subsidies through CHMC to build sprawling single-family subdivisions? Again sounds like artificial demand created by government intervention to me.

I'm not sure if I could call CMHC a "massive" subsidy. They provide taxpayer-subisidized mortgage insurance ... and that's about it. If you have other figures however, please share them. And of course, even a weasly little commie government mortgage insurance agency is an abomination and I would love to see it kicked into the dustbin of socialist history.

Far more distorting to the economy is the Bank of Canada, with its low interest rates, helping to drive the recent housing bubble. I think a good deal of the sprawl of the last few decades (not to mention the raping of a lot of forests on crown land for lumber) can be laid at the feet of this agency, which is nothing but a tool for politicians to buy elections with inflated money. Ludwig von Mises, et al, will set you straight about these jokers. They too should be flushed down the toilet of history with their buddies from CMHC.

But in the end, people love to own a big house on a large lot, and they love to have a car. The only problem is when they all try to drive their cars over large distances, to the same place at the same time. Why do they do that? Because their jobs and their schools are forced by federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations to take place at "licensed", "approved", "subsidized", "mandatory", "unionized" or "zoned" locations. It is these Big Brother tendencies which force people against their own instincts into herds, which are cramped, uncomfortable, crowded, expensive and polluted, but which make it wonderfully easy for governments to tax, control, and crush their citizens' spirits.

If you don't wish to look at the big picture of why you're so uncomfortable on the bus, then look at the little picture. Public buses suck because they're not provided for the benefit of ordinary people going to ordinary jobs and schools. They're a welfare program for the drivers and mechanics who make far more money and benefits than people in the private sector, and especially for the bureaucrats who serve no useful purpose whatsoever except to use up valuable oxygen and office space. They're also a welfare program for little old ladies who need to go to the mall and the hairdressers at non-commuting times, which is why you see so many nearly-empty buses cruising around all of the far-flung neighborhoods of your city at odd hours. I mean, the little old ladies DO have a need for the buses, because the value of their pensions has been destroyed by government inflationary policy ... implemented by the Bank of Canada ... pumping newly printed money into suburban tract housing ... feeding off taxes sucked out of regulated businesses ... concentrated downtown where they can be taxed and controlled more easily ...

Sorry, you can't look at the little picture, there is only one Big Picture no matter which way you look: your government hates you, but they love having you as a slave.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I could call CMHC a "massive" subsidy. They provide taxpayer-subisidized mortgage insurance ... and that's about it. If you have other figures however, please share them.

My point about CMHC was not what they do today, but what they did post WWII which lead to the suburban boom.

Remember that prior to WWII there were suburban homes, but they were mainly connected via mass-transit. Cheap oil coupled with generous money from the government made single-family suburbs the norm for the masses.

The idea that single-family home ownership is ingrained culturally and has been persistent since time began is a little off-base. Single-family ownership for the masses is only a recent phenomenon brought on my government intervention.

Yes there has always been some sort of suburban home template out there, but it was expsensive for most. Thus prior to WWII and earlier, many more people would have lived in multi-res or higher density developments due to transportation limitiations.

I'm not arguing people don't have the right to live in single-family homes in the suburbs. I just don't want to be on the hook for paying for it.