Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Another One Rides the Bus

I heard on the radio this morning that the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union is suing the MTA to get them to increase the size of their bus fleet. They complain that there are not enough buses to accommodate all the passengers waiting to ride them. As you can find out by following the link above, the Bus Riders Union was formed in 1994 to lobby for improvements in bus service in the L.A. metro area.

I can hardly think of a better illustration of the folly of organizing the production of goods and services through bureaucracy instead of markets. There's something truly bizarre about consumers having to launch lawsuits and lobby lawmakers to force businesses to sell them more of their product. Do we need a Fast Food Eaters Union to make McDonald's and Wendy's open more stores? If bus lines were operated by the market, rising demand would result in a temporary rise in price, which would increase profits, induce higher production, and eventually attract new competitors. Eventually, the new competitors would drive the price back down.

I'm simplifying, of course, because there are idiosyncrasies created by the state provision of roads, curbs, and sidewalks. Allowing "jitney" bus service could result in the destruction of regular bus service, because the jitneys could swoop in on the established bus stops and scoop up the passengers just ahead of the regular schedule. That would reduce the financial returns to having established stops and schedules, possibly leading to their disappearance. But these factors do not rule out market solutions, as Daniel Klein, Adrian Moore, and Binyam Reja have argued persuasively in their book on "curb rights." The use of specialized property rights in curbs (bus stops and the like) could allow for the emergence of a market in mass transportation without the bureaucratic nonsense.

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