Posted on June 3, 2008
The media breathlessly reports about the impending mass transit crisis. “Too many people are using it!” “Costs are skyrocketing!” “Trains are too crowded.” “The system is going broke.”
It used to be that mass transit was going broke because not enough people were using it. Now it is going broke because too many people are using it.
Such is the nature of public transportation. It loses either way.
By ignoring the fundamentals of supply and demand, by ignoring the basic tenets of good business practices and by being generally inefficient, public transportation doesn’t serve its customers as well as it should.
Amtrak is a perfect example. I recently took a train from DC to Philly, paid a ridiculously high price for the privilege, and had service that only be described as subpar. One of the attendants was talking loudly on her cell phone throughout the short trip, while the other took a nap. For this, I paid double what I could have paid for a flight.
Of course, I try to avoid flying because of the humiliating and degrading experiences that require you to basically disrobe any time you get on the plane.
I am not philosophically against public transportation. I take the Metro every chance I can (which is actually a pretty good system). But for mass transit to work, it needs to be customer oriented, efficient and employ basic market principles.
A sharp increase in the number of mass transit users should be boon to the system, not a burden.