CITY NOTES

January 16, 2018

Let’s talk transit – and ideology.

Many conservatives/libertarians dislike transit, because they think it’s solely a subsidized public utility. But there’s a small subset of this bunch called Market Urbanists, who not only like transit, but think transit use would increase significantly if free-market policies were used in cities. Because that would mean the following 4 things:

1) Banning restrictive zoning, so that housing would get denser, creating the critical mass of people needed for transit.

2) Enforcing congestion charging, so that road use is priced based on driver demand. This would incentivize people to locate closer to their jobs, or commute in using different modes besides solo driving.

3) Liberalizing private transit from pointless bans and regulations. This would cause the industry to grow, namely through “micro transit” options like rideshare, bikeshare, carpool, ebikes, shuttles, dollar vans, etc. Some offerings might be bulkier, though, resembling the intercity startups like Megabus, Bolt Bus and the Brightline train.

4) Reforming public transit. Many Market Urbanists aren’t against public transit, per se, but think that transit agencies must improve their management and services as a condition to get more funding. And if they are unable or unwilling to do this, cities should seek privatization, by signing short-term, performance-based contracts with outside companies.

All 4 of these market-based policy ideas are politically unlikely. But if any or all of them were applied, there’s no doubt in my mind that many cities would have higher transit usage…because transit would be way better.

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