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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Bad Work From The Bush Administration

Monday, in the Washington Post, there was an article about efforts by Bush administration appointees to privatize the public transportation infrastructure: Letting the Market Drive Transportation Bush Officials Criticized for Privatization By Lyndsey Layton and Spencer S. Hsu Monday, March 17, 2008; Page A1

Now you know that I'm all for congestion pricing, but sacrificing mass transit to put public infrastructure in the hands of private companies is not exactly what I had in mind. In fact, I'd say it's a downright _bad idea_. Mobility is one of the things that defines opportunity, and equality of opportunity is one of the things for which we should be striving. The is especially true since the political climate doesn't look kindly on other types of equality, such as equality of financial, educational, and nutritional resources, among other. My point is not that user-fees are bad idea - to the contrary, I think they're a good idea. The problem is that privatization projects favor one type of transportation (automobiles), and use public money that would otherwise go to other forms of transit with (a) much lower economic barriers to entry for individuals, (b) smaller environmental impacts, and (c) greater community benefits. In addition, channeling the profits from transportation projects to private investors will increase the chasm between rich owners and poor users, further inculcating divisions of class and more than likely, race/ethnicity.

What really rubs me is that much of this has been done by an appointee with no background in transportation. Tyler Duvall, the assistant secretary for transportation policy, seems energetic and bright, but also sheltered and dogmatic. I'd be happy to read a deeper profile, and find out that he really understands the plight of the poor or even the middle-class, but Layton and Hsu didn't come to that conclusion. With no prior experience in anything transportation-related, Duvall was appointed by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters (she is really starting to get on my nerves). Like the bumper sticker says: if you're not outraged, you're paying close enough attention.

D.J. Gribbin, the Transportation Department's general counsel, was also profiled. He's the one who said, "It's almost sort of un-American that we should be forced to sit and be stuck in traffic." There is a lot to say about this comment, but let me just say I think we need to decide exactly what defines the term American. I think it would be a grave injustice to say life, liberty, and the ability to drive unfettered on the open road are the highest values to which we ascribe. Solipsistic lack of empathy in favor of dogmatic free-market theory may be internally consistent, but this thinking does not allow for the reality or complexity of transportation in America. Here are some other folks who Link to the Layton/Hsu article

And some other interesting bits:

http://citystreets.org/ (this one will join my regulars)




1 comment:

darren said...

I posted a rant on this a while back... http://city-bikes.blogspot.com/2007/06/bike-access-on-lexus-lanes.html

Short version -- privatization of public infrastructure runs into the 'agency' problem. There is no contract strong enough that will prevent a private entity from making choices with a view toward yielding profit, v. filling a public need.

That's not to say that efficiency isn't possible, but that potential efficiency (and in my prior experience, it really isn't a given) always comes at a price.

Bike there, with directions: