Thursday, November 09, 2017

Private Roads?



        Libertarians ask why the state government of Virginia acts more as an impediment to solutions to transportation problems than as a facilitator. 

        In this country, this is a development coincident with the arrival of the misnamed Progressives, the socialists of the early 1900's, who encouraged the governments at all levels to take over the means of transportation.  Before the socialists, roadways were provided by the private sector -- examples include the Brook Turnpike (now US Route 1), Three Chopt Road (the traditional name of what is now US Rt 250), Telegraph Road in Northern Virginia, etc.

        These examples provide refutation of the popular idea that if roads weren't provided by the state, no one would build them.   Indeed, the state would rather you didn't know that the majority of pavement put down here is built almost entirely by developers.  However, state law makes it all but impossible for developers to retain or sell roadways, so in most cases the road is ceded to the state or local government upon completion of each development.

        Further, it takes a bunch of legal wrangling with the state and local authorities to build a road not on the Department of Transportation's wish list.  It takes all that and an act of the General Assembly -- or several of them -- to build a private toll highway like the Dulles Greenway.  Even then, so egregious are the government's restrictions and requirements even when approved that the ability of those roadways to pay their investors back is hobbled to the point of being a guaranteed money-loser.

        The biggest boon to be realized from allowing the private sector to provide roadways is that they would be built and used more efficiently.  For example, governments have never used demand-based pricing.  That's why many government roads turn into parking lots around rush hour, and it's why buses and trains remain basically empty most of the time.  It's also why a relatively rigid 9 - to - 5 work-hour mindset now pervades the nation.  Most importantly, free government roadways have directly caused explosive urban sprawl.

        Consider: a private road operator would see the massive demand around 9:00 and 5:00, and would adjust the prices (tolls) charged to get on the road during those hours, to reflect the heightened demand.  As a result, road users would have a greater incentive to use alternative means to avoid the rush hour pricing -- riding buses & trains & carpools, moving closer to their work, pressuring their employer to offer alternative work hours and telecommuting. 

        With state ownership or control of the transportation system, there will always be massive resistance to making efficiency improvements of any sort, so no one should be surprised at the super-jams in Northern VA and the growing jams around Richmond and Tidewater.  Nor should anyone be surprised at empty mass transit vehicles, and explosive urban sprawl.

        Privatizing the means of transportation would allow new ideas to be brought into an industry that has been horribly stagnant since governments took it away from the private sector in the twenties and thirties.  The prime example is AVI -- Automatic Vehicle Identification -- a method of charging tolls without stopping the vehicle to exchange money.  AVI has been around for forty years but was effectively shelved until only very recently because the state had no incentive to develop it.  Who knows what other conveniences and efficiencies could be obtained by getting the slow, inertia-laden hand of the state out of the transportation business?

        There is the problem of government (and corporate) tracking of your movements with AVI.  That is a problem, and there are ways to address it, but that could be a long discussion that is outside of the scope of this article.

        Libertarians would abolish invasive agencies such as the DMV and instead allow any notary public to document vehicle ownership changes.  Private entities should be allowed to sell license plates to car owners.

Further, Virginia's Vehicle Inspection regulations and insurance requirements should be repealed.  Once roads are privatized, road owners would be free to require the equivalent if they wish, and the road owner's liability insurance provider would also be free to set their coverage rates appropriately.

        Separation of Transportation and State is a long-overdue idea.

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