Sorry, Mr. President, Government’s Not the Solution to America’s Transportation Woes
“We can rebuild our roads, upgrade our ports, and unclog our commute,” President Obama remarked in his 2014 State of the Union, “because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.” There’s no doubt that mobility is an essential part of modern life in a global economy. Work, school, and leisure are all grounded in travel. But the federal government is not the key to increased mobility, lessened congestion, and more access to jobs. Rather, the US can create more jobs and improve its transportation infrastructure by reducing the federal government's burden through privatizing its outdated air-traffic control system, investing in bus service over expensive trains, reforming highways, and encouraging private transportation solutions.
Today, planes in U.S. airspace are directed by the same air-traffic control system that was developed in the 1960s. The U.S. has fallen behind other countries in safety, speed, fuel efficiency, and reliability of air travel according to numerous studies. The American traveler would greatly benefit from entering the 21st century of aviation technology by depoliticizing the air-traffic control system, allowing entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley manage the system instead of government bureaucrats. Currently, America’s air-traffic control system requires planes to fly in a zigzag pattern, using more fuel and increasing costs for consumers. Plus, the FAA still uses procedures that limit the use of airspace, even as new aviation technology has been developed and used elsewhere. Canada privatized its air-traffic control system in 1996 and, unlike the U.S., it is a privatized and supported entirely through user revenues rather than taxpayers’ dollars. It’s high time to get travelers to their destination smoother, quicker, and cheaper.
U.S. cities should look to offer inexpensive, dependable public transportation to citizens who are either unable to afford a car or don’t drive due to practical parking and congestion reasons. However, the most economical way to achieve this is not by investing in expensive railway but rather widespread bus service. According to a recent study by Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, rapid bus transit provides cities “the best bang for the buck.” Similarly, the Government Accountability Office released a study showing that buses can provide service as fast and frequently as trains but with lowering operating and capital costs. Plus, buses are flexible and can be easily re-routed when travel patterns change or traffic issues arise. For local transit, buses save both passengers and local governments money while providing better service. For intercity trips, buses already provide fifty percent more passenger miles than Amtrak’s most popular corridor and again are less expensive. Randal O’ Toole of the Cato Institute writes, “Outside of a few dense places like Tokyo and New York City, there is nothing trains can do that buses cannot do faster, better, more flexibly, and for a lot less money.”
The automobile has enabled far more transportation than another other form. But U.S. highways, mostly constructed more than fifty years ago, are crumbling and unable to handle increased drivers. In addition, gas taxes are unable to properly fund highways due to more efficient vehicles. A new system of highway funding must be ushered in for the 21st century that will adequately fund roads and needed repairs. Mileage taxes, not gas taxes, would be the most efficient way to handle worsening US congestion by collecting adequate funds from drivers.
A 2010 Cato Institute report by Gabriel Roth found, “In the period of 1980 to 2008, the vehicle-miles driven in the nation increased 96 percent, but the lane-miles of public roads increased only 7.5 percent.” The best way to increase mobility and limit congestion for the U.S. is to utilize more lanes, specifically more high-occupancy lanes, add tolls, and price congestion. Highways should mostly be paid for by the individuals using the service, not from taxpayer subsidies. By adding more toll lanes to highways, the costs are concentrated on those cars and trucks which travel often and not gas taxes of individuals who may only drive locally. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded in 2013 that, “There is a consensus among economists that congestion pricing represents the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffic congestion.”
Current American transportation is not up to 21st century standards. Bus service has been substituted with expensive and poorly-run trains, airports are overly congested, and highways are jammed and need repairs. Plus, private transit companies are blocked from discovering innovative transportation solutions due to local and state laws and regulations. Governments have left taxpayers with mediocre service plus the expensive bill to go with it. The US needs to limit aviation congestion by privatizing air-traffic control, improve and expand bus service in cities, and expand highway reforms and innovations.
Matthew La Corte is a Young Voices Advocate studying political science and economics at Hofstra University. Hailing from Woodland Park, New Jersey, Matthew’s work has been published in the Passaic Valley Today and The Record