SLS: Re: AltInst: Road tolls would centralize cities

From: George L. O'Brien <>
Date: Tue Sep 08 1998 - 16:38:24 PDT

At 06:02 PM 9/3/98 -0700, you wrote:
>On Thu, 3 Sep 1998 wrote:
>> Hong Kong has opted for modern transportation, buses, subways, some
taxis, and
>> elevated people movers (really nice). Nobody needs to ride a bike in Hong
>> Kong. Hong Kong is the best solution, the cleanest air, and the fastest
way to
>> get around. It is a thoroughly modern city. For developed cities with a
>> population density, the best alternative is a variety of mass transit
>> solutions. There is no freedom like not having to own a car. The buses burn
>> kerosene so they do not pollute as much as in China.
>Yes, expanding mass transit probably is the best solution. How did Hong
>Kong develop its mass transportation system? Here in the US, it seems
>impossible for municipalities to obtain adequate funding for mass
>transportation solutions. Why is this?
> Karl
Prior to the "unification", a privately funded and operated subway system
was built in Hong Kong. I am told that it was considered a financial success.

Obviously, the high population density in Hong Kong made this form of
transportation more economically feasible that it would be in cities built
primarily after automobiles were introduced. You can't expect a policy of
low density housing and low subsidy mass transit to work.

A policy of complete privatization of arterial transit (limited access
highwasy and mass transit) plus an elimination of laws preventing the
development of ultra-high density housing along arteries might lead to the
kind of shift visulized by critics of urban sprawl. However, there are
several political reasons why this is not likely in the near future.

1. Most automobile owners resent paying for a toll to use roads they
thought they already paid for through fuel taxes.

2. Many drivers oppose proposals for the creation of new private toll roads
because they believe that it would discourge the building of more "free"

3. Any privatization of arterial transit reduces the relative
attractiveness of land not near such arteries. This means that people
owning that land, developers, and others would experience a wealth decline
relative to those along the arteries.

4. The current system permits those with substantial political clout to
acquire marginal land and quickly increase its value by lobbying for
highways and other transit into their area. The benefits of such programs
are quick concentrated while the cost in terms of congestion, polution, and
opportunity cost are quick difuse.

5. Privatizion of arterial transit makes pricing of transit cost more
transparent and thus making it harder to hide inter-group subsidization.
This means low income people are forced out of automobiles while high
income people can continue to drive. This result is not politically popular.

6. There is tremendous political resistence to the creation of any high
density housing by many of the same people who complain about highway

7. Many of the most vocal critics of the current system are ideologically
statist. This means that they will resist any privatization program that
reduces the control of transit by central planners even if the results
would be similar to what they are advocating.

It may not be possible to duplicate the success of the Hong Kong transit
system in a country where so few people believe in free markets.

At the same time, the U.S. is unlikely to move substantially to the total
"nanny state" which was necessary to create their transit system. American
central planners have an awful reputation (and for good reason) and
transportation design is simply a continuous special interests war.

[[ Portland central planning has an excellent reputation. But Portland has
favorable geography. -- DRS]]

In any case, I doubt we will see much improvement until things get impossible.

George L. O'Brien

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Received on Tue Sep 8 23:59:58 1998

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