Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Metro monopoly keeps serving up laughs

Another question I asked my students was the following:
1) What kind of business is Metro? Are you happy with that? How could it be improved?

The answer of course is it's a sorry-ass government monopoly, which can only be remedied by competition. In the meantime it gets to do things like raise price way above marginal cost, pack people like sardines into rush hour trains, run non-rush hour trains rediculously infrequently, completely abandon bus schedules, put you on hold for hours when you call, run off the rails, open the doors while moving and on the side without a platform, run people over, and waste money on frivolous programs and excessive salaries.

Today's Examiner finds one more reason to laugh or cry or cry through the laughter:

A Metro station manager and a Metro custodian were arrested on prostitution charges after an undercover transit police investigation found they arranged sexual trysts for money from inside the Dupont Circle Metro station.

At one point the employees used the Metro loudspeaker system to facilitate an illicit sexual arrangement, according to police who arrested the pair last week.

I think H.L Mencken's statements on democracy apply equally well to Metro:

I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can't make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?

This post is dedicated to Rusty at Why I Hate DC.


DC Mail Vigilante said...

How do you propose to introduce competition into Metrorail? I would love for them to build new lines and fix the foundational error of only building two tracks on each line, but if the government doesn't have that money (and it doesn't), how can private industry come up with the cash?

On the bus side, you can try competition, I suppose, but I'm not sure how any transit agency can make it without public subsidies. That $1.35 in cash to ride the bus would be a lot higher if riders (like me) instead of the taxpayers of DC (which also includes me) were paying the salaries. The only significant improvement the private but publicly-subsidized Circulator buses have introduced seems to relate to their schedules (they don't have them) and the design of the buses, both of which were chosen by the city. I don't know whether they're unionized or more economically efficient; I suspect no on both accounts.

Will McBride said...

Lower the barriers to entry. As far as I know, it's illegal to compete with Metro. You and I are not allowed to go buy a bus and start charging people for rides, nor are we allowed to buy a train and charge people for rides. We can't even give people a ride in a car and then ask for money, i.e. not without going through the horribly expensive, arcane, and political process of obtaining a cab drivers license.

Read Dan Klein's "Curb Rights" for some ideas on how to privatize urban transit. The short answer is to implement a higher degree of property rights in our public streets.