Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tax increase for busing?

On the heels of putting one proposed tax increase on the August ballot, the Kalamazoo County Commission is apparently considering trying to further raise taxes to fund an expansion of the county's bus system.

The Commission conducted a poll purporting to show support for such a measure:

"Slightly under half of 400 Kalamazoo County residents surveyed would vote for a proposal that would raise taxes by 1 mill to pay for public transportation, according to a poll conducted by a Lansing firm. But those polled also indicated that public transportation is not among their top concerns.

Forty-nine percent of the registered voters polled in the county from April 19 to April 27 said they would vote for the measure, while 39 percent said they would vote against it.

Three percent of respondents said they lean toward supporting the millage, while another 3 percent indicated they were leaning against the proposal. Six percent of the poll's respondents were undecided."

Of course, as with most polls, the results depend greatly on how the question is asked. Voters rejected the County's last attempt to raise taxes when they shot down the justice facilities millage a year ago.

I'd like someone to explain to me why the government ought to be running buses at all. Why can't bus services be provided by the free market? If you want to ride on a bus, pay for it. Don't demand that government provide buses.

Taxis are run by the free market just fine, and nobody seems to think that government should run them. Similarly, long-distance bus service is run by private companies. Why are municipal buses different?

Someone might argue that the poor can't afford to pay for bus fare. That person ought to do some research on the following question: which system provides lower prices--capitalism or socialism? Let me know when you figure out the answer.

But you might argue that we ought to subsidize the transportation costs of the poor. Assuming that this is the case, however, it would make much more sense to provide vouchers to the poor to subsidize their use of a private system. This would be akin to food stamps. Nobody seems to think that government should run grocery stores. Private charity would be much more effective than any government action, though.

My own experience with the bus system has reinforced my beliefs. Like most Americans, I avoid buses when at all possible. However, I have used the bus system a few times on Western's campus.

To start with, I should point out campus is practically the ideal scenario for making buses practical. The population density is high. The entry and exit points (e. g. dorms and classrooms) are concentrated. People have to move frequently from place to place.

Nonetheless, the bus system on campus was highly frustrating. The buses were often late and occasionally never came at all. For a student needing to be in class on time, this was simply unacceptable. Occasionally, during peak hours, the bus would be so full that no more people could fit on it.

Most people will never ride buses regularly because they require waiting around. They require you to schedule your life around the bus schedule. They often don't go where you need to go. They don't let you keep things handy, as you can in your car.

Regardless of these problems, a privately run bus system would be best. A for-profit company would have incentives to economize, provide the routes that people want, be on time, and provide good service.

As in so many other areas, government just doesn't work.

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