- Politicians are suppressing affordable direct travel options
- Then subsidizing the slowest alternate routes
- All at the expense of families most in need
If there is a need to get from point A to point B, the shortest distance between the two is typically the one most traveled and most desired. Google Maps tends to think so too, but does tend to offer up some unique alternate routes. Sometimes I find myself asking Google Maps out loud “Why would you ask me to drive 30 min out of my way?” Perhaps you have done the same. Which is why you and I should be asking the North Carolina legislature why they want to waste our time and money suggesting slower alternate routes of transportation. Unlike Google simply suggesting other routes, not only are legislatures subsidizing slower routes, they are even preventing quicker routes from existing.
North Carolinians’ taxes are subsidizing “light rail” — billion-dollar alternate routes in Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill. These subsidies came into existence just as the legislature has begun charging ride-sharing companies such as Uber $5,000 annual fees just to be in existence.
The contrast is striking: legislators on the one hand force taxpayers to subsidize wildly expensive and inefficient light rail lines while simultaneously imposing charges on wildly popular, affordable and efficient transportation alternatives developed by free market entrepreneurs.
Last year the North Carolina legislature quietly pushed through a bill that codified practices already implemented by the ride sharing industry. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds: North Carolina’s legislators decided to pass laws mandating the same things the private free market sector was already doing. In addition to these unneeded regulations, was a stipulation that any ride sharing company wanting to operate in North Carolina will now have to pay an arbitrary $5,000 annual fee. The reason for the fee was never mentioned, but its obvious it was to keep out competition.
Standing alone, this law severely limits innovation and creativity for new ride sharing opportunities. It slows if not prevents start up competition entering the market that would otherwise challenge the status quo of UBER or LYFT. Should these two companies ever become just another taxi service via government regulation, which looks to be more and more the case, consumers deserve opportunity for startups to fill the void. Adding a $5,000 price tag to start a business from scratch eliminates many potential opportunities.
When the ride sharing restrictions are coupled with the state’s insistence on spending billions of dollars on slower, less efficient, more centralized sources of transportation, it is evident lobbying, cronyism, and corruption are involved.
I recently came across a quote on Twitter that said, “Uber is so obviously a good thing that you can measure how corrupt cities are by how hard they try to suppress it.” Well North Carolina is heading there, but ironically it is via slow, outdated, and indirect light rail systems.
Just last week an article out of Charlotte highlighted how consumers are choosing ride sharing over light rail due to speed, affordability, and convenience. It should come as no surprise a service offering value from not having to walk dangerous routes, wait in the rain, figure out connectors, or even find where the stops are is outperforming a behemoth billion dollar state project that offers none of that.
Charlotte’s light rail service chief executive John Lewis actually advises riders to use UBER as a way to bring people to the light rail stop to wait for the train, then after riding the light rail to the next train stop to hop back onto an UBER to get where they wanted to go all along. This could only come from government, an institution that asked individuals to send physical letters as a faster solution to the internet.
The sad part about this story is women and families in low-income neighborhoods or on the outskirts of town could benefit directly from the very ride sharing opportunities the government penalizes. These are the same people allegedly helped by light rail, but in reality are shoved out through gentrification. Wherever light rail stations go up, families who depend upon affordable rental homes near their work or schools are displaced further and further away due to the rising cost of real estate.
Light rail is used to benefit politicians and well-connected developers and construction companies by using billions of taxpayer dollars on feel-good projects. These “businesses” and “jobs” “created” by light rail would more than likely have been created elsewhere if left to the voluntary choices of consumers and producers.
If light rail was capable of providing a valuable service for commuters at an affordable price, private sector entrepreneurs would invest in the projects. The fact that light rail relies so heavily on taxpayer subsidies tells us that society values light rail services far less than the actual costs of providing the services. Jobs and other scarce resources wasted building light rail projects should and could have been utilized elsewhere by productive businesses and entrepreneurs who provide higher value for their customers than light rail does.
If our state is serious about transportation, they wouldn’t spend tax dollars on billion dollar projects benefiting only the rich; they would eliminate barriers to affordable and direct transportation North Carolinians are already choosing in spite of government.
But then again… I guess politicians would be out of a job if that happened.
To learn more about the history of North Carolina transportation policy dating back to 1985, check out the Civitas Institute’s public policy guide series here.
Hear more from Greg on his weekly podcast Free to Brew. Available on Stitcher and Itunes.