Thursday, December 4, 2014
The Tory Plan to Fight Gridlock
The latest 'Tory Plan to Fight Gridlock' is typical of the much beloved social democratic approach to problem solving in Ontario. There are committees to be formed, fines to be levied, tax dollars to be spent and bureaucrats to be hired. There is so much to be done and so little time! You can be certain this call to action will do absolutely everything under the sun aside from actually solving the issue of congestion. The one great idea that came out of the mayor's press conference was that notion that Tory should "chip in and drive a tow truck himself". Great idea Tory! Why don't you start towing cars for a living and leave the rest of us alone for a while?
Tory seems to think the problem is people "sitting in the middle of an intersection blocking traffic" and that a crack down by parking enforcement will help solve it. As if us urban bumpkins have nothing better to do with our days than tie up crucial intersections while we twiddle our thumbs and only the benevolent intervention of our saintly government masters could save the day. Wouldn't adding the burden of additional vehicles (in this case, parking enforcement agents) to an area already struggling from too many cars and too few roads only exacerbate the problem? While this suggested sweep by the vehicular gendarmes will not do anything to lessen the struggle of drivers stuck during rush hour it will no doubt extort some additional funds for the city's coffers from hapless motorists, which is really the point. And how exactly is business going to get done in the city of Toronto if every delivery truck which dares to go about their work during rush hour ends up impounded? Why is the solution of our omniscient central planners to a shortage always to extol consumers to 'use less'? The proposed Tory crackdown is either simply idle talk, in which case it is annoying but useless, or a dangerous threat to the economic livelihood of the metropolis. Scapegoat people caught in traffic accidents or delivery drivers if you will but this problem is systemic not the fault of a few poor saps going about their day.
Of course fines aren't the totality or the mayor's plan. He's also going to kick construction into over drive (what problem can't be solved by spending more of the taxpayer's money, amirite Johnny boy?) and there's his nifty 'traffic control room' with live feeds of all the major arterial routes on a fancy control panel, behind which, presumably, Tory sits, clad only in a latex suit and cape emblazoned with a giant T, ready to dash off to the helipad on a moments notice and personally fly to the rescue of stranded motorists. As if we weren't spied on enough already by the state. No word yet on how much the city paid for all this fancy razzle dazzle technology, but hey, it's not his money he's spending, so who cares? There's also the vague promise of 'doing a better job' on the timing of construction; truly Tory elevates Monday morning quarterbacking to a fine art. Rest easy, good citizens, the one true king is here to personally oversee all the critical committees, your problems have been solved.
Is congestion simply one of those inevitable facts of life like death and taxes? Why do we never see shortages of say, j-cloths or television sets, yet we are constantly running out of health care or space for vehicles to travel on during peak times? The answer is in the price charged to the end user. On the market, if the demand for a good skyrockets and the supply stays stagnant then the price will go up until this whole process levels off and you reach a steady equilibrium. There are no shortages. These new higher prices also send a signal to entrepreneurs that consumers want more of a good or service and that there are profits to be made in supplying it. Unfortunately we do not have a market in roads; what we have is road socialism. Roads are supplied by the state and paid for by the taxpayer. The cost to the end user is not zero because of the gasoline tax but this amount charged is arbitrary, determined by bureaucrats and politicians and not reflective of market processes.
The solution to congestion - not a bunch of rigmarole, make work projects and fines inflicted upon the unwitting citizenry - but a real, honest to goodness solution is to simply privatize the roads. Not the sort of 'faux privatization' talked about in newspaper outlets where a city or province outsources a task to a company (this isn't privatization at all but simply another flavour of socialism) but simply allowing private individuals and businesses to own and operate roads and to collect whatever tolls they please for their use. Inevitably if a road company were faced with excessive demand during peak times then they would simply continue to increase their price until it leveled off and motorists could freely travel without the aggravation of bumper to bumper gridlock. And eliminating the dread traffic jam would hardly be the only benefit of this proposal. Road companies could advertise on the basis of safety and they would have an incentive to innovate in this regard as well. Exactly how many roads SHOULD we have? Without a price system there is really no way to determine whether we have too many, too few or just enough roads. We're left with the - at best - educated guess of some plodding government official, a poor substitute for the profit and loss mechanism of capitalism.
Perhaps some day in the future the flying cars promised to us by the creators of the Jetson's will arrive and we can leave the terrestrial problem of gridlock behind. Until that day arrives let's do the sensible thing and de-socialize roads and highways.