Transportation can be called a “friction.” Costing us huge time and money, we spend as much on transportation in the US as on health care.
And now, we might add $50 billion to the total. In New Orleans, talking about transportation, President Obama referred to that huge price tag for his “Fix It First” proposal. I know that it can make sense for the President to propose a transport initiative. Just mention air controllers or landing slots, highway construction, seaports, high speed rail proposals, municipal bus lines, the Acela express down the Northeast corridor and you think government.
However, Brookings scholar and transportation expert Clifford Winston says everywhere, our transportation system has massive negative externalities. We repair highways with pavement that is too thin. We charge airlines based on size but congestion caused by lighter planes is really the problem. We propose high speed rail but do no cost/benefit analysis. We build more roads that attract more cars and congestion gets worse rather than better. We repeat the past rather than implementing new ideas.
In a 51 page paper, an hour-long econtalk interview and a 2 minute video (below), Dr. Winston conveys a persuasive position. The pricing, the innovation, more appropriate incentives could all be injected if we experiment with privatization and deregulation. The goal is to boost private, business and government productivity just by diminishing transportation inefficiencies.
How? He suggests local experimentation with privatization and deregulation so that we get a better mix of the public and private sector.
Our bottom line: Currently a source of massive negative externalities, the US transportation infrastructure needs experimentation with privatization and deregulation so that it can help rather than constrain economic growth (and diminish your commuting delays).
Sources and Resources: If you have an hour, the econtalk discussion with Clifford Winston is full of insight. Because his paper is long and full of detail, it takes awhile to plough through it but at the least, do scroll to his tables. They are fascinating.