Government’s grip on transportation a no-win situation

People constantly excoriate the government for not operating like a business. For many reasons, this is really a false argument. But the most recent uproar over the effect of new government legislation is a perfect example of why the two are not the same.

The shuttle service that used to be provided by Metro in Seattle to Seahawk games has now gone away. This is a direct result of legislation designed to prohibit publicly subsidized bus systems from taking away potential business from the private sector.

It is legislation that was passed during the Reagan era. Now under Bush, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has used its authority to further clamp down on public transit. Putting the needs of the charter bus industry over the public is what has created this fiasco.

Whatever rationale was used to pass this legislation, it is clear that they did not pay attention to human behavior and why the private sector was not providing the service. People want something for nothing, or close to it, and the only entity that has a chance of doing that is the public sector.

The simplest reason is because public entities/government are not supposed to run a profit. They are to break even. Lack of need for a profit margin for the company and/or shareholders means less cost to the purchasers of the service. It is why public utilities are able to provide the same electricity/gas/water at a much cheaper rate than the private utility companies.

So, the buses that picked up ticket holders provided a needed service at a very reasonable rate. People got the buses at the park and rides, saving money and fuel. It also meant less traffic on the roads and around the stadium and less pollution.

Now, all those good things are in jeopardy because Metro is not allowed to offer the service. The only option the Seahawks organization has is to get a private company to run the shuttle. But the private charter companies are not able to provide a comparable service, especially in terms of price. In fact, a private company has said instead of the $6 round trip charged by Metro, it would cost them $25 just to cover costs. While some may still take this new shuttle, it would be very surprising to see the same level of participation.

People need to stop putting government in this no-win situation. The reason government does what it does is because the private, for-profit sector is unwilling to provide it. The “why” is the bottom line: Whatever the service is, it cannot be done by business and make money.

This is why public utility companies came into being. The people who weren’t being served were usually places where the population was not large enough and/or the prices were too high for the public to pay. It is why the large metropolitan centers in the country always get the newest, best and fastest widgets/technology. Anyone who has lived in Kitsap County long enough knows that to be true. There are still technology options that are not available in our area, but are available on the other side of Puget Sound.

It is unfair to constantly berate the public sector for not running like a business and then when they do, to punish them for it. Metro was doing exactly what the public expects of its government agencies — raising revenue from other sources than through taxes. Now, thanks to the legislation and the restrictive approach of the Bush administration, they can no longer do that.

This is bad legislation and needs to be rescinded. The free market of the business arena creates haves and have-nots. Mitigating that separation is a function of government — it ensures all citizens have access to needed services.

If providing shuttle service were such a good deal, the private sector would have done it. They did not and the public sector stepped in. Government should not be pilloried for trying to do the right thing.

Val Torrens covers local issues for the CK Reporter and North Kitsap Herald.

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