walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

of jitneys, modes and roads

My blog posts have an active second life over on facebook where my friend Wm can be relied upon to bring his libertarian perspective and cutting sense of humor to a significant fraction of what I have to say about policy. This is often a surprise to my more progressive friends, and all I can say is no matter how annoyed I can get at what he writes in response to my posts, he both displays a lot of integrity (more than can be said for some "libertarians") and the way he lives his own life is admirable. If people can justify xtianity by the lived actions of believers, surely it can be used to justify libertarianism as well.

In any event, Wm pointed out that when there is no state support for transportation choices, jitneys do Really Well. Of numerous definitions available on the web, this is the one closest to my experience of the word: privately owned vehicle operated on a fixed or semi-fixed schedule for a fare. Back in the days of streetcars on rail, when cars did exist and had been around long enough that you might be able to buy one used, cities who built streetcar lines which served areas that did not justify frequent service suffered from jitneys. People who were trying to pay for a car (often that they had bought used) would drive along the streetcar line and pick up passengers in exchange for a slightly reduced fare. This was a big enough problem that the practice was made illegal in many places, altho that wasn't generally the reason given for making the practice illegal.

Jitneys are appealing to people who are appalled by cars driving hither and yon with no passengers other than the driver -- all of a sudden this horrifyingly inefficient thing has doubled or trebled or quadrupled its passenger miles per gallon of gas (well, not really, but pretty close). With no increase in fixed cost! Other people, accustomed to driving their own car, are often horrified at the idea of getting into a car with a stranger. My goodness! Horrible things might happen! Various schemes have been floated for bonding people, and for passenger and driver to check in when they are in a vehicle together so if something goes awry we'll know where to start looking for the body parts (after all, the driver has at least as much to worry about as a passenger -- arguably more, assuming the driver owns the car).

But jitneys, ultimately, aren't that different from taking a taxi or a bus (altho possibly friendlier and cheaper than hotels, the hostel experience has both its detractors and its fans; the jitney probably would experience similar reactions in this country). And as Hirsch has noted, buses in particular create commuter cyclists out of riders who notice, over time, that they could probably make the same trip faster on a bike, plus it wouldn't smell as bad and they'd get some exercise.

At this point, the whole thing starts to sound a little familiar. Once upon a time, late in the nineteenth century, the bicycle was going great guns, and a lot of cyclists got up a petition to the federal government asking them to build better roads because the kind of road that a bicycle loves is a little more demanding than the kind of road livestock tolerates and creates. The Better Roads Movement was pretty successful: those interstates weren't the first long distance highways in our country. In fact, it was so successful that the cyclists who figured a motor added would make those hills less painful and a long ride less exhausting and created motorized bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles took them over for themselves, pushing the cyclists aside (as they would do again, in China, decades later, when the most equal members of the Communist Party decided to let freedom reign in the form of letting other people buy cars and fuel for them). We slid down a hill from walking for most, and rail for a few, to bicycles for most and cars for a few and rail for many, to cars for everyone, and bicycles get the hell out of the way, and rail languishing.

It makes a certain kind of sense that that slope slicked with petroleum might some day dry up and level out and even reverse. My friend Wm questions whether that's likely -- he sees a couple of price spikes in the middle of an overall downward trend in the price of fuel. I think those price spikes are a sign of a downward trend reversing. My friend Wm thinks it'd be great if we removed _all_ subsidies and paid for our transport infrastructure with user fees or a proxy for them such as gas taxes. I think that's a little unlikely (unless there really is some massive collapse of governance), and so am pushing instead for less on asphalt and more on other choices. The sad truth is, tho, that we're probably going to keep pouring money into the pit that is our current land use and transportation network. At least for a while.

Whatever happens, though, it's sort of looking like Arizona is going to be land o' jitney at some point in its future.
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