There is no doubt the concept of ride-sharing is revolutionizing transportation in the United States and the world. While the predictable and perhaps inevitable cronyism of the industry is already occurring, these companies certainly help to paint a more clear vision of how transportation can better be managed by non-coercive entities as opposed to the coercive monopolies which control much the world’s transportation, whether its through direct control of railroads and buses or simply through government control of roads.
In preparing for my upcoming interview with David Friedman (look for it later this month on a Lions of Liberty Podcast episode near you!), I’ve been reading his work The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, originally published in 1973. In the book, Friedman lays out his solution to the problem of inefficiently government-run mass transit. This passage is particularly relevant considering the rise of ride-sharing today:
I have solved the problem of urban mass transit…I call it jitney transit; it can most easily be thought of as something between taxicabs and hitch-hiking. Jitney stops, like present-day bus stops, would be arranged conveniently about the city. A commuter heading into town with an empty car would stop at the first jitney stop he came to and pick up any passengers going his way. He would proceed along his normal route, dropping off passengers when he passed their stops. Each passenger would pay a fee, according to an existing schedule listing the price between any pair of stops.
Would this be an efficient transportation system? Yes. Cars are inefficient only because they usually travel three-quarters empty; a full car is competitive with the usual forms of mass transport. Furthermore, cars already exists and are being driven hither and yon in great numbers; the additional cost of jitney transit is merely the cost of setting up the stops and arranging price schedules and the like.
Of course Friedman could not have predicted how modern technology has made some of the technical hurdles even easier to leap over. Instead of stops, Uber and Lyft have apps which directly connect drivers and passengers. Lyft even has a “line” service which is nearly identical to Friedman’s jitney stop vision
Friedman recognized that technological solutions would be far ahead of government solutions to nearly any dilemma, including transportation.
The challenge ahead will be to whether ride-sharing can be kept more on the “free market” side of things, or whether it will become absorbed into the crony capitalist beast, as nearly every business must do on some level in order to survive in this twisted economy.
Look for my interview with David Friedman towards the end of this month
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