Friday, March 06, 2009

Celebrating private transport

Virtually every aspect of the near-miraculous story of Flight 1549, the airplane that had its engines wrecked by birds that landed on the river without killing any of the passengers has been celebrated except one, that I was unaware of until I read this little piece by Randal O'Toole in the Reflections section in the current issue of Liberty magazine, a consistently interesting magazine for which I used to write regularly, and to which I sent some Reflections of my own for the next issue:

Ferry tale When U.S. Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson in early January, most of the passengers and crew were rescued by 14 boats from the NY Waterway ferry fleet. Not many people know that this system of ferries between New Jersey and Manhattan is almost completely unsubsidized.

Supporters of America’s socialized transit systems love to say that all public transit is subsidized, in order to justify their insatiable hunger for more tax dollars. NY Waterway proves them wrong. Though New York and New Jersey have numerous government transit agencies, none of them thought of starting ferry services across the Hudson.

That idea was developed by Arthur Imperatore, a trucking company owner who had acquired some land on the New Jersey waterfront. To promote developments on that land, he decided in 1986 to start running ferries between the developments and midtown Manhattan. The developments never went very far, but the ferry service took off, and today his ferries earn nearly $12 million in profits each year.

The only subsidies he ever received were some loans and grants after 9/11 to start running ferries to downtown Manhattan in order to replace the Port Authority subway whose World Trade Center station was destroyed in the attack. When rail service was restored in 2004, he sold those ferry routes to another entrepreneur who also operates without subsidies.

NY Waterway shows that, if government-subsidized transit disappeared, it would be quickly replaced by private transit that would probably be more efficient and more innovative. Anyone who assumes that transit requires subsidies both lacks faith in entrepreneurs and has too much faith in the altruism of government bureaucrats. — Randal O’Toole

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