Tom Hurst writes on liberty, free markets, private property rights, government and the Constitution from Nevada, USA
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Victims of the Government Bus

By Tom Hurst, 10 August 2011

What is a Government Bus, you ask? Well, that's the name I prefer for what most would call a "public bus", and for good reason: while obviously a bus, it has very little to do with the "public", and very much to do with the government. The plain and obvious fact supporting that view is that the government - not you or I, and especially not the free market - decides where and when the buses will run, how much they will charge the passengers, and even how clean and comfortable they are. Of course, as a government monopoly with little or no competition to prod them to improve service, reduce costs and generally please the public, the Where of the government bus is usually somewhere one doesn't want to be, the When is usually some time that is terribly inconvenient, the Cost is too high (more on that below), and Clean and Comfortable are but a pipe dream. Indeed, the only thing "public" about the government bus is that the poor souls who ride it are members of the public. Now, to the heart of the matter: Are you a victim of the government bus? One might think, "I don't even ride the bus, so how can I be its victim?". Well, read on before you decide, for there are far more victims of the government bus than you might imagine.

Of course, the most obvious victims of the government bus are the people who ride it, and, sadly, they are victims in many ways. First, the government bus is always sloooooow, so its victims routinely waste hours making a trip that in most cases could be done via a car in a small fraction of the time. Aside from the frequent stops buses make, this is because the bus schedule doesn't match their personal schedule - nor can it ever match everyone's schedule - so wasting time waiting at bus stops is the norm. And, heaven forbid, one wants to travel cross-country or in the middle of the night, for the government bus won't be there for them then either. Further, more than likely the government bus chooses to pick up its victims in some inconvenient location, and then drops them off in another equally inconvenient location, so ironically modern-day "riders" must at least partially travel by foot, much like our ancient ancestors. Yet another obvious crime against the riding victims is that most buses are filthy, smelly, uncomfortable and sometimes crowded - crowded with people who most of us wouldn't necessarily want to sit with. And then there's the cost. While dollars per day to ride the bus seems a modest expense, realize that the total cost of operating a modest car - buying one, plus insurance, gasoline and maintenance - can be less than $0.20/mile. And even if riding the government bus cost the same as driving a car, the car would be a far better value considering its other obvious virtues. Finally - and this is to my mind the most pernicious aspect of people riding the government bus - riding the bus fosters a great dependency on government. Indeed, I can think of few things more pathetic than depending on government for something so basic to our everyday lives and liberty as transportation. The riders, like children, are essentially told where, when and how to move about. And through time, they become irresponsible like children in all other aspects of their lives. In the end, many evolve into de-facto lifetime wards of the welfare state, the so-called Takers that live almost entirely at the expense of the Makers. Sadly, socialist America has done its best to make this perverse dependency the societal norm by maligning the "good ol' days" when most people were independent and responsible enough to somehow get by without relying on the government bus. Back then we had the common sense to buy a bike or a cheap used car, share rides with friends, or perhaps just arrange our lives so that work and shopping were close to home so that we could walk most everywhere. It wasn't always a perfect situation, but - very importantly - we had the freedom and ability to move about where and when we wished. And the motivation to improve ourselves. Of course, such ideals are at odds with the socialists' desire to empower themselves by having us become dependent on them, so the reality is that the government bus is a just another social engineering tool used to shape society such that the almighty State gets what it wants.

Now, you probably didn't anticipate this next category of government bus victims: the environmentalists. Yes, the buses that the government propaganda machine continually claim are green, green, green, are actually (no surprise) extremely un-green. Indeed, federal government data show that the average per person mileage of a city bus is about 15 mpg. Well, I easily get that in my truck, and twice that (remember, it's per person mileage) if I have but a single passenger riding with me. The reasons that buses fare so poorly on average are obvious when one thinks about it a bit: 1) they are heavy vehicles that just naturally have a low nominal mileage, 2) they start and stop frequently, which consumes lots of fuel, 3) they often idle for many minutes while waiting at scheduled stops, again consuming lots of fuel, 4) they don't actually travel any great distances during any given day because of reasons two and three prior, and 5) most buses often run nearly empty during off-peak hours, and completely empty before they start and after they finish their routes. Of course, the simple math is that when either idling at a stop or driving empty, their per rider mileage is actually zero, and even Hummer's get better mileage than that! Finally, it's not just the pollution from the buses themselves that counts, but the indirect pollution caused by the congestion they create for other traffic - anyone who's been stuck behind a bus knows exactly what I'm talking about here. Indeed, the plain and simple fact is that buses are far more irritating to be around than private cars. So, bottom line, the typical government bus causes a great deal more pollution than would the cars used to carry the same people far more conveniently and comfortably.

The final victim class of the government bus would be the taxpayers. Again, many of you probably think that someone riding a bus for a few dollars a day is a real deal that benefits the folks that supposedly cannot afford a car - social justice in action, as it were. Well, my friends, those few dollars a day are just the cost to the rider. Remember, fancy buses and their associated infrastructure are very expensive to buy, operate and maintain, and that hordes of employees from driver to bureaucrat must be supported in lavish public-employee style - that is, substantially above-market salaries and solid gold benefits - essentially from day-of-hire until day-of-death. Because of this, it turns out that the actual national average overall cost of providing government bus service - including both capital and operating costs - exceeds $20 of taxpayer subsidy for every $1 that is collected in bus fares. In plain English, that means that each and every time some poor soul pays $1 to ride a government bus, other citizen taxpayers are forced to pony up $20 or more in taxes to pay for just that one ride. So, the sad reality is that each and every individual who routinely rides the government bus to work typically gets a total lifetime taxpayer subsidy of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and government data show that some individuals get lifetime subsidies of well over a million dollars. To illustrate the magnitude of this subsidy in another way, it's quite simple to calculate that with the same amount of money taxpayers use to subsidize regular riders of government buses - say, $40/day on the low end, about $1000/month - they could instead buy every regular bus rider a $20,000 car every 4 years, and pay them $6,000 per year to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance expenses. But, unaware of the real cost, the government bus seems cheap to the riders, and this distorts the market. Indeed, if these folks had to pay the real cost of riding the government bus out of their own pocket, all of them would instantly abandon the bus and buy a car. And that's the best solution both for individuals and the economy, for spending money on inefficient transportation is unproductive consumption at best. Further, eliminating the burden of paying for others' hyper-inefficient transportation from the shoulders of the productive sector would create jobs and wealth because Economics 101 tells us that taxpayers who keep the money they earn will productively invest it in things important to them: education, retirement savings, starting a business, or perhaps just paying routine bills - and all of these things will make the economy grow and prosper. Always remember this always-true law of nature: private enterprise produces wealth, while government only consumes wealth.

Now, I'm not by any means saying that all buses get lousy per person mileage and require huge taxpayer subsidies, for the fact is that buses on certain routes do run full much of the time; these, of course, are the buses that would exist in a free market, where they would be profitably run by private enterprise instead of run at a loss by government. What I'm pointing out is that on average, on a per rider level, government buses are hyper-expensive, polluting gas-hogs, and hardly the green panacea they are made out to be. And I'm not saying that everyone who rides the government bus is some sort of socialist, welfare state parasite, but just that, all things being equal, both individuals and society are richer, more free, and morally on higher ground when people are responsible for their own transport and use their own money to pay for it. Bottom line, whether you are the rider whose life is in reality made worse rather than better by bus, the enviro who mistakenly thinks that buses support their green agenda, or the poor taxpayer forced to pay through the nose for these hyper-expensive, wealth-transfer boondoggles, we are ALL victims of the Government Bus. And I hope you realize that in a broader sense we are all victims of the government in general, for, in the end, the government bus is just one of the many symptoms and symbols of a degenerate, unjust socialist society without liberty. Indeed, one might quite properly state that America itself is the ultimate victim of the government bus.

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Tom Hurst - Defender of liberty, free markets, private property rights, and the Constitution