Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Free market transport

The other day I noted the heavy-handed approach to taxi regulation in New York City and speculated that a free market approach would essentially be anyone offering this service and customers paying them money. Writing in Reason magazine, C. Pascal Gregory notes that this is essentially the situation in Ghana's capital of Accra:
In Accra, Ghana, where I lived and worked in the early 2000s, the standard way of commuting is to board a tro tro, a minivan that has been reconfigured to seat about 16 people. The van is staffed by a driver and a fare collector. It stops at consistent pickup spots, but you can also hail one as it passes by. A short commute costs as little as 10 to 25 cents. All the vans are privately owned; more often than not, drivers and fare collectors are employees of the owners. (Firm data on how many are owners—and on African transit systems in general, from ridership to costs to technical challenges—is hard to come by.)

Because they don’t operate on a fixed schedule but tend to wait until they collect a nearly full load before departing, the vans are rarely empty. Because they are inexpensive to operate, the vans are ubiquitous. Because there are so many on the major roads in a city, wait times are very short—usually less than five minutes, even on weekends.

Private cars, sometimes called bush taxis, operate in parallel with the minivans. The taxis link Accra with nearby cities and take passengers places within the city, usually at a cost of about $1 a ride (about half a day’s wages). While drivers typically wait to fill a taxi before departing, passengers in a hurry can offer to purchase the remaining seats in a car and use them, as many do, to securely lodge luggage.
Granted, later in the article Gregory notes that many of these vehicles lack safety features, often travel at high speeds and there is the ever present chance the passenger in the seat next to you is a barnyard animal. These are not failings of the marketplace, however, but a reflection of the fact that Ghana is a poor country, with safety measures that we take for granted a luxury many of these people can not yet afford. Mandate such features via regulation and the sure result will simply be reduced access to transport.

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