March 22, 2003

I want private roads

Patrick Crozier | Best of Transport Blog | Road General

In a week when most eyes are concentrating on rather more important matters, my little piece on the difficulty in privatising local roads has stirred up a small flurry in the Blogosphere with both Where Worlds Collide and Cold Spring Shops picking up on my comments. (I would love, by the way, to know which Reason story Stephen Karlson is referring to.)

Tim Hall, at Where Worlds Collide, concludes that my little problem is insurmountable and that therefore anarcho-capitalism is bunk and that therefore we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

Now, I still don’t know how to solve the problem of getting to private roads but once we were there I think that the combination of freedom and market forces would produce some pretty fantastic results.

Imagine it: roads as if the users (that’s all the users: those on the road and those who live or work beside it) mattered.

For instance, some roads might choose to be bicycle only, or moped only. Others would turn themselves into express bus routes. I look forward to a dedicated expressway just for roller-bladers. OK, maybe that wouldn’t happen but at least under private ownership there is the chance that it might.

I think it would be fascinating to see how the liberated roads would deal with the problem of rat runs. Some road companies would ban through traffic justifying it on the basis of increased property values while others would positively welcome it, pocketing the extra income from road tolls.

I find it difficult to believe that parking problems wouldn’t disappear more or less overnight. Who wants to live somewhere you can’t park? Again some roads would be off-street parking only while others wouldn’t. Who knows maybe it would once again be safe for kids to go and play out in the street.

Imagine the impact on land use. Some roads would choose to be quiet, respectable places while others would choose to become epicentres of Bohemian debauchery. Great – you can have the time of your life without having to worry about upsetting the locals. Much the same could apply to planning. Some road companies would demand that all bordering properties were uniform while others would allow an almost Japanese sense of “anything goes”.

And then there’s crime. Road companies would be able to choose who they allowed onto their streets and who they didn’t. As I understand it gated communities in the US have very low levels of muggings. After all you can’t commit street crime if you’re not allowed onto the street.

Now, all this (and there’s probably more) doesn’t solve the problem of getting the state out of the business of running roads and I appreciate it is still a problem. But I think it does demonstrate how good it could be and therefore why it is worth trying to solve the problem.

I want private roads.

Update 17/05/04

They might even sort out roadworks

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Comments

didn't want to post my last critique? what's up with that?

Posted by jon kelland on March 23, 2003

Patrick,

I think you have been reading too much sci-fi. Nowhere in the world is there a toll road through a residential neighbourhood, why not?, as you point out, the road owner would control the ultmate value of the roadside property, not acceptable.

As for toll roads through commercial areas, where it has been tried, the schemes have all failed, this list will eventually include the recent London experiment, mainly because the long term effects on a neighbourhood or district are detrimental.

The opposite of outright 'statism', is outright 'capitalism', both are as bad as one another, and should be avoided at all costs. When roads are privatised to the extent that you visualise, then 'capitalism' will have gone too far, Thankfully, I cannot see it happening.

As you can guess, I believe that roads are one of 'items of infrastructure' that should always be in the public domain, along with air and sex....

Whatever you crowd at Samizdata smoke, must be quite strong..

E

Posted by ernest young on March 23, 2003

Ernest

Toll roads through commercial areas that have failed? Any examples? And what about the Singapore experiment which has had a 25 year trial period and is still going strong?

Patrick

Posted by Patrick Crozier on March 23, 2003

Patrick,
The fact that Singapore has experimented with toll access to the business area for twenty five years, does not indicate that the scheme is a success.

As I understand it the scheme was implemented as a direct measure against vehicle ownership, and that only the wealthier citizens can afford to own and run a car. The road tolls were only part of the war against ownership, and were not designed to be user friendly. It is suggested that vehicle price is only approximately twenty percent of the cost of ownership.

As such, I dont think it valid to quote the 'success' of that particular scheme as proof that road pricing works.

When discussing road privatisation, distinction should be made between, so-called 'road pricing' and toll roads. Toll roads go from A to B, with no interim access. Road pricing, a la Livingstone, stills allows entry and exit at any point of the users choice. Such road pricing may, at a pinch, be accepted, when controlled by the local community, but would be rejected if controlled privately, for the reason that the road pricing structure would indirectly control the property values in that locale.

I still think that roads are part of the public domain, and rest assured, privatisation can, and will, make a total mess of it. Just look at the rail fiasco.

Ernest

Posted by ernest young on March 24, 2003

Cover story of the August, 1981 Reason.

Posted by Stephen Hopkins Karlson on March 25, 2003

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