23 December 2010
Market Urbanism
Rob Fisher

Stephen Smith, who describes himself as a libertarian urbanist, has a rather excellent blog called Market Urbanism. It’s about cities, and there are a lot of articles about transport. The most recent is called Japanese transit and what it can teach us. Another recent one is The “Systemic Failure” of US transportation policy.

Just give Access-a-ride users cash is interesting. This is New York’s scheme for subsidised transport for disabled and elderly people. Apparently it costs a fortune. $49 per door-to-door ride! I struggle to imagine how it has become so expensive. The MTA is planning to just give users subsidised cab rides instead, in an effort to cut costs. Stephen argues that it would be better to simply hand over cash.

But I think the more fundamental problem is that while cabs might at first blush look like good substitute for transit and paratransit, the truth is that people given cash grants could, oftentimes, think of much better and cheaper ways to spend the money. You could substitute some grocery store trips with walks to the nearest bodega, where you could spend a little more for your food. You could spend the money on rent to live in a place that’s more accessible. You could spend the money on having things delivered to your door from local stores, or shipped by internet-based retailers. And I know the city obviously can’t openly suggest this, but you could use it on cheaper gypsy cabs or informal drivers – something that is apparently already quite popular among Queens retirees, according to my great aunt Sylvia.

I wonder how that $49 per ride cost compares to London’s equivalent scheme, which just hands out free passes for free travel.


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