Yesterday's Washington Post includes a front-page a Metro section story with the headline, "Water taxis in Washington could be viable, study finds."
The article begins:
A water taxi that would ferry commuters across the region’s rivers is economically viable given the area’s burgeoning population and the proliferation of jobs along the water, according to a consultant’s study.Well, well, well -- it's about time.
The year-long study found that at least four of two dozen possible routes across the Potomac, Anacostia and Occoquan rivers have enough demand to support a daily water taxi service that would be operated by a public entity or as part of a public-private partnership.
On April 21, 1995, the Arlington Journal published an article I wrote about meeting mass-transit needs through creative, free-market solutions that included this paragraph:
■ Restore the Potomac's status as a highway. The cities of Washington and Alexandria lie where they are because the Potomac River was once a major transporter of goods and people. A water-taxi service between Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown, with stops at the Washington Marina and in Arlington, could make the Potomac once again a significant people mover.Why did it take so long for local governments to pay a high-priced consulting firm to come to the same conclusion that I did -- for no charge -- 18 years ago?
The piece also included suggestions for permitting private jitney services and for instituting sliding-scale highway tolls based on passenger occupancy. (Something like that latter idea has been adopted on the interstates in Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs.)
From the archives, here is the full text of "End the government monopoly on mass transit service":
Some local government officials are moving in the right direction as they discuss the future of Metrobus service (“N.Va. systems threaten transit giant,” April 11), but most see too wary to step toward creativity and market-based decision making.
These local government officials deserve credit for their willingness to consider privatization of Metrobus routes as a means to make the system more cost-effective. Unfortunately, it seems that to them “privatization” is still limited to a county- or city-owned bus system to replace Metro or – at best – a government-granted monopoly to a private company within a single jurisdiction.
Why not consider more and varied alternatives that, when used together, will have the ultimate effect of reducing costs, improving efficiency, increasing mass-transit usage, and alleviating pollution.
Here are some examples:
■ Legalize jitney service. Jitneys are vehicles smaller than buses, such as vans, that operate independently (like taxis) but on a predetermined route (like buses). The operators set their own fares, which they can base on distance traveled or on other factors. Different jitneys can compete for the same passengers along the same routes, or a fleet of jitneys can divide up territory. Jitneys could operate within and across jurisdictions, feeding into Metrorail or connecting Tysons Corner to Silver Spring.
|Island Queen ferry docked in Bayfield, Wisconsin|
■ Turn Interstates 66 and 395 into toll roads, with tolls based on the number of passengers. For instance, instead of the dreaded high-occupancy vehicle lanes, we could charge vehicles a toll based on a sliding scale, such as $2 for lone drivers, $1.50 for two-passenger cars, $1 for three passengers, 75 cents for four passengers, and no charge for more than four. Such a scheme would persuade some people to take Metrorail, some to take the bus, some to car pool, and some to bear the economic price of the toll, depending on their preferences.
■ End the government mass-transit monopoly. These three examples only touch the surface of creative, market-based solutions that are there for us to consider and to use. The best way to encourage more use of mass transit, however, is to make more types of mass transit available, and to give commuters and travelers more choices than they have today. Allowing private services to compete with Metro on the same routes will be a good first step.
After all, we would never think it proper to grant Giant a monopoly in Fairfax County and Safeway a monopoly in Arlington County, and not let them compete against each other – or against 7-Eleven. If consumers can pick a grocery story, why not let them pick a type of mass transit? And why not let entrepreneurs give them what they want?