Let's say you wanted to get from New York to DC this evening. You could take the government-supported train system - which would cost you $153 or more - or you could take a bus, which gets no government subsidies, for... $19.
The cheap busses started about 15 years ago, when immigrants in Chinatown figured out that they could out-compete Amtrak and Greyhound on price by picking passengers up from the curb - and running everything without expensive bus stations.
Since then, bus companies have seen booming business. They are now, as CATO transportation expert Randal O'Toole puts it, "the nation's fastest growing transportation mode." He adds:
"They do so with almost no subsidies... Intercity buses are safe and environmentally friendly, suffering almost 80 percent fewer fatalities per passenger mile than Amtrak and using 60 percent less energy per passenger mile than Amtrak."
But yesterday, my state passed two new bills that impose a slew of regulations on the busses. State Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the regulations, says they are necessary because the busses create a "Wild West atmosphere."
One transportation blogger sums up some of the new regulations. Each bus will need a permit, and:
"will have to apply (and reapply every three years) under a process that can take up to a hundred fifty days. The DOT will have to do a traffic study for every. single. bus. stop. and "consult" with [government agencies] if the proposed stop would "overlap" with an existing [government] facility."
"Overlap!" Competing with government services? Can't have that!
Another rule says that a bus company must notify the government about its schedule in advance. That will make it impossible to adapt on short notice.
"One of the great advantages of buses is to be able to respond, in a short time frame, to changes in demand. Big holiday weekend for the colleges? Throw on a few more bus runs. Slow business to the beach in the winter? Cut a run here and there. No more."
And that condemnation of the regulations comes from a lefty blogger (who also complains that I "can be obnoxious") yet he still concludes: "the people drafting [the bill] are either clueless about how buses are run, or want to make it impossible to run a curbside bus operation in the city, or both."
Exactly. That's why I wrote No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed. Government kills innovation. Reagan had it right when he said:
"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."