One of the more frequently voiced complaints about Houston is the lack of mass transportation. The absence of light rail makes citizens dependent upon the automobile, a fact that many dislike. While I would agree that light rail would be nice, one cannot consider goals out of context. Yet, this is precisely what advocates of light rail do.
From a practical point of view, light rail is highly dubious. Ridership numbers for the existing line are below projections and make no sense financially. Despite this, Metro wants to add five additional light rail lines. Expanding light rail reminds me of the joke about the business owner who was selling his products below cost, and hoped to turn a profit by doing more volume. This is exactly what Metro proposes to do.
Morally, there is no justification for government building light rail. Expanding the system will require that Metro seize private property against the will of the rightful property owners through eminent domain. That alone is reason to be against light rail. However, the evil goes even further.
Taxpayers will be forced to pay for the construction of the system, whether they support rail or not. And through taxes they will be forced to subsidize the transportation costs of the few riders Metro manages to attract.
Light rail is a statist response to a legitimate issue. Houston’s freeways are certainly congested, but the solution is not further violations of the rights of Houstonians. The solution is greater freedom.
The ideal solution is to privatize all roads, which is not going to occur any time soon. The government’s monopoly on roads prevents businesses and entrepreneurs from offering innovative solutions while recognizing the rights of all individuals. In every realm where the free market can operate, entrepreneurs provide more options, greater efficiency, and lower costs than government alternatives.
Because the privatization of roads is not politically possible at this time, the challenge is to devise a plan that will address a legitimate issue, while simultaneously recognizing individual rights. In other words, given that the government will invariably be involved in one form or another, how do we improve transportation without expanding government power?
The first step would be to repeal all laws that prohibit or regulate private transportation options—such as controls on taxis, private buses, and private toll roads. This would provide the private sector with opportunities that are not currently available.
The second step would be to close down Metro and sell its assets. This would reduce sales taxes by one percent, which alone would provide additional capital to businesses and individuals.
These two measures would remove many arbitrary restrictions on private businesses. If a sufficient market exists for mass transit, profit seeking entrepreneurs will find methods for satisfying that demand. If such a market does not exist, then taxpayers will be freed from the burden of supporting the boondoggle that is Metro.
A third step that should be taken is to sell rights-of-way along freeways and major streets to private businesses. Again, if a market exists for light rail, entrepreneurs would find a way to meet that demand without forcing taxpayers to subsidize the cost. And if a market does not exist, then nobody is harmed.
While these measures will not provide immediate relief, government programs and proposals do not do so either. More importantly, the measures I have proposed are a step in the proper direction—they reduce the controls on private individuals, reduce taxes, and allow for more options in meeting the transportation requirements of Houstonians.