What if we made transportation systems regulated public utilities? | MinnPost

Marlys Harris, in her swansong column for MinnPost writes about my recent CityLab article: How to Make Mass Transit Financially Sustainable Once and for All, as well as my Enterprising Roads idea.

The Minnesota Legislature has also shown little appetite for forking over more cash for transportation. In its most recent session, it allocated to fixing roads a measly $15 million, an amount termed a “bandaid” by MoveMN, a 170-group coalition that offered a modest batch of proposals that would have raised hundreds of millions for trains, buses and roads.

If nothing changes, we will be looking at a future of crumbling bridges, pot-holey roads and halted projects.

David Levinson, a professor who specializes in transportation issues at the University of Minnesota, says that there’s no need for us to live with such shabby transportation or for government to continue shell out bigger and bigger subsidies. In a story recently published on the Atlantic Monthly’s CityLab website, Levinson makes the case for returning to private ownership — kind of. He would like to see our transportation systems, even the highways, operate as highly regulated public utilities.

She is concerned about what would happen, whether the transit death spiral would resume, whether utilities like this are governable (the malfeasance at the Port Authority is unhelpful), and whether operating like a business is actually better. These are all valid concerns. New York, on which much of her anecdotal experience is based, is unfortunately not one of the better governed places, and in any case is unrepresentative of transit or highways in much of the rest of the US. On the other hand, the current system isn’t really working very well.