Part 4: Why Libertarians should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

Today libertarian (if not “Libertarian”) transportation policy (best represented by Reason) favors moving towards road pricing, public private partnerships, contracting out, HOT lanes, and privatization as strategies, but doing so intelligently. All of this will have the consequence of raising the cost of travel by automobile and result in fewer vehicle miles traveled than current policies. It also suggests that if auto travel is more expensive, the use of other modes will increase. One of those other modes is buses.

Libertarians uphold the value of “Liberty”, freedom of action. Providing mobility for those without effective options increases overall freedom.

Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes
Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

Why Libertarians should support buses.

  • Buses are more easily contracted out or franchised to private firms in a competitive way than infrastructure itself, which is embedded capital subject to natural spatial monopolies. The evidence for the ease of contracting is the extent of contracting (many non-US cities already contract out or franchise bus services).
  • Bus routing and scheduling is also more dynamic and adaptable to actual and changing needs given an environment with ubiquitous roads and evolving land uses.
  • Buses can take advantage of High Occupancy/Toll lanes, and integrated busways/HOT lanes are useful for suburb to city radial commuting markets, sharing the fixed costs of expensive facilities over more users than exclusive transit ways, without a time penalty.
  • Buses enable people without other options to travel farther than no motorized transport at all, increasing freedom.


Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

4 thoughts on “Part 4: Why Libertarians should like buses

  1. Sigh. Once again from the top because it can’t be stated enough. Libertarians have no problem with buses – or education – or children for that matter or anything else they’re accused of. What they oppose are MONOPOLIES – be it state controlled or private backed by state power (ie cronyism). As you were.


  2. One small comment: “dynamic” routes in reaction to land use change is not a positive for transit, it is a demonstration that transit fails. Developments ALWAYS follow transport, no one would build a Wal-Mart in a field with no connection to roads whatsoever. So if transit has to keep adapting to changing conditions, it means that current transit services are under-used and have little to no influence in shaping land use and development. In other words, that transit is completely failing at creating an attractive service.

    To increase transit use, you can either bring transit to people, or bring people to transit. The latter is a much more efficient means of increasing transit use as it requires little to no investment on the part of transit authorities.


    1. I’m trying to come up with an example of dynamic routes. I’m just theorizing here.

      Let’s say that we’ll judge an area by the dominating land use: residential (R), commercial (C), mixed (M) and we start with


      But in 10 years the grid starts to look like

      This might happen as an area develops stronger employment, gentrifies, sees an increase in commuters/visitors/tourists, is subject to demographic shifts, is affected by displacement, is incentivized by government to do so, and whatever else you can think of.

      The infrastructure more than likely stayed about the same, but density, congestion, and travel intensity has increased because there are more dynamic functions in the area.
      Expanding or altering bus routes might be a good option if the local population is upset with the excess of drivers and as residential units are being built in greater numbers closer to employment or shopping.
      I suppose we could expand road widths (which would require a lot of construction that would add even more temporary congestion and would incentive greater congestion after the road is built)
      Or you could charter more busing and re-route them.


  3. Hi David. The ideia that investments in public transport would increase overall freedom by providing mobility for those without effective options is appealing. However, this argument would not so easily be accepted by libertarians for a fundamental reason. Increasing the provision of transit services would demand public expenditure via taxing some people and subsiding others, and this idea is strongly rejected by libertarians as it violates the principle of self-ownership. Strictly speaking, libertarians would not have any particular problems with buses as long as the provision of the service does demand intervention from the state and it results from free market exchanges.


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