What Sub-Saharan Africa Can Teach San Francisco

Mass transit doesn't have to mean massive government spending.


In the provincial capital of Mbale, in eastern Uganda, it's not uncommon to start your morning commute riding shotgun on a bicycle. I visited this metropolis of more than 400,000 people frequently in the late 2000s, and I often began my day as a passenger in the tacked-on second seat of one of these bodas, wheeling from my hotel to a place on the other edge of town where shared taxis congregated. Three other travelers and I would pile into one of these taxis for a 20-minute ride down a main road, and then I would hop out and hail another boda for the final mile of my journey.

Once overwhelmingly rural, Africa is urbanizing at a faster rate than any other region on the planet. With the world's lowest rates of automobile ownership, urban Africans also have the world's greatest demand for mass transit. And they are meeting their own needs with enterprise and creativity, largely fueled by private resources. The successes of the continent's ad hoc urban transit systems are partly due to government neglect. Unable to keep pace with growth, governments are simply staying out of the way and letting private operators assemble inexpensive networks of buses and taxis that can adapt quickly to shifting consumer needs.

These days, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a typical commute is much less efficient and dramatically more expensive than my morning rides in Uganda. This wealthy and sophisticated metropolitan area—home to an underground train running beneath a body of water, some of the longest bridges in the nation, and a massive highway system—has much to learn about mass transit from the poorest part of the world. 

Taking the Tro Tro

In Accra, Ghana, where I lived and worked in the early 2000s, the standard way of commuting is to board a tro tro, a minivan that has been reconfigured to seat about 16 people. The van is staffed by a driver and a fare collector. It stops at consistent pickup spots, but you can also hail one as it passes by. A short commute costs as little as 10 to 25 cents. All the vans are privately owned; more often than not, drivers and fare collectors are employees of the owners. (Firm data on how many are owners—and on African transit systems in general, from ridership to costs to technical challenges—is hard to come by.)

Because they don't operate on a fixed schedule but tend to wait until they collect a nearly full load before departing, the vans are rarely empty. Because they are inexpensive to operate, the vans are ubiquitous. Because there are so many on the major roads in a city, wait times are very short—usually less than five minutes, even on weekends.

Private cars, sometimes called bush taxis, operate in parallel with the minivans. The taxis link Accra with nearby cities and take passengers places within the city, usually at a cost of about $1 a ride (about half a day's wages). While drivers typically wait to fill a taxi before departing, passengers in a hurry can offer to purchase the remaining seats in a car and use them, as many do, to securely lodge luggage.

Minivans play the same role in many African countries. The Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation estimates that there are tens of thousands of minivans on the road. "Mass transit is a real example of the dense social capital arising out of the African urban experience," says Stewart Brand, a Bay Area–based futurist who has studied African cities—especially Lagos, Nigeria, the largest city in Africa—for evidence of creative, self-organizing solutions to social problems. "There's a huge urbanization process underway, and transportation is one of the many things getting organized in appealing ways."

 Others are struck by the surprising benefits of the complex mishmash of African transit arrangements. One American visitor to Gambia last January was struck by how minivans not only deliver people to their destinations but also promote social cohesion. "We were riding along, and every seat was full," she wrote at the blog Hey Sarah Sarah. "We stopped to pick up a bunch of school children, and I was confused as to how we would fit them. The boys just climbed in and sat on whatever laps were available."

The networks of minivans are major economic engines, generating employment as well as opportunities for investors. Accra has not spawned "chains," or branded minivan services, but owners often aggregate vans secretly, gaining economies of scale through stealth. A decade ago, for example, a study by Britain's Department for Development found that 90 percent of the minivans in Kampala, Uganda, were owned by private individuals at an average cost of $3,000 each.

 The Africans' commercial creativity isn't unbridled. Municipal authorities, or even national governments, sometimes set fare guidelines for minivans. Routes are also subject to influence and coercion. Both police and private criminals have been known to extort unofficial payments from minivan drivers. In Nairobi the struggle by police and criminals to profit from the minivan, or matatu, trade is intense and often sparks violence. In July Nairobi police arrested 120 people on suspicion of extorting money from drivers.

 Safety is another persistent issue. Operator liability is low; passengers are presumed to ride at their own risk, and that risk can be significant. The typical bush taxi has a cracked windshield and lacks safety belts. In Kampala, boda bikes are motorized. Responsible drivers wear helmets—and carry extras for passengers—but not all of them do. Minivans occasionally drop parts mid-route without causing a driver to pause. Travel within cities is generally safest because speeds are relatively slow and frequent police checks insure that drivers have the proper certification. Inter-city travel means higher speeds and more hazards. Congestion can be a serious problem, and Christof Hertel, a program director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, expects that "traffic problems will steadily worsen and emissions…will steadily rise." Comfort is also tough to come by. Passengers are often packed tight—and aren't always human. When traveling between cities, you may find yourself sitting next to a live chicken or goat.

Bypassing the BART in San Francisco

You will rarely find a chicken or a cracked windshield on San Francisco's gleaming, publicly funded Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains and buses, but commuters are abandoning BART in significant numbers nonetheless, driven out by a combination of rising fares, declining service quality, and the comparative attractiveness of driving cars. In the Bay Area, buses and trains run nearly empty for many hours during weekdays and weekends. High government subsidies are required to sustain an expensive light rail system that carries 330,000 passengers a day.

BART ridership is down by 5 percent during the last 12 months and about 10 percent below its historic peak. San Jose's light rail system and the California commuter train service that links Silicon Valley to San Francisco report similar trends; so do bus services in the region. Lower ridership highlights the problem of high operating costs, due chiefly to wages. The average BART employee earns $114,000 a years in wages and benefits. The system gets about 60 percent of its revenue from fares, with about one-third of its budget coming from taxpayer subsidies. San Francisco's MUNI bus system, the backbone of public transit in terms of ridership, costs the city more than $2 for each passenger ride.

 High operating costs are not the only financial burden. Capital projects, aimed at expanding ridership, carry huge price tags. A planned overhead tram service to directly connect a BART stop in Oakland with the Oakland airport—a distance of 3.2 miles, which is currently served by buses that charge an average of 2,833 riders a day $3 each—is budgeted at $484 million. The project was originally forecast to cost one-third that much. BART's optimistic forecast is for 10,000 riders a day.

Meanwhile, the economic slowdown and higher unemployment—more than 10 percent in the Bay Area—means an even smaller pool of commuters. State and local governments, facing tough budget decisions, are casting a critical eye at mass transit costs. In this environment, sticking with traditional transit systems and their old-fashioned funding mechanisms will do little more than hasten their deaths. 

But there is a way out. As it turns out, BART is not primarily a train service. It is mainly a parking-lot-and-bus system that happens to feed into a train network. Adding fixed stations to a system that was set in steel four decades ago is outrageously expensive. A proposed nine-mile extension of BART from the suburb of Fremont to the city of San Jose is expected to cost an astonishing $6 billion. With track extensions ruled out in most cases because of cost, BART has tried to cast a wider net by strategically building what it calls "transit centers"—glorified parking lots where passengers can come, park, and catch buses to the nearest BART station.

The newest of these BART transit centers is about a mile from my house in the hill town of Hercules, 25 miles from the center of San Francisco. From the Hercules transit center, passengers take a bus to the nearest BART station, about six miles south. Buses run only three times an hour during peak times. These buses are full-sized, rarely anywhere near full, and operated by a different government agency, the West Contra Costa Transit Authority. Bus drivers don't go directly to the nearest BART station, stopping instead at three other transit centers (at least) along the way. Covering those six miles typically takes more than 20 minutes. 

Now a year old, the Hercules transit center is never more than half full and often virtually empty on weekends. The problem isn't BART but rather the "feeder" logic. If a rider needs to drive to the transit center, he or she may as well skip the bus and drive a little further to the train station—which is surrounded by a sea of its own parking spaces. Or even drive all the way into the city.

All of which is self-defeating, given that the goal of mass transit is to get people out of their cars. The African experience suggests immediate options. Bicycles or motorcycles, staffed perhaps by underemployed young people, could shuttle commuters to the transit center. Then fleets of minivans would depart regularly and go directly to the BART station. At non-peak times, private cars, for a slightly higher fare, would carry people to the station. By increasing frequency, the African-style combination of minivans and shared taxis would cut wait times for feeder transport to BART stations to nearly zero, making the journey to the BART station far shorter and making riding the rails far more appealing.

One reason we know minivans would work to plug the gaps in Bay Area mass transit is that they already do. Consider the way airport parking lots function in San Francisco and Oakland. Travelers drive to a lot, park, and then a minivan drops them off at their terminal. Minivans run often, wait times are minimal, and the cost is low. But there is one big difference between airport parking lots and the BART system: The airport lots are privately owned. To lower costs and improve the experience of mass transit—in California and across the nation—the network must let private entrepreneurs in. Only private operators have the incentive and the flexibility to improvise in necessary ways.

Can Sub-Saharan Africa Help San Francisco?

To transplant the efficiencies of African transit systems to American soil, laws must change. "The lessons from Africa are fascinating, but they will be hard to apply here," says Randal O'Toole, a Cato Institute senior fellow specializing in transportation issues.

Jitneys, the technical term in the U.S. for shared taxis, are limited to airport runs; wider use is permitted only in a few American cities, notably Atlantic City and Houston. Many transit agencies do already save money by contracting out jobs to private companies, but mainly these deals are limited to driving large buses. Denver, for instance, contracts out half of its buses. The private buses operate at about half the cost of the rest of the fleet. Organized labor is a major barrier to more-radical African-style improvisation. Asking idle youth to bike commuters to and from train stations, for instance, might prove politically impossible. Furthermore, safety standards and legal liability are far costlier in the U.S., complicating efforts to lower the cost of mass transit while improving its coverage.

The African experience offers a competing vision of how a densely packed, increasingly prosperous people can get from here to there without driving cars. African governments' "neglect" of mass transit creates openings for nimble entrepreneurs to adapt their transportation offerings to the constantly changing needs of urban consumers. In the Bay Area, government is too deeply involved in mass transit. Systems are too rigid, too expensive, too unfriendly to entrepreneurs, and too out of touch with consumer preferences. 

But the stagnation and contraction of mass transit I see in my own backyard is not inevitable. By taking inspiration from the fleet of minivans, bikes, jitneys, and taxis employed in a part of the world widely seen as backward and impoverished, America could rejuvenate its own creaky and crumbling transportation networks. 

G. Pascal Zachary (g.zachary@gmail.com), who blogs at africaworksgpz.com, is a professor of practice at the Consortium for Science Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University. His most recent book is Married to Africa (Scribner).

NEXT: Edge of the Knife

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  1. Equality of efficiency, you can’t have both. Planners commitment to equality destroys any hope of an efficient system. You can’t give every Joe and Josephine equal access to mass transit regardless of whether they are a cripple or want to ride at 3 am and have an efficient system.

    1. +1

    2. Efficiency only has meaning in relation to some goal. If you are the ‘cripple’ in a system with little access for such folks you’ll hardly find it ‘efficient.’

      1. The problem is that we look at everything in terms of absolute equality. So, for example, you can’t run special buses for the disabled. I am not kidding. The disabled advocates say that is like Jim Crow and confining the disabled to a ghetto. So instead you have to build ever single bus and train to be accessible to the disabled. And that costs money.

        1. “you can’t run special buses for the disabled”

          Yeah, it would become “the short bus”

          1. LOL. But if the short bus comes to your house and picks you up, it sounds like a good deal to me. And for the amount of money we spend making every bus and train handicapped accessible, we could by a lot of short buses.

      2. If we build every bus to be handicapped accessible, we either have to build fewer buses or have fewer routes. The waitress who has to wait longer for a bus after working a night shift is just as important as the person in the wheel chair. But the waitress gets forgotten.

        1. I see your point, I guess the counterargument is that there is a difference between a longer wait and no effective access at all, and that if we can solve the latter problem but at the cost of the former it may be worth it.

          1. But the government will never solve the problem because governments act in response to political power not efficiency. As long as the disabled advocates have the power, the mass transit system are going to be expensive and inefficient.

            1. Why do you hate disabled people so much?
              Were you beat up by a gimp at an early age?
              Did the runt of the litter steal your lunch in school?
              Did a ree-ree make fun of you on the bus?
              Seriously, what’s your problem with tards?

              1. Worst poem ever.

                1. Here’s where to get the worst poem ever.

          2. —“if we can solve the latter problem but at the cost of the former it may be worth it”—

            Worth it to the smaller number of disabled people or to the larger number of people otherwise deprived?

    3. they are a cripple

      I believe they prefer to be called “gimps.”

  2. Africa, the continent that is easiest to dismiss and ignore by most. This place really has lots of potential to become the worlds next major growth point. Cellphone technology has allowed it to leapfrog the difficulties and high cost traditionally associated with telephone lines. Its relationship with China is one of the best proofs that trade is always a win for both sides.

    Having said that, the government corruption in Africa is second to none. One personal experience was of trying to cross the Zambia-Congo border. It took 7 days (yes days not hours) to cross the border, the number of government bureaucrats that were lining up for bribes was endless. When mining companies send geologists into Africa, they need to have a bribe budget to pay all this corrupt shits.

    1. +2

      Cell phone direct pay technology is one of the most empowering technologies for entreprenuers in developing nations ever. Has reason ever done a piece on it?

    2. “Its relationship with China is one of the best proofs that trade is always a win for both sides.”
      The relationship is one way, China gets natural resources.

      1. They steal it?

  3. I’d love to see someone try to start a “boda” business in San Fran. The insurance costs would be prohibitive if the local government didn’t just outlaw bodas over safety concerns. Frankly, I’m convinced the only reason you’re allowed to ride bikes in California is because their over-environmentalism outguns their over-protectivism…. barely.

  4. Roads11!1!!! and Somalia!!1!1! in the same post?

    1. I like the way you mix exclamation points and ones. It’s funny but I don’t know why.

      1. looks like he’s using his decoder ring

        1. I don’t get it. Explain.

  5. Having grown up in northern California, I was stupefied to visit other cities in which mass transit actually did provide some value to residents. The key difference is that all of those other urban areas were much older and had a higher density core to which the systems delivered riders. The Bay Area’s distributed nature is structurally unfit for a system like BART. But it’s not like there was any way to know that ahead of time…

    1. But BART makes millions of Northern California liberals feel good. And at the end of the day that is what it is all about isn’t it?

  6. they are meeting their own needs with enterprise and creativity

    With bicycles?

  7. We have examples of jitneys in the US. They’re often illegal (but we all know how well that stops things) and interestingly enough, popular in Nigerian immigrant communities.

  8. I hear America used to have this thing called streetcars.

    1. yep, they’re called buses now

  9. We used to have transports pulled by dogs that were common in cities. Some of the early humane laws targeted horse and dog drawn transportation more than what we commonly think of as abuse.

  10. Once overwhelmingly rural, Africa is urbanizing at a faster rate than any other region on the planet.

    Urbanizing from one city to two cities is an increase of 100%, so “Duh.”

    1. We can learn much from primitive cultures.

  11. The successes of the continent’s ad hoc urban transit systems are partly due to government neglect.




    1. If the government doesn’t do it, we end up like Somalia. You want to live in Somalia?

      1. That’s funny. Every time.

        1. ROADS!!!!!

          1. Have you ever thought about getting on the stage? There’s one leaving at ten.

  12. You want to live in Somalia?

    I’m thinking Chile; the skiing in Somalia sucks.

  13. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Manilla, I’ve also been impressed by the efficiency of the variety of transport available. In Manilla, they had Jeepneys and in Thailand, red trucks plus tuk tuks as well as lots of motorbikes and a few bikes (not to mention private cars as well). I never had to wait long for a red truck in Chiang Mai. Ironically, I heard some foreigners complaining about the system, suggesting they needed to develop a mass transit system, with big busses roaming the streets with schedules. I argued this didn’t make sense – they were forgetting all the weak points of mass transit back home and besides, the narrow roads in many areas would be hard for bigger busses to navigate. Eventually, they did get busses in Chiang Mai, with limited routes, but still most people took the small trucks, as it was much more convenient.

  14. If you look at the successful mass transit systems in the US, you will see that originally they were privately owned. NYC, Chicago, Phillie, and the SF trollies provided services based on a model of making money. With the new systems the profit motive is absent. Which is why the new systems fail. The drive for profit is what makes the mass transit system useful to the end user (passengers). At $114K per employee it is about supporting union workers, not getting moving people, cheaply, from one point to another.

  15. Government regulation and credentialing systems that protect existing cartels and government transportation monopolies is the source of the problem.

    If the entry barriers to running a self-owned taxi or bus service weren’t so enormous there would be a far greater number of entrepreneurs willing to jump in and fill the need. You’d think there would be no reason to have huge entry barriers — have a properly inspected bus/taxi, insurance and a chauffer’s license and you’re good to go — but in most cities the limited number of taxi and private bus licenses cost a literal fortune and are handed down like fiefdoms.

    This only serves to protect the entrenched providers who have an incentive to make sure their resource remains relatively scarce and, thus, high priced.

    Furthermore, airports work hand-in-glove to support the entrenched providers allowing only official transportation service buses, locking passengers into cattle corrals to take taxis in maddeningly slow serial loading gates — you have a hundred yards of pickup area but everyone is corralled into a queue with a huge line of taxis only allowed to load in order, one or two at a time, so everyone, taxi and fare, is ‘fairly’ and completely inefficiently loaded first-come, first served.

    In less regulated countries, eager drivers in compact taxis prowl the arriving flights lanes, eager to pick up passengers as fast as they can reach the curb.

    Entrepreneurs in the U.S. have been fned and had their businesses for offering private shuttle services that fill a need, because they’re not willing to pay the outrageous licensing fees that turn small taxis and shuttles from a simple service that can earn decent money with hard work to an enormous investment only profitable in bulk from large providers.

    I remember, once I had a flight into NY La Guardia and a departing international flight from JFK. I went down to the long taxi line and looked at it in dismay. A guy came up to me surreptitiously, like a drug pusher trying to score a sale:

    Him: Psst, where you headed?

    Me: (quietly) JFK.

    Him: $35

    Me: *subtle nod*

    Him: *gestures toward the short term parking* Over this way.

    And we both headed off. Desperados. Criminals. But I avoided the stupid queue, and got a fast ride at a price that I was willing to pay.

    It’s not the first time I’ve done that.

    But we’re treated like criminals for engaging in a little free enterprise — he’s got a service I want. I’ve got money he wants. We’re both happy, but the government thinks it has a business regulating that.

    1. but if anyone being able to start a taxi service would hopelessly clog the NYC streets, then it IS indeed their business, isn’t it?

      and also, fuck you, take the fuckin trains & subway, who the hell takes a fuckin taxi unless they need to be somewhere fast? I live in NJ, have a car, and even I have a metrocard in my wallet

      1. but if anyone being able to start a taxi service would hopelessly clog the NYC streets, then it IS indeed their business, isn’t it?

        So, their tax money isn’t as good as the tax money from the other 37 million cab operators already on those city streets?

        and also, fuck you, take the fuckin trains & subway, who the hell takes a fuckin taxi unless they need to be somewhere fast? I live in NJ, have a car, and even I have a metrocard in my wallet

        I guess the person that takes a taxi instead of the trains is the one that CHOOSES TO take a taxi, you fucking nannyist prick douchebag.

      2. He had a flight into LAG and was departing from JFK. He clearly had to be somewhere quickly.

        There’s also no subway line into LaGuardia, taking the train between the two airports involves grabbing a bus and making 3 transfers. Maybe you should actually read the map that’s posted every three feet when you’re in NYC again.

        1. he didn’t actually say he had to be there quickly

          and JFK has a train going right into it

          1. It was clearly implied given the exasperation with having to wait at the taxi stand.

            JFK has the Airtrain but LaGuardia, where he already was, has no subway stop on its grounds and the nearest possible subway line has no direct connection to the Airtrain. Why should he have to go completely out of his way? For the feel-good purity that riding with the plebes on the subway provides?

            This is all besides the point, though. The original post was that getting a taxi at the airport is a colossal pain in the ass and the overregulation that NYC is famous for contributes to this problem, though I would contend that the biggest problem of all is the taxi stand itself. It’s much easier to grab a cab on 8th Ave and Penn Station than it is on 7th even though there is really no difference in the number of cabs available. The only difference is that there’s a stand on 7th and none on 8th.

            1. “Why should he have to go completely out of his way? For the feel-good purity that riding with the plebes on the subway provides?”

              did I say that?

              and you know what would be an even bigger problem? The insane congestion that would result if there were no barriers to anyone starting up a taxi

              It makes sense from the perspective of those who live in NYC and are already used to using public transport – instead of quicker getting-on-service, you wait a bit more but the taxi actually gets you somewhere in a reasonable amount of time

              1. “and you know what would be an even bigger problem? The insane congestion that would result if there were no barriers to anyone starting up a taxi”

                Do you have a source for that, or do you just like it because it sounds good? There might be more cars on the road if anyone could start up a taxi service, sure. Then again, if taxis were more numerous and cheaper, people might be more inclined to take them instead of taking private cars, too. As someone who lives in a neighborhood underserved by taxis, I would bet you on extremely good odds that any influx of new taxis would mostly serve underserved neighborhoods, rather than piling onto 5th Avenue. (How can I be so sure? Mostly because that _is_ what’s already happened with gypsy cabs and other quasi-legal transit services.)

                1. no I don’t have a source. I don’t need a source. It’s common fucking sense. NYC is already pretty fucking congested. It’s the densest place in the world. Maybe you need to pretend you don’t have it as a way to defend libertarianism, but the rest of us do.

                  1. Edwin is mixing in two separate (though not unconnected problems). To deal with congestion you increase the use of systems for collecting road tolls (and there’s a variety of ways to do that, which could increase under an open, competitive system). But don’t expect an incurious, reactionary imbecile like Edwin to think through this.

              2. “Did I say that?”

                Yes, you did: “fuck you, take the fuckin trains & subway, who the hell takes a fuckin taxi…?” You are quite obviously telling him that he shouldn’t bother taking a taxi and, since he is at LaGuardia, should go completely out of his way to get to where he needs to go. I gave an (obviously sarcastic) answer to my own question, you thin skinned child. Don’t backtrack.

                JD answered your rather silly point about congestion. Besides, if lowering traffic were really the point of TLC regulation then the city has failed miserably and needs to try something else. He didn’t mention the localized traffic jam the stand itself creates by making one lane of road unusable over a certain stretch, meaning that by attempting to control a theoretical traffic increase you have just created an actual one.

                1. no I didn’t say that you fucking fuck piece of shit. If he needs to get there quickly then fine, but otherwise bus then subway is cheaper and convenient enough. He can do whatever the he;; he wants, it’s just stupid that he’s complaining about taxi service when he’s lucky enough to be able to afford it in the firts place.

                  1. You think dropping the F-bomb every other sentence and telling people “F you”and calling them an “F’ing piece of sh*t” makes your argument sound better? I’m sorry, afraid not.

                    As many people said, I had a plane to catch, and bottom line, it’s my $35 bucks, I’ll spend it however I want, thank you.

                    As for congestion, I grew up in New Jersey. I’ve spent a *lot* of time in the city. Also a lot of time in cities like Sao Paolo and Brasilia, where the licensing is much less punitive. Taxi congestion is self-regulating by the market. If you allow more taxis, there aren’t suddenly, magically, a lot more people wanting to go places.

                    Taxi fares might go down, which would induce more people to take them.

                    Some of those people would be people who might otherwise take a bus or a subway, but other times, they’ll be people who would have been driving their own car. Taxis will probably always be more expensive than the bus or subway, so that’s always a factor that will limit ridership. You’re paying a premium for (hopefully) convenience, privacy and door-to-door service. For a lot of people, it isn’t worth the premium. That’s their choice.

                    If taxi ridership significantly increased congestion (like it could get any worse, some times of day), more people would take the subway, because it’s faster than sitting in traffic. There’s been a ton of times when I’ve been in midtown and needed to get down to the battery park area and looked at the traffic and thought, “Man, a cab is gonna take forever, even if I can catch one. I’ll take the subway.”

                    There’s a natural limit to how many cabs would clog the street, because there’s a natural limit to how many taxis the city can profitably support.

                    You’ve probably heard the illustrative example about how “Nobody knows how to make a pencil,” right? Well, nobody knows exactly what the right amount of cabs for NYC is. But the market knows.

                    We don’t set a limit on how many people are allowed to be computer programmers or lawyers, or carpenters. The market need regulates how many of them we have. There’s no reason taxis won’t work the same way.

                    1. blah blah blah more libertarian bullshit. It’s all just blind faith in the market: “Well, nobody knows exactly what the right amount of cabs for NYC is. But the market knows”

                      it’s never going to be a free market if the roads are public, now is it, dingus? not to mention you only focused on taxis, when the libertarian proposal would also involve buses

                    2. “We don’t set a limit on how many people are allowed to be computer programmers or lawyers, or carpenters. The market need regulates how many of them we have. There’s no reason taxis won’t work the same way.”

                      Jesus Christ, are you really falling for the bullshit libertarian false equivocation shit? Right, ’cause it’s all exactly the same thing.

                    3. here’s a little example – a friend of mine in Uruguay says one reason he doesn’t like to use the bus there (Montevideo) is it’s dangerous there. Why? Because a while back they “privatized” the bus service, so now the buses fight over the stops, when they get there, they each try to be first to pick up the people.

                      Now any idiot would know that part of the problem there is that clearly it isn’t “privatized” if the stops are still public. But that’s exactly what libertarianism is/leads to. You take this bullshit purist philosophy and ham handedly try to jam it into the real world where any reasonablke person would tell you it doesn’t fit. Even if you don’t run into the aforementioned problem with privatization, there are still issues with leasing stops/timeslots. In the first place the government would still control the set up of the time slots before they leased them, and then there are issues with monopolization since a single company probably could afford to lease out all the time/spaces. And the number of time slots is also an issue in terms of traffic, the more times a bus makes a route and makes it stops, the slower the traffic is thorugholut the day. And expansion/creating more slots is an issue from a land planning standpoint, and there would have to be parameter for the design of any new stops for safety, etc. etc.
                      All issues that you guys EXPLICITLY IGNORE. You guys are PROUD to ignore such actual practical considerations – everyone has the right to do anything and damn the consequences.
                      Even if someone were to write up legislation deliberately trying to expand trasport services through privatization, he’d still be an AuthoritarianFascistStatist? in your eyes, hell, you’re against the concept of legislation in the first place.

  16. IQ’s in sub-saharan Africa average 70 about the same in San Francisco.

  17. you guys are joking, right? Fucking bikes in Africa are more “efficient” than fucking modern subway trains that run in tunnels under a bay? The subways carry way more passengers much farther and faster and with a modicum of energy per person, and they’re less efficient than the guys on bicycles?
    That’s it, you guys are officially retarded. You’re not stupid, you’re not misguided, you’re just flat out retarded.

    and none of any of this crap that was said in the artcle is anything new to anyone. Yeah, van rides can be dirt cheap, if every road in the city is an open-use dirt road and the vans are as safe as trying to ride a rhino.
    It’s wonderful to claim that you have “new” and good ideas, but it’s all bullshit when you’re philosophy is anathema to the very examples you’re using. Last I checked, you idiots want all roads privatized, hell, I’ve even heard libertarians say there is no such thing as “public property”. And your refusal to admit to the legitimacy of safety codes and immediate and always referral to tort as a substitute would choke out any van system with liability.

    Not to mention you’d completely ignore the traffic issue. Once something is better according to the holy philosphy, all other considerations get ignore.

    of COURSE there’s a place for more van/bus services provided by some form of privatization – THAT ISN’T NEWS TO ANYONE. But if your philosophy is all philosophy and no practicality, if you’re a religious ascetic, and you refuse any slight deviations from doctrin, then you can never really be for reforms, can you?
    I could easily see a world with some form of privatization in place as is ostensibly advocated in the article, and you guys would still be complaining about it. The change in the zoning laws to allow for people to sell their land as bus stops would be too restrictive, or liability code to restrict liability would go against your purist idea of courts and liability. Hell, you guys are AGAINST the idea of legislation in the first place. How could anyone pass laws to help expand van service if legislation is illegitimate in the first place?

    1. Cake and eat it too?

    2. Hey bozo, did you read the article ? People are abandoning your trains, because they are becoming too costly, too slow and lowering in quality.

    3. Yeah, it’s a good thing we have safe public transportation, where Metrorail trains never ever have fatal crashes.

    4. That was harsh, but it does touch on one of the first things that came to my mind reading this. I live on Long Island and occasionally commute to Manhattan. What works in Sub-Saharan Africa might not scale so well in NYC and it’s suburbs. I still agree with the larger point that it should be left to the private sector and free market to work out what’s best.

      1. but how the hell is that supposed to work when bus stops are already built into PUBLIC streets, and all the development has occured without leaving room for bus stops, and any subways would also have to go on (under) PUBLIC roads

        again, there is room for expansion of private sector service. Here in Jersey, Coach USA leases the NJ Transit bus stops or something, I dunno exactly but somehow they use the NJ transit bus stops. But it’s never going to be completely private

      2. Like I said, there could be a policy to help create more private service big time, that’s reasonable and not a new idea, but that isn’t what libertarians are proposing

        1. Alright, let me modify that. It should be left to the private sector *as much as possible*. The reason I think this is because I believe there are many people who are smarter that myself may come up with solutions I haven’t thought of. I could see the Government being involved but I rather see them involved to the least extent necessary.

          1. why? Are you saying the private sector is a good in and of itself? Or do you want that only as a means of providing cheap, widespread service, with the expectation that the private sector tends to do that more often?

            If the latter, then that’s reasonable, but it may not always be true. With the way things are going fiscally, we may one day see unions banned from public sector jobs and construction projects. Especially might happen if we come close to bankruptcy and the government takes emergency measures and powers (this is sort of what happened in China and India that led them to take up more capitalism).
            Without unions and with less liability and taxes, the private sector could provide cheaper service

            and then on the other hand, it might be better on net for everyone if the government provides more service than the market would, simply because it’s more useful. For example, people complain about the subways in NYC at night wasting money – yeah, from the standpoint of expenditures, but it running that late also helps out the economy; how many young people from Jersey are there spending money in NYC bar hopping and partying? While the extra service costs more, it entices people to spend in NYC which helps spur the economy, which even ultimately helps actually raise tax revenue through sales taxes and higher realty valuations (since you casn make more money with the real estate if there are more customers expected) – not saying the tax part breaks even, but the economy-stimulating effects and actual usefulness is undeniable.

  18. But I avoided the stupid queue, and got a fast ride at a price that I was willing to pay.

    Just wait- one of these days, you’ll wake up in a bathtub filled with ice, and no kidneys. In SOMALIA!

    1. We’re funny!

    2. They have an ice-maker in Somalia now? I thought their only water source is a legionairres-infested backwater that also serves as a sewer because the government collapsed.

      1. Suffering is funny!

  19. Those Africans don’t even wear helmets when they ride their bicycles!

    That whole continent is a deathtrap!

  20. Wow, OK kinda crazy when you think about it. wow.


  21. but if anyone being able to start a taxi service would hopelessly clog the NYC streets, then it IS indeed their business, isn’t it?

    You’re awesome.

  22. Minivans occasionally drop parts mid-route without causing a driver to pause.

    Been there, done that. 1966 Ford Falcon.

    1. When the master cylinder falls off, you can’t pause!

  23. Government-influenced/operated services suck. Not that San Francisco is worth two shits and therefore our concern, but it’s still true. Tough shit, SF.

  24. I’m curious to know where you got your numbers for BART ridership, as the numbers posted on BART’s website do not at all match your claim:


    Looks like an increase of around 5% for April 2011 compared to April 2010, and similar amounts for the months prior to that.

    Also, you mention Caltrain, which has set ridership records for the last several months, because of shifting the schedule around to provide more baby bullet services on weekends.

    I actually completely agree with most of your post, but I am baffled at why you felt the need to lie about ridership numbers. Bay Area transit is embarrassingly expensive and inefficient, but that absolutely has not led to “riders abandoning” it.

    1. What, you’ve never heard of adjusting reality to fit a thesis?

      1. Who’s been telling you about our tactics?

    2. BART ridership at or near record high:


  25. In Denver in 2008 at the Libertarian National convention, my son and I caught a bicycle rickshaw from Coors Field back up the 16th Street Mall to the convention hotel. Busses weren’t running that late. $20 well spent in the fresh air, about the same as a taxi.

    In LA there is a novel experiment called the Orange Line, which is a Metro bus operating on a dedicated bus-only line that acts like light rail, signaled intersections and crossing gates and all. But it’s a lot cheaper to build and maintain.

    There are solutions out there, even if public transit out west still doesn’t know what frequent mass transit scheduling and parking garages are all about.

  26. Please don’t, I repeat, don’t try it.

    There is nothing to learn from the chaotic mess of public transport in Africa.

    I live there, so I should know.

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