Toll Roads

Think Roads Are Always a Public Good? Think Again


Are roads a public good (i.e., a product that markets won't adequately provide)? That's presumably the rationale behind the government's near monopoly on road construction and maintenance. As a society, we've delegated responsibility for everything from country lanes to transcontinental highways to bureacrats somewhere. But need it really be that way?

A recent story from the U.K. offers more evidence the answer is no. From the YouTube description:

Fed up with a 14-mile diversion caused by a landslip, businessman Mike Watts has taken a £300,000 risk and set up his own private toll road. It costs £2 for cars to travel the 400 metres—which is slightly less than the cost of the petrol to take the detour. And the odd thing is this: despite the Kelston Toll Road not being approved by the local council, Mike is still on the right side of the law.

Watch the full video below.

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  1. Turnpikes.

    1. You beat me to the punch on this, but adding:


  2. Roads are neither non-rivalrous nor non-excludable, so not an economic public good by definition. Next question.

  3. Are roads a public good (i.e., a product that markets won’t adequately provide)?

    Ehhhhhh, I don’t know if that’s a good way to put it. Per The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, public goods

    …have two distinct aspects: nonexcludability and nonrivalrous consumption. “Nonexcludability” means that the cost of keeping nonpayers from enjoying the benefits of the good or service is prohibitive.

    The argument then follows that because of those attributes, markets cannot adequately provide them. Using id est implies that to be what defines them.

    1. Does that mean that governments need to provide them? I think you could use something similar to kickstarter to privately fund public goods (ie, a broad base of people make binding pledges of money, but unless the total required funds are raised, no one is on the hook and the project does not go forward).

  4. And he travels in that cool white Tardis.

    1. And collects money at the same time.


    That is never going to stop being funny.

  6. Oh but we need limited gov’t ( mini slavery) cause RoAdZ!! Poleese and DeFenCe!!! Anarchy is crisis and chaos….. So just ignore the housing crisis, the education crisis, the budget crisis, the banking crisis, the economic crisis, the college crisis, the infrastructure crisis and the healthcare crisis among other crisis.

    Computers, many appliances, shoes, watches, the Internet and Jewelry are basically unregulated and free from political interference. When the hell was the last time there was crisis with any of these, and how long did it last?

    Road socialism doesn’t become magically efficient and effective just because one says so. With socialism, there is no market. Price signals are derived from individuals in the market. Roads are shielded from market consequenses, so there can be no economizing. They don’t care for the consumer, as the consumer can not say they will not be paying without violence being used against them by the gov’t.

    Road innovation doesn’t pay (outside of private markets), and the road bureaucracy isn’t incentivised to build roads that utilize the latest technology. Old construction techniques that utilize conventional construction instead of utilizing crumb rubber, etc. The road departments always use their budgets to the max in order to help get the same budget as last year or even more. They leave roads un paved to say “hey look, but we have to fix these RoADZ!! and need more money!!!

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