Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Jitney's Needed?

There is considerable debate in the state of New Jersey about whether Newark or Camden is the Garden State's armpit. True connoisseurs of sweat, however, would add another - the one that gave us The Diving Horse: Atlantic City. All three have long-passed their glory days.  AC, remains a hollow shell of its mid-20th century optimistic seaside-self, despite many billions of collective investment by private casino operators and public authorities.  Camden more closely resembles war-torn Mogadishu or the bombed-out Syrian frontline of Homs than it does prosperous archetypical suburbs like Darien, CT or Merion, PA.  Newark, alone, may rise once again, like a Phoenix, recalling Philip Roth's adolescent days, if only a result of its proximity to New York.  Yet, Atlantic City, for all its flaws, retains a pragmatic solution to public transport from which many public transport authorities can learn. It is called The Jitney, and is simply an uber-practical shrunken bus.

Nothing is more galling to a taxpayer than senseless avoidable waste. Cynical fraud can at least be seen in the context of benefits delivered. Some mean-spirited Libertarians see it everywhere. I am more generous, but nonetheless loathe stupidity, rigidity and tolerance for things abysmally-sub-optimal. Where I reside, in the leafy hilly part of Kent County, everyday I see huge, aged, empty buses plying their routes with growling Spitfire-sounding diesel's that would annoy Harley riders, struggling to climb steep grades as they make their way through the lanes and up hills of my area, belching smoke, wasting petrol, blocking or slowing traffic both on major arteries and B-roads, menacing cyclists with their overtaking. And outside of the rush hour/school runs, they are empty -  or appear virtually so given the ratio of passengers to available seats.  Ghost buses. And each and every time I see this, apart from my selfish desire for less polluted air, silence, and budgetary optimization, I feel as if a crime were being committed. And I wonder: where is the Jitney? One would have thought that, if one formed opinions on the basis of hyperbole, the private sector would have ingeniously invented and tailored market solutions that would quickly eliminate (or reduce) the horrifying waste described for all of these are private concessions (Arriva, MetroBus etc.) with, one would presume, the appropriate profit motives.  

France is not without its macroeconomic and social problems. However, when it comes to public sector policy solutions and their execution, be they infrastructure, public works, or healthcare, one should take notice, not because I say so, but because they tend to pursue non-ideological pragmatic solutions to policy conundrums that would baffle ideologues from both the right and left.  In contrast, to the smoke-belching rust-buckets on spartan routes subsidized by my UK County plying their neglected, pot-holed roads, my municipality in France, delivers multiple bus solutions that pragmatically balance efficiency, cost, with public needs in pursuit of the public interest. During busy hours, and in high-demand areas,  the public authority deploys modern quiet, bendy-buses while on smaller routes, they dispatch drivers with modern Jitney equivalents that navigate country lanes without endangering on-coming traffic (and cyclists thankyouverymuch!!) and that can climb hills without draining the public fuel depot and purse. While the agency combines the resources of 13 towns surrounding our main city, the public authority also cooperates and coordinates with the regional transport authority to run convenient routes that cross jurisdictions without, as the case in my UK village, having to change buses just because of splintered geography and fractured concessions. That is even before mentioning cost which is low by any standards, but benefits everyone:   passengers, business, non-passengers (less traffic and congestion on the road) and everyone else by lowering pollution.

Brits are a curious lot. Stoic. Patient. And, in the main, suspicious of collective activity as Orwell highlighted six decades prior, save for self-organizing their curiously peculiar pass-times such as birdwatching, needlepoint or plane-spotting societies. This suspicion of The Group Movement, he pointed out, insured that facism could never gain a foothold over these islands. For the mere sight of goose-steppers on the High Street with their earnestly-shined boots and silly rigid march would elicit derisive mocking laughter - a far greater deterrent than any form of counter-organization. The dark side of this combination of national traits is that the majority of people, and the public's interest  suffer at the hands of more intensely-motivated and greedy parochial interests. Private monopolists abuse inelastic demand curves with an inert and collusive political class and the result: USD$40 a train ticket into London for the scant 24 mile return journey ($50 if you wish to park your car), roads that are hopelessly pot-holed and in dis-repair despite some of the highest road taxes and fuel-surcharges in Europe; bus-service so poor and mis-fitted for purpose it makes you cry. And the people stoically, patiently, say nothing, and do nothing, as the carpet-baggers using the svengali-like mantra  of "free-market is best" empty the purses of the people extinguishing any hope of creating pragmatic efficient solutions to public policy issues. Like deploying efficient Jitney-like buses. Or maintaining authority and rectitude over monopolistic concessions sold or granted in the public's interest, rather than the Public Interest being treated like little fuck-boys of opportunists-run-amok.  And still, the monopolists continue to push, and take, and gorge, not realizing the risk they run for themselves and their investors. Even the Brits have their breaking point and make no mistake, stoic as they are, even though it's been more than eight centuries, they WILL "go postal".

How they managed to run an empire is baffling. In all likelihood, it would have baffled Cyrus and Darius too. Now, the home territories are neglected. Now, there is too little enlightenment. Too little wisdom. Too little pragmatism. And not enough Jitneys...


Buzz said...

I love it when you write stuff like this one....about things I can relate to. The *other* stuff is interesting but finance, as an industry, is depressing from my perspective as a small business man trying to make a living in the hyper-complex environment of California. Ugh.

Very nice post.

Anonymous said...

They didn't run the empire, they had it run for them. They had more serious stuff to do than to run the empire (such as playing cricket, polo, shooting whatever moved etc.).

Otherwise, I agree with your observations, although I have some positives.. When I still lived in Suffolk, one year an ancient large bus (that never got even half-full) was gone. I doubt it went to a museum since there was quite a few of them but nevertheless.. For half a year nothing was there, but then, all of sudden, a mini bus showed up. It run once in a morning, and once in an evening, so not ideal, but hey, better than nothign. And as far as I can tell, organized by the community...

The main problem as I see it is that local councils tend to have little knowledge and interest in public transport outside of trains (with the exception of London of course)