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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yep, lets privatize everything that supports people. Heck, if people can’t afford to pay for companies to make profits off them, we should just F*** them. Lets privatize, police, fire, ATC, and heck, the military! You know, private businesses NEVER fail, and NEVER have issues, I mean, look at how great Uber is? (Remember, its loosing BILLIONS per year)

  2. @joelfreak let’s privatize everything that can provide better services to users than the government can. That’s a pretty long list. The amount of needless suffering created by government run transit systems is massive — many people consider their twice daily commutes to be absolutely life sapping. The only excuse for the government to run these systems is to provide featherbedded jobs for politically connected people, but these come at an extremely steep price. Since people running the transit systems in the USA are the only people benefitted by keeping them in the hands of incompetent bureaucrats, there is little reason to hope that they will selflessly decide to do the right thing and allow them to be run by private enterprise — despite the massive amounts of real world evidence that every privately run system is better than any system in any US municipality.

    Yes, private businesses sometimes fail, but government run enterprises in the United States always fail to serve their customers (i.e., USPS, Amtrak, NYMTA, NYNJPA, DC Metro, etc.). The people who run government enterprises are no less self-interested than the people who run private businesses.
    The important difference is that private businesses make money by providing services that customers want and value, while government bureaucrats make money by denying consumers choices so that they can extract as much tax payer money for their featherbedding and corruption.

  3. @Mak – This movement to privatize all of these public areas has gone way overboard. Prisons, huh? There’s a great example. What could possibly go wrong? Oh wait, rife corruption, lack of accountability, fewer jobs with good benefits for the lower and middle class, and some corporation incentivizing incarceration. Likewise, while it would be nice for public transportation to break even, or even earn a profit, the nature of the organization is to move people around, not earn a profit. If the profit concern was foremost, as would absolutely be required if public trans was no longer public, then many routes would be cut, purely for efficiency, of course. The facts that the poorest segments of society would be the big losers, and their loss of transit service leaves them even worse off would be politely ignored. Some things you just gotta take a loss on, to help larger numbers of people. It may cost more, but it’s the right thing to do.

  4. I’m a fiscal conservative, yet I also think the prison system should not be privatized given the purposeful removal of someone’s freedoms. Thats a good example of a case against privatization.

    I don’t have an issue with the idea of a government-run program if structured to provide efficiency and service to its customers – it’s just that in Western democracy/culture there are many kinds of constituencies taken into the political calculus that end up incentivizing mismanagement.

    FWIW there is no transit system in the US that compares to many transit systems in Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore). Tokyo is in my view the tops by far.

  5. @Christian thanks for the excellent strawman you have given yourself to knock down so easily. Nobody is talking about privatizing prisons — putting aside that much of what doesn’t work about them applies equally to government run transit systems and other state enterprise — corrupt politicians happy to enrich themselves at the expense of society.

    Why don’t you tell us why private transit systems can’t work, as that is what everybody else is discussing. Have you been to Tokyo (or Japan generally which has a massive and world beating private rail system), Singapore, or Hong Kong, and are you able to formulate an argument why people in the USA don’t deserve such excellent service? Do you really think the average New Yorker, Washingtonian, Chicagoan, Bostonian, etc., would not be benefitted by such a system, and that it wouldn’t palliate the misery that the government systems put them through twice a day? In my view government control of the rails in the United States is not just foolish, but is at the point — especially in New York — where it is simply cruel to force people to suffer with the government run system. Please defend this. You might also take a run at why the United States is better as one of the last countries in the industrial world with a government run post office, when we see with our own eyes everyday how much better UPS and FedEx deliver packages to us.

  6. @Mak – For a privatization advocate, it seems a little odd that you’ve missed the movement to privatize prisons. Almost a fifth of Federal prisoners are handled privately, so saying that no one is talking about it seems a touch out of date.
    As to the specifics of public transit, you’ve managed to avoid addressing a single point that I’ve made. You simply declare that you’re right, government is corrupt and evil, and that some Asian mega cities have great private transit systems (which, to be fair, they do). Additionally, the big cities that you name have limited relevance to most of our country. Come up with solutions for Memphis. That’s at least representative of more of the country than D.C.

  7. @Christian I can’t address any of your points with regard to privatization of transit systems, because you haven’t made any coherent ones.

    Prisons are quite a bit different than transport service companies like bus and train lines, because — unlike virtually every other industry — they provide services not to customers who choose whether or not to purchase them and for what price, but rather provide services to people who have absolutely no say in the matter and are “served” on a wholly involuntary basis. This happens while the costs are paid and services evaluated by public sector bureaucrats whom are highly corruptible and of questionable competence. The failure of private prisons provides no reason to deny citizens of decent private transport options, and keep them subjected — like prisoners — to the vicissitudes and corruption of “public servants.”

  8. Private transit may run the most efficient service, but efficiency isn’t the sole goal of society. Inclusivity is also important, not just for individuals, but for the health of a society overall. Public transit doesn’t just serve those on the popular routes: Most systems use the heavily-traveled, profitable routes to cross-subsidize routes that might lose money due to fewer riders, according to Ian Savage, a transportation economist at Northwestern University. Private transit companies have no good business reason to provide service along routes that will lose money. But that sets up a losing proposition for both public systems and the ridership of less popular routes: Private services might wind up competing with the government along the profitable routes, siphoning money-making customers, and ultimately challenging the government’s ability to subsidize the less-profitable lines. Cutting off commuting options isn’t just annoying, it keeps people stuck in their impoverished neighborhoods and prevents from getting them to the jobs they need to improve their lives. A government that can’t or won’t provide transportation may keep its residents mired in poverty.

  9. @Mak speaking of straw man arugements From your comment I assume that you don’t know that the US post office was authorized in the US constitution and written into law by congress. Changing that will take a Herculean effort and is not a good arguement for privatization:

    “In June 1788, the ninth state ratified the Constitution, which gave Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” in Article I, Section 8. A year later, the Act of September 22, 1789 (1 Stat. 70), continued the Post Office and made the Postmaster General subject to the direction of the President. Four days later, President Washington appointed Samuel Osgood as the first Postmaster General under the Constitution. A population of almost four million was served by 75 Post Offices and about 2,400 miles of post roads.
    The Post Office received two one-year extensions by the Acts of August 4, 1790 (1 Stat. 178), and March 3, 1791 (1 Stat. 218). The Act of February 20, 1792 (1 Stat. 232), continued the Post Office for another two years and formally admitted newspapers to the mails, gave Congress the power to establish post routes, and prohibited postal officials from opening letters. Later legislation enlarged the duties of the Post Office, strengthened and unified its organization, and provided rules for its development. The Act of May 8, 1794 (1 Stat. 354), continued the Post Office indefinitely.
    The Post Office moved from Philadelphia in 1800 when Washington, D.C., became the seat of government. Two horse-drawn wagons carried all postal records, furniture, and supplies.”

  10. @Mak – Instead of dancing around the point, you could just admit that you’re wrong on the prisons argument. ” Nobody is talking about privatizing prisons”, eh?

    I’m saddened that you couldn’t find a single point to contend in my argument. I’d rather hoped for better, given your seeming erudition. @Alex has done a superb job undertaking a retort, but nonetheless, in my considerably less eloquent way I still initially stated that transit service for the poor would suffer in the interest of profit. Government services are not, and should not be subject to the dictates of shareholder profits at the expense of the people. You accept any fiscal losses as a price to pay in a civilized society.

  11. @Alex Just because the Constitution authorizes a Post Office, does not require Congress to maintain an obsolete organization that sucks up billions of tax dollars. It also does not require Congress to grant the USPS a monopoly on letter mail, or to prosecute those trying to compete with it — such as the famous case of abolitionist Lysander Spooner who was persecuted for competing with the USPS.

    @Christian “Government services are not, and should not be subject to the dictates of shareholder profits at the expense of the people. You accept any fiscal losses as a price to pay in a civilized society.”

    Your comment is a non-sequitur, as you simply conclude that transit is a “government service” and therefore no connection to your other unsupported observation that profit from them is somehow immoral (which I disagree with, but is besides the point). Private transit exists all over the world from Curitiba to Hong Kong to Stockholm to Melbourne to Singapore, and just because US cities generally treat their transit services as a prime source of political patronage, does not mean that it needs to be or that society is better off because of it — it is not. Government run transit — and the people whom are paid to run it — trade in human misery of the customers whom are forced to use their services — and that is not a “civilized” system — for civilization look at the HK MTR, Singapore SMTR, Japan JR Systems and Tokyo Metro, all of which are run as corporations, all but one of which is run for profit, and none of which are political entities.

  12. When companies are run for a profit, they will always be correcting inefficiencies. That is why many corporations must be run or regulated by the government. Otherwise you risk the following:
    “Sorry, you are too far from us to profitably provide you with”‘:
    Public transit
    Cable or wi-fi
    Fire or police protection
    Water supply
    Mail delivery…….etc.
    Private companies have no desire to lose money.

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