When we think about roads it is hard for us to imagine having them built and owned by anything other than government. Government has been building our roads for so long that we never stop to think if this could ever be done in the private market. How would we pay for the roads? Who would choose where roads go? What if there weren't roads where they were needed? These are all important questions to consider when viewing private roads.
No traffic today, or tomorrow, or ever again
There is traffic on roads because there is demand on roads. In business when there is a demand for something the company figures out a way to supply more of it. In the Internet business when traffic to a website increases the website owner doesn't just handle traffic jams and congestion -- they go out and buy more servers and make sure that they can handle the traffic. Sites like Google and Facebook who get tons of traffic don't just concede to traffic being a problem and tell people they're going to have to wait. That's not the way things work in the free market. When Google and Facebook get traffic they buy more servers and support the traffic.
Why then don't we do this with government roads? Why don't they find ways to support the traffic? Why don't they build roads in more efficient ways? Why doesn't the government plan roads to be scalable? The free market Internet can do it, why can't roads do it? Because government is involved, that's why.
In a free market when there is a demand for something that demand is met. If roads were privately owned there would be a profit incentive for the road owner(s) to figure out a way to get the most people through their roads as possible. Fixing traffic problems would be a profitable priority in the free market. Owners would figure out ways to make sure that their customers, the drivers, were always happy and always using their roads.
Think that somehow roads are different than the Internet? How? Because the Internet is digital and roads aren't? Well the infrastructure data flows through on the Internet is just as real as the roads cars flow through in real life. Just as we can find ways to increase bandwidth with the Internet we can find ways to increase bandwidth on our roads.
"I thought the yacht was a Denny's"
Private roads would create better drivers. It would be under the road owner's best interest to have as few accidents as possible. Less experienced drivers would be more expensive than more experienced drivers. Road owners wouldn't want to have people getting into accidents and creating insurance problems, more congestion, more monitoring and all these other expenses. Road owners would want people to drive well. And because of this many road owners would probably get together and create certain road standards that majority of road owners would adopt. And these wouldn't be your ordinary socialist standards that we have now.
Good drivers would be rewarded in a private system. Drivers that don't get into accidents and that are more capable of driving would be able to follow less rules. Conversely drivers that got into more accidents and that weren't as capable as others at driving would have less driving privileges. If you were bad at driving you would be punished for it. Everyone wouldn't be treated the same and have to follow the same rules. Good drivers would have more freedom because they are less likely to make a mistake. Good drivers could drive faster. Good drivers could drive in the fast lane. Good drivers could go through red lights if there is no traffic.
A middle aged man or woman is going to be a better driver than an 80 year old lady most of the time. That's life. And because of this the lowest common denominator, the 80 year old lady, shouldn't be setting the rules for everyone else. Absolutely not. The rules should be set by each individual. You can't clump everyone together and say that you all have to follow these rules. The rules don't apply to everyone. Different people who have different abilities require different rules. The 30 year old guy with 20/20 vision who has never been an accident is a better driver than the 80 year old lady with poor vision and a track record of accidents. So the owners of the roads would make the old lady go slow and allow the young man to go fast. If you want to be able to go fast then become better at driving.
Private road owners would want to make roads as efficient as possible, which means getting people from point A to point B as fast as possible. It would be smart for road owners to devise safe ways for people to go faster. It doesn't matter how they do it, this would be the goal. They could have different speeds for different levels of drivers, they could have ways to minimize collision damage, they could structure roads to have less turns and stops or they could come up with a myriad of other creative ways. It wouldn't matter how it's done, this would be the goal and this is what road owners would work towards.
Roads could have fast lanes similar to the carpool lanes we have now. "A Drivers" would be allowed to drive in the fast lanes where they would have no speed limit. It would work similar to the autobahns in Germany. You would be rewarded for being a good driver and you would be able to actually use the top speed on your car and get where you need to go.
If you weren't a good driver you wouldn't be allowed into these lanes and if you got into one of these lanes penalties would ensue. "B Drivers" would have a set speed and "C Drivers" would also have a set speed. If you were mad about being a "C Driver" you would be able to go through various driving courses provided by the free market to allow you to improve your driving skills.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse
The private road owners would not be in the business to fine you for silly reasons. If they did a competitor would come along, not charge for silly stuff and then put them out of business. So private road companies would compete to have the cheapest roads with the least amount of pointless tickets. So there wouldn't be quotas to pull over a certain number of drivers each week. There wouldn't be traps set up to catch you off guard. There wouldn't be huge prices to pay when you did break a rule. It just wouldn't and couldn't happen in a free market. Things would actually make sense and rules and penalties would have efficient reasoning behind them.
There would be less tickets to go around because it wouldn't be the priority of the owners to give you tickets. They would want to keep you happy and so you would drive on their roads and so they would make money.
There would be less roadwork if roads were private. In a free market it would be under the owner's best interest to come up with the best placement of roads before hand. And while they did construct the road great measures would also be done to make sure that when something did go bad it could be replaced in the cleanest and most efficient manner.
There's no reason to dig a road up time and time again because you keep deciding that you need to add something underneath it or that you forgot to do something the first time. It's a waste of money, time and it is upsets your customers. So road owners would find ways to do less roadwork if roads were private.
Through all these improvements in efficiency roads would ultimately be less expensive than they are right now. Right now our roads are not free, and they're not cheap. The way we do roads right now is force people to hand their money over to the government via taxation and then the bureaucracy goes about figuring out the best way to make use of our money.
As with any government taxation, this is a bad idea. The better way to do roads is to let road owners charge each person individually with whatever method makes the most sense. There are a lot of different methods we could use, especially with the technology we have these days. We could have a GPS monitor on our vehicles that tracks which roads we are using and then totals our numbers into an online database that we can view and pay online. We could have toll roads similar to how we have them now only fees would be rendered to the road owners and not the state. These are just two obvious methods, the possibilities are endless. Whichever way made the most sense for collection would be used, and the prices for roads would be cheaper than it is now.
Cities owned privately
Another interesting piece to this is the ownership of cities. Right now cities are aren't really owned and are more so managed collectively by the city government. A better approach would be to open up ownership of cities. If Bill Gates wanted to come along and buy up a city he should be able to. In this sense the city would now be a business and it would be in the best interest of Bill Gates to construct useful transportation, economy, entertainment and so on. The city owner would run the city as a business and in doing so would make sure that the city was well taken care of and well maintained. And part of this maintenance and planning would be the roads and transportation. If it was handled privately and ownership of cities was private the cities and roads would be better.
So there you have it -- a world with private roads. Simple. Elegant. And efficient. Just because the government has always been involved in something doesn't mean that it's the best way to go about things. If the government was involved in shoe manufacturing and they had always manufactured shoes we would find it weird to have the private market create shoes. But it's possible, and the private market does create shoes -- better than the government ever could. And the same can be said with roads. The private market is set to take on the demand of roads and transportation and will do a better job than the government at a cheaper cost.
Filed under:Politics / Government, Roads, Private, Free Market, Anarcho-Capitalism