Blog post

“Should All Public Transit Be Free?”

Clara Heyworth 5 October 2010

In a recent article for Big Think John Cookson cites Erik Olin Wright, author of Envisioning Real Utopias, on the subject of—gasp—whether all public transit should be free. 

"Of course public transportation has to be paid for," writes Wright, "but it should not be paid for through the purchase of tickets by individual riders—it should be paid for by society as a whole through the one mechanism we have available for this, taxation." 

"This should not be thought of as a 'subsidy' in the sense of a transfer of resources to an inefficient service in order for it to survive," he says, "but rather as the optimal allocation of our resources to create the transportation environment in which people can make sensible individual choices between public and private means of transformation that reflect the true costs of these alternatives."

Here here. And once we've got free public transit for all, we can move swiftly onto establishing free healthcare for all in the US ...

Indeed in Envisioning Real Utopias Wright relates the "positive externalities" of public transit (eg. reduced air pollution, less traffic congestion, health benefits) to those of education and public health services:

The same kind of argument about positive externalities can made about education, public health services, and even things like the arts and sports. In each of these cases there are positive externalities for the society in general that reach beyond the people directly consuming the service: it is better to live in a society of educated people than of uneducated people; it is better to live in a society in which vaccinations are freely available, even if one is not vaccinated; it is better to live in a society with lots of arts activities, even if one does not directly consume them; it is better to live in a society with extensive recreational activities for youth even is one is not young. If this is correct, then is it economically inefficient to rely on capitalism and the market to produce these things.

Sadly, Cookson doesn't mention the obvious parallels between advocating free public transit and, for example, free public healthcare in his article.

Visit Big Think to read the article in full.