Jordan Rides the Bus

The title of this blog is derived from an ESPN original film of the same name, as a part of the “30 for 30” documentary series. The reasons I chose this title are, one, that the documentaries are incredible and, two, because it describes my experience with public transit of late.

In the documentary, Michael Jordan, rode the team bus with all the other members of his minor league baseball team during the two years he took off from basketball as a team-building exercise.

My own experience riding the bus over recent weeks, to and from work, is not likely to appear on ESPN anytime soon. This experience starts around 7:45 each morning, when I wake up with enough time to eat and catch the 8:30 Red Line to campus. I have become particularly fond of the Red Line, and joke frequently with friends about how much better it is than any other form of transportation.  Yesterday, I attempted to catch the Red Line over to a restaurant where my friends were watching the game. I missed that bus, but fortunately, a trolley runs by the same stop a little bit after, and I was able to catch it. Strangely, I found myself being the only one on the bus. For about 20 minutes it was me and the bus driver, like my own personal limo driver came to pick me up (and then took a really roundabout way to my destination).

How does this experience fit with the ideas of liberty?

Publicly-funded transportation is a social collection, and use, of resources. Public buses are owned and operated using tax payers’ dollars, by definition. From where does justification for such public transportation usually originate? In my experience, the argument goes something like this: public transportation helps those less fortunate in society make their way to their jobs, schools, areas of leisure, and job interviews for that matter, cheaper for them than would be otherwise. This benefits us all, so it’s claimed, because workers are necessary for companies to operate. This notion can be found in much modern day progressive rhetoric. While I too would like everyone to have the cheapest form of transportation (and the cheapest food, houses, etc.), this argument seems to break down with a few thought, and personal experiments.

Why was I all alone on that bus yesterday? According to the logic, public transportation is used by those who need it most-those traveling to their places of work or play. Why, at this moment, was it not? Perhaps because it was a Sunday afternoon in which people were observing the rules of Christ and relaxing as God suggested (I do not intend for that to sound sarcastic as it does in text form — it’s possible that is an explanation). Perhaps at that time people were not in between, but in the middle of shifts at work, and as soon as they finished, the bus would fill up with passengers (ignoring the fact that all people in the area at that moment were not likely working the same shifts). Perhaps there were no forms of leisure suitable to citizens within the range of the trolley system. Or, more likely, perhaps, those for whom the buses are intended are not so keen to use its benefits as the progressives in society imagined. I can promise you, from experience, yesterday was not the only time I was the sole passenger on the bus.

The point is, even if we assume a lot about my trip in yesterday’s experience, the public transportation model still doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. If you believe in the idea that we are all here together and some should benefit from their misfortunes, mistakes, or general position of financial insufficiency, I can maybe understand that the bus system is justifiable to you through a very small lens because it makes you feel better as a person. But why the inefficiency? Why does the trolley, running on tax dollars for fuel, driver, and the bus itself, run when nobody is using it? I can cite the numerous articles that point to the mayhem of bureaucratic red tape, but I don’t need to. The reason it ran yesterday is because there is no reason it shouldn’t — it has a monopoly on that market and can usurp more and more tax dollars if necessary, assuming people continue ignoring it, and politicians keep making policies that get them elected, rather than those that help society the most.

Think about it this way: why was there not a taxi driving by that location to pick me up at that moment? Likely because they know that there is typically nobody there. They would not waste their time or money driving to a place where no one will pay the fare to drive them to their destination. But the bus does, because resources come from someone else, and it matters not to them if the funds run out. In fact, two buses ran by (if you recall, I missed the first one).

Now, those closest to me that know my libertarian beliefs often make this next claim, so I hope to preemptively address it. They say, “Mark, you use the Red Line, so you obviously don’t believe that it’s a bad thing.” This argument is unfounded. Of course I use it! Chalk it up to personal research (for moments like these), but realistically I like to use it because (with a student ID) it’s FREE! Does that mean that I would all of a sudden not be able to go to work if the bus system stopped working? Does it mean I actually believe in the progressive message despite my libertarian blathering? Not one bit. I would make a simple calculation to figure out what’s the next cheapest mode of transportation that would allow me to still make a decent wage once I arrived at work, as would everyone else.

I suppose those still unaffected by the argument of inefficiency, who still feel they know what’s best for the poor despite the fact that the impoverished don’t “cooperate,” can keep on using this logic, but we are all poorer because of it.

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