Turnpike Sell-off

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a piece [trial subscription required to read the full article] on the leasing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Apparently some 50 companies have expressed interest.

The general tone of the article was that leasing public infrastructure may be the next big financial investment opportunity.

Maybe we should see what we can get for the Bull Run water system. Then our kids could buy back their drinking water…

11 responses to “Turnpike Sell-off”

  1. John –

    Chris did a whole post about the Mother Jones article just the other day (see “Outsourcing Our Political Will”). I think you missed his sarcasm… he is certainly not advocating the WSJ position.

    – Bob R.

  2. I would support selling off everything! The government is an abysmal failure at everything it does and is deep in debt. Time for a new way!

  3. Anybody follow what is being proposed in Texas? The Trans Texas Corridor is a proposed network that could be 4000 miles in total length of highways, railroads, and utilities grouped together in the same corridor. Each Corridor could be up to 1200ft wide. That alone has people up in arms, but the company that won the contract for the first of these Public/Private Partnerships CintraZachry, a partnership of a Spanish and a Texas Company. CINTRA of Spain just won a 75 year concession on the Indiana Toll Road. Now the state of Texas is allowing this foreign company to basically have the right of eminent domain to build this. Now I like the concept for Super Corridors, and it is to be phased in. One example could be just Truck Only toll lanes where trucks bypass a congested city, with car lanes to follow later. It is a political hot potato. In the election only the Governor was for it, and he barely got more votes than everybody else.

    Although the TTC idea is too big, I support the idea of it’s use up here. Possibly adding the rail and utility component to I-90 might be a good idea, with Truck Lanes as well, and maybe a toll railway/utility corridor bypassing the urban Puget Sound corridors could be another.

  4. Maybe we aren’t so far off from the idea as we think we are:

    Most ambulance services are already private.

    Many utilities (power, phone, cable) are already private.

    Most hospitals/health care is already private.

    There are plenty of private security companies that are made up of ex-cops.

    There are private prisons.

    Many public facilities contract out their basic mechanical functions like janitorial service and building management. (My building is owned by PSU and the City of Portland, but is managed by Norris Beggs Simpson, and custodial services by Portland Habilitation Center. And the building security is through another company. All in a publicly owned building.)

    There are private forest fire fighting companies, so it wouldn’t be too far off to privatize/franchise fire protection.

    Sanitary/garbage service is already franchised out.

    Most road projects are already privately built/contracted out.

    So really all that is needed is a transportation regulatory authority to ensure that all private entities build roads to meet certain design minimum requirements, and that all roads are open based upon fair practices (i.e regulated rates, no discrimination, law enforcement is fair and equal and that fines assessed for violations are not outrageous, maintenance is performed on a regular basis.)

    Really – all that is left in the public sector are city streets, since a city street really can’t be tolled, and the city street is the foundation of a city. City streets, along with county roads, are also generally funded through property taxes; whereas state highways are generally funed through gas taxes (state and federal gas tax) and other fees/registration.

  5. I want to sell Tri-Met and the Portland City Streetcar facilities before we start thinking about selling our highways.

    The Transit facilities were in private hands before and it worked, so lets do it again.

    With this move every employer would then give each of their employees a monthly transportation allowance that would be equal to their Tri-Met employment tax. This would provide an option to the employee to choose the mode of transportation that best fits their personal needs.

    If I commute to work on a bike, I make out like a bandit. If I walk to work I make out like a bandit. If I ride the bus I get the advantage of private business know how and pay maket rates. If I ride a streetcar and light Rail I pay market rates for the tickets.

    Now it you are worried about this then use the same logic and worry about private ownership of our highways.

    I will go along with selling our higways as long as we sell all of our transit lines and facilities. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

  6. I am against total privatization of transporation assets. We did try to privatize some of the ferries on Puget Sound, but so far, it is not working. About the only way the Kitsap Ferry Company would have worked head to head was discontiue passenger accomdoations on the car ferries, and force them onto the passenger only boats. That would not happen. In fact, when the passenger only boats were state-operated, they were charging higher fares, the idea was to have them recoup more from the farebox, just like the bigger boats. The reason why the bigger boats get 60-80% farebox recovery? They cater to the car culture. RIght now, KTC is partnering with Kitsap Transit to plan services. They only have 1 sailing a day each way. The state tried faster boats, but property owners sued them over wake erosion. Maybe a private company would have better luck. We got two boats the company could by. SInce the state dropped Seattle-Bremerton P/O ferries, they are sitting at the WSF shipyard at Eagle Harbor, mothballed.

    The free-market idea would not work, as some would say no safety regulators. Up in British Columbia, their ferry operations are on the verge of being privatized. Before the current provincial Liberal Government took over, it was a Crown Corporation, right now BC Ferries is no longer one, and the official name is BC Ferry Services Inc. Since the Campbell Government took over, there have been a few accidents, including one deadly one.(It might have gone either way, but the crew chose to rescue their own below decks rather than make sure they accounted for ever passenger, 2 died.) Seattle privatized the operation of the monorail, and the operator was making a profit, the City’s portion was invested back into Seattle Center, and the bill came due for deffered maintenance and a bad re-design of the Westlake Center Track, in 2005. After all the other problems, the fire in 2004 and the collision in 2005, my fear is the next one might be fatal.

    Now total privatization of TriMet or SoundTransit(up here) would be great, if there was an expectation of a ridership boom. NOw that might happen at $6 or $8 per gallon. Now in Britain, theya re privatizing transit, London Transport is turning into a broker of transportation operations rather than being the operator. THis idea started with London Buses, and even under the current government, the privatization continued, the new tram lines were a Public/Private partnership, and the Underground is also being privatized.

  7. I suspect that, if your goal is profit, providing service at as low a cost as possible to those who have no alternative would bring the biggest return on investment. You would want to run every bus with standing room only. You would want to avoid any costs for amenities, like bus shelters or schedules. or customer service since your target customer is captive. If you allowed competitive systems, they would compete on price in the highest use corridors and provide no service anywhere else.

    The reality is that transit, like the road network, is a public service. Parts of both may be profitable for a private business with the right government regulation to support them. But in an unregulated environment, they simply wouldn’t exist at all.

  8. Really – all that is left in the public sector are city streets, since a city street really can’t be tolled, and the city street is the foundation of a city.

    You could toll city streets by neighborhood — put up electronic toll gates on every street that crosses a neighborhood boundary, and toll cars as they enter or exit the neighborhood. That way, you could sell all the streets in an entire neighborhood to a private company to maintain.

    (If you’re really dead-set on privatizing absolutely everything, of course. Now, how can we privatize the fire department…?)

  9. There is room for compromise. In Denver, they started with a mandate that 20% of the bus system be put out for competitive bidding, now it is 50% of the RTD’s system. Now they are considering doing the same with the Light Rail network, as it is growing too.

    With Sound Transit, one thing that escapes mention by both proponents and opponents alike, is that except for Tacoma LINK Light Rail, they do not operate any of their own services. BNSF operates SOUNDER, and on the ST Express Buses are operated by local transit systems. On the buses, underneath the number, is a letter, K-King County Metro, P-Pierce Transit, C-Community Transit(Snohomish County). Oversight on Snohomish County routes is lax, as Community Transit decided with their ST Express ROutes, is to operate them like thier normal commuter routes, subcontracted to another operator. Personally, that contractor should have been allowed to bid on those routes too and avoid the middle man.

    Now this might seem off topic, but privatization of the fire departments might not seem to be a good idea. Rejecting the campaign rhetoric from firefighters during property tax levy time is also not a good idea. That happened in 1999 in Tacoma, and the result was a few fire stations closed, but what voters did not anticipate, were which ones. One fire station on the waterfront was closed, and one of the two fireboats was put in reserve status, and the crew was reduced to part time, and forced to also do double duty manning a truck company. In 2001, the General Metals Scrapyard Fire got out of control as the Tacoma Fire Department’s response was slow. Fireboats get a bad rap in cities that need them as a waste of resources as they get the idea they are only for boat fires. Their immense pumping capacity gets ignored, and the fact that they can fight shoreline fires as well. Now both the TFD and SFD replaced their powerful pumpers with something less powerful in the 1980s, but they still pump more than a fire engine. For a fire that a full time crew would have responded to in 30 minutes, it took longer. Now it has been nearly 6 years, and the TFD is relying on Federal Grants and a donation from the Puyallup Tribe to fix up the Commencement. It was a very advanced hull design in it’s day, a Surface Effects Ship. I guess they needed fast boats for Commencment Bay, as it also includes a few waterways that are pretty narrow. In 2003, Seattle put a levy on the ballot that included the Great Repair II(to fix stations not repaired in the 1980s), as well as modernizing the newer fireboat, a new Fast-Response Boat, and a new large fireboat to replace the 1927-Vintage Alki. It passed with 2/3 of the vote.

  10. The awesome thing about this is, after time and time again of proven Government incompetance to manage the infrastructure of this country, it is no strange phenomenon that the Government is now starting to turn more and more toward a real solution.

    Having private enterprise handle the roads would have prevented past over-expansion, would have prevented over-expansion of railroads, would have saved millions of acres of forrest, but the Government and its advocates are always “thinking big” and pushing things beyond where they naturally would go. Same things for roadways. Not that the old money of WWII and pre-WWII is finally dissappearing (Britain even finally paid off their debt to us) the Guv’ment is broke and can barely afford the roadways and other infrasrtucture.

    Sadly enough, we’ll probably have larger growing pains than necessary because of obstruction of markets being involved more and the real market relevance of roadways (and other infrastructure).

    As Europe moves toward this approach also (with different names, functionally the same though, and usually with less individual input) we’re once again towing the line of political policy that we used over 100 years ago but only now are starting to slowly stumble back toward after 60+ years of socialization of the economy.

    …hmmmm, I ponder how this will turn out. :o

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