Never let a good crisis go to waste



The words “never let a good crisis go to waste,” spoken by then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, are seared into many libertarians’ minds as a concise formula of the central planner’s mindset.

We’ve seen massive stimulus rammed through with little deliberation, including fat subsidies for transit agencies. Randal O’Toole, aka “the Antiplanner,” has shown how central transportation planning epitomizes the misguided use of federal funds – diverting resources to expensive, energy-inefficient, underutilized “mass transit.” As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s looking like mass transit is a key vector in the spread of mass disease.

In his April 17 Cato at Liberty post, ‘Why Are Transit Systems Still Running?’, O’Toole observes, “I don’t think it is a coincidence that 44 percent of all transit rides in 2019 took place in the New York‐northern New Jersey urban area and, at last count, 45 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities were recorded in this same area.

So why is the disease vector known as mass transit running while many other industries have been deemed “non-essential”? Once again, the contradictions in the government’s response are revealing what most of us already knew – that science always takes a back seat to special interests.

Randal “Antiplanner” O’Toole returned to the show this past Sunday to step back from the emotional arguments surrounding COVID-19 and discuss whether it’s time to re-assess the role of public transportation in American life. His brand-new report identifies transit as an “urban parasite,” sucking up more and more resources despite declining ridership, and a growing maintenance backlog. The report shows the growing irrelevance of transit to most Americans’ lives everywhere except NYC, where it is proving relevant but deadly.

As transit systems begin to hemorrhage in the wake of even further reduced ridership from fears of contagion, the taxpayer will have to bear more of the burden. Randal suggests privatizing transportation and letting the services stand on their own two legs. While this may seem radical, many have noted how the Coronavirus shutdown has expanded the “Overton Window” - making previously impossible reforms more likely.

Perhaps Rahm was right, and we libertarians shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste either.