The downside of privatizing public transportation

In his commentary in the Baltimore Sun ("End the MTA Monopoly," April 14), Professor James Dorn of Towson University, and the Cato Foundation whose journal he edits, would have us privatize our public transportation. Dorn characterizes the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) as a monopoly, without mentioning the scores of private transportation providers (vans, shuttles, taxis, etc.), including the massive French multinational corporation Veolia, which already co-exist with the MTA right here in the Baltimore region. But, granting the MTA's preeminent position in our regional transportation picture, what are the implications of what Dorn's suggestion? What could this mean for the present and future transit- riding public?

For starters, as a private enterprise, it would greatly reduce any accountability of the operation to the people it is supposed to serve. Government regulation of such private enterprises is fraught with obstacles, loopholes, lack of transparency, and persistent opposition by business lobbyists.

For another thing, it would add the need to "grow the business bottom line" as a factor in providing service to the public when, in urban areas around the country, reality requires that public transportation be subsidized beyond mere reliance on the fare box.

Finally, and most tenuously, it would have us place our public trust in this private enterprise to pursue the public interest, not exactly what people go into business to do.

The track record is clear for public utilities such as transportation which have been privatized. The results have usually been less and costlier service, and less accessibility for those who depend on such services. Eventually, there has been business bankruptcy and abandonment of the services back to management by government.

Just after a time when our economy has almost imploded due to the abuses of unimpeded, under-regulated greed by private enterprise, it is a bit much to ask us to look to the private sector to solve our very real problems of adequate public transportation.

Art Cohen, Baltimore

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