But Who Will Clear the Roads? The Private Sector, of Course

By Ryan Lau | USA

Ah, winter. A serene, picturesque time of year filled with glistening snowbanks, sheets of luminescent ice, and skiers whipping down the slopes. It truly is a wonderful time of year – that is, if you prepare for it. The unparalleled beauty of winter weather is surely breathtaking. However, it is up to us all whether breathtaking is to imply beauty or death.

The government, by definition, has a monopoly on force. They control our healthcare, our money, our police, our military. Without a doubt, this includes the building, fixing, and clearing of our nation’s roads. As of now, there is no such thing as a for-profit road, and taxpayer money funds them in their entirety. Yet, time and time again, many governments, specifically those in areas where winter weather is rare, show their inability to fully maintain the roads. In the past week alone, at least 15 people have died in the South during bouts of uncommon inclement weather. Official reports claim that these deaths are because of the weather, but this is simply not the case. Snow and ice did not kill those people; government’s inability to maintain their own property did.

The Flaws of Government in the Snow Removal Industry

First of all, it is important to recognize what exactly the scope of these storms was. As 15 deaths is a considerable margin, one might expect a massive storm to cause them. Conversely, the weather system, by any standards save the South’s, was rather mild. Atlanta saw one inch of snow, and much of Louisiana barely had a dusting. Simply put, these tame amounts are absolutely no excuse for the death of an eight-month-old baby, among others.

Though the South obviously does not see winter weather with the same frequency as does the north, it is far from the first time. Atlanta, on average, experiences 1.9 inches of snow per year. Though this is quite a low number, it proves they are no stranger to occasional frozen precipitation. Why is it, then, that the government of Atlanta, among other cities, is absolutely incapable of clearing the roads, to the point where their own inaction leads to the deaths of innocent civilians? Clearly, the answer lies in the way that local and state governments spend their money.

Without a doubt, the Atlanta metropolis has over a thousand miles of roads to clear with every snowfall. In fact, their priority routes alone within city borders constitute over 200 miles. To face this daunting task, Atlanta government officials decided it would be effective to own a whopping eight snowplows. Eight snowplows for one of America’s largest metro areas, and the fourth-worst for traffic on a normal day. This led to the five-day city shut down during the 2011 snowstorm, as well as the eerie quiet caused by last week’s dusting. Though the city has since upped their fleet to a total of 40 plows, it still is simply not enough.

The Root of our Roads Problem

Why, then, does Atlanta, among many other Southern cities, continually fail to provide for its citizens? Essentially, it all comes down to the fact that the city, as stated above, holds a monopoly. As there are no other providers of roads, citizens must use state roads for everyday travel. With no competition and a massive demand, the city has nobody to lose the road “consumers” to. The people need the roads, and though they are often in terrible condition, there is not currently a better option available.

A Simple Solution

Though the people of Atlanta currently do not have a better option, this does not in any capacity mean that one does not exist. Ultimately, decentralization and privatization of the roads will best fit the needs of the people. If a private company fails to clean their road in time, especially if it leads to an accident or fatality, they will not satisfy their consumer base. Consequently, that road company will also lose their customers. In order to maintain a large consumer base, and thus, a profit, competing companies must provide a better service than a competitor.

How Will Privatization Work?

How does this relate to snow removal? Imagine, for the sake of simplicity, that there are ten parallel roads leaving a part of Atlanta. Ten companies own one of the roads each, and use of each road is equally convenient. In the event of a snowstorm, four of the owners decide not to treat their roads in any way. These roads are impassable and get little to no traffic for the duration of the storm. Four others plow their roads every two hours, and while they remove some snow, conditions are still not optimal, and these roads also operate with limited traffic. The last two owners, thinking intuitively, plow and salt their roads twice an hour, leaving them in reasonable driving condition. As a reward for looking out for their consumer base, these two owners receive the bulk of traffic during the storm.

How Will You Benefit?

Now, as a driver, which road would you choose to travel on? Most likely, if you chose one of the last two owner’s roads, you would be in the vast majority. When competition exists, quality increases. As the other eight owners notice a decline in traffic, they must, to restore it, evaluate their decisions as opposed to their competitors. If they can pinpoint lack of snow removal as the source of the problem, two possibilities arise. They may either spend the money required to increase use of their service, or fail to attract consumers. The former results in business growth, the latter in bankruptcy. As no company wants to go bankrupt, they will create more new and innovative ways to better suit their consumers.

Without a doubt, privatization is the most surefire way to fix the disasters caused by state-funded snow removal. By abandoning this monopoly, we are moving away from a time of inaction and towards a new era of progress. In doing so, the people will finally see changes for the better in the quality of our roads, saving time and lives in the process. Surely, though anyone can clear a road, the private sector can and will have the greatest success, satisfying the most people at the lowest possible cost.

Image from the Little GSP.

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