This is the fifth installment dealing with the federal departments of the executive branch. In this piece, I will be looking at the Department of Transportation. I will continue to try to answer the questions posed in the previous blogs. What was it designed to do? What does it actually do? Would the average person be affected if it were not there? Is it a necessary department? I would imagine from the title of the blog that you could guess where I stand, so let’s get right to it.
The Department of Transportation (DOT), was established in 1966. The mission statement of the DOT is:
Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.
The DOT has a budget of about $95 billion an employ’s about 60,000 people. It presides over the land, air and sea regarding anything remotely having to do with transportation. It has 12 agencies that make the rules and regulations for things like highways, railroads, air travel and water safety. The DOT is responsible for maintaining the roads, bridges and tunnels. Considering that more than 1 in 10 bridges in the US is structurally deficient and 5 in 10 bridges over the age of 65 are deficient, I’d say that they are doing a great job! Hope you caught the sarcasm, because I was laying it on pretty thick. The state of our highway system, where most of the budget goes, may be even worse. About 25% of all highway systems are in need of repair. When you exclude rural areas with less traffic that number jumps to about 35%.
Let’s talk about public transportation for a second. As I am typing this, there are no publicly funded modes of transportation that are profitable, or self-sustaining in the United States. Whether you are talking about the subway systems, train systems, bus systems or any other publicly funded transportation systems that you can think of, they all spend more than they make. Why do you think that is? Could it be that the people in charge of running these systems are not using their own money to do it? Maybe innovation is slow because there is no threat that the business will fail? Is it possible that it is public transportation because it can’t be profitable? Even in a city like New York with millions of users there is no profit. The subway system that is in part responsible for the city of New York’s growth and wealth creation over the last century should be able to pay for itself. If they were able to charge people what it would cost to be profitable, (and they’re not), it would cost prohibitive to use the subway. When was the last time you saw a city bus that was full of people? Never? I’ve never seen that either. So why can’t they rethink the size of the busses? What would happen if they were forced to be private tomorrow and the CEO was using his own money to run the bus system? You would have half-filled minivan’s driving around the city.
How about safety? If not for DOT regulations the trucking industry would be wild and unsafe right? I would just ask why? What’s in it for any industry that makes a profit driving on the highways, sailing on the seas, flying in the air to be unsafe? In the absence of DOT safety regulations there is still insurance to pay for. There is still fault that would be determined in the event of an accident. There would still be claims payouts for at fault accidents. There would still be lost contracts if unreliable trucks missed delivery deadlines. The thought that the only thing keeping trucks, ships and planes reliable and safe are government regulations is absurd. There is already a motivator in place for that. Profit.
The DOT is there to ensure fast, safe, efficient transportation. They are failing miserably, even by governmental standards. If the DOT went away, what would happen to muh roads! Muh roads! Muh roads! Well, if the responsibility was shifted to local and state level, communities who actually use and pay for the roads would be in a better place to demand better, more cost effective maintenance. You would still have your roads. What about federal highways! How about each state maintains the roads on its own side of the fence. You would still have your roads. What the DOT actually does is waste a lot of other people’s money, in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars for safety research, and general bureaucratic red tape. They try as hard as anyone using other people’s money feel like trying to be as efficient as possible, which is probably not very hard at all. All in all, the world would not look a lot different if the DOT went away tomorrow. Except maybe a few less potholes.