It is time to take down the larger-than-life Bill Cosby mu­ral on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY ERIKA DAVIES AND ANTONY DAVIES Erika Davies is pur­su­ing a master’s de­gree in eco­nom­ics at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. Antony Davies is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at Duquesne Univer­sity in Pitts­burgh.

Ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Metropoli­tan Area Tran­sit Author­ity’s bud­get re­port made pub­lic this month, the sub­sta­tion fire in Septem­ber, the Au­gust de­rail­ment and the Jan­uary in­ci­dent in which an elec­tri­cal mal­func­tion caused a Yel­low Line train to be en­veloped by nox­ious smoke are all to be blamed on rid­ers — a lack of rid­ers, that is.

Over the past five years, Metro’s daily rid­er­ship de­clined 5 per­cent while the metropoli­tan area’s pop­u­la­tion grew by more than 5 per­cent. Mean­while, the head of the re­gion’s tran­sit sys­tem ad­mit­ted that the Au­gust de­rail­ment near the Smith­so­nian sta­tion was caused by a known de­fect that had been ig­nored for a month. Metro’s loss of rev­enue has cost so much that it is ap­par­ently un­will­ing — or un­able — to pay for the safety mea­sures it promised to im­ple­ment af­ter the deadly 2009 Red Line crash.

Metro takes its bizarre vic­tim-blam­ing a step fur­ther, say­ing that in or­der to right th­ese “safety wrongs” and bring rid­er­ship num­bers back to those seen in the golden days, it will be forced to in­crease fares. This is logic only a bu­reau­crat could love. Poor ser­vice re­duces rid­er­ship, which means less rev­enue and de­ferred re­pairs, which ul­ti­mately ne­ces­si­tates higher fares. In gov­ern­ment logic, the con­clu­sion of ev­ery ar­gu­ment is to “raise prices.”

Who is to blame? In Metro’s view, th­ese prob­lems seem to be the fault of its cus­tomers, who have de­cided that fares are al­ready too high and have be­gun the silent, peace­ful protest that is driv­ing to work. The only way a fare in­crease could pos­si­bly lead to a rev­enue in­crease is if those tak­ing the de­funct trains have no al­ter­na­tives: no room­mates with cars, no abil­ity to ac­quire a car, no bi­cy­cles and no ac­cess to other means of pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Un­less this is the case, eco­nom­ics says that in­creas­ing fares will de­crease Metro rid­er­ship.

If Metro in­stead de­creases its fares, it will see an in­crease in rid­er­ship. If it prices the fares just right, the com­bi­na­tion of a de­crease in fares and in­crease in rid­er­ship will re­sult in an over­all in­crease in Metro rev­enue and maybe — just maybe — cus­tomers will be able to use their phones si­mul­ta­ne­ously through­out the rail sys­tem and not fear long de­lays, crash­ing or fumes.

What ex­actly is the right fare to charge? It ap­pears that no one knows, in­clud­ing Metro. It is not a pri­vate en­tity with a profit in­cen­tive to pro­vide a high-qual­ity, rea­son­ably priced ser­vice. This is where we stum­ble upon the so­lu­tion to al­most ev­ery eco­nomic prob­lem, al­though it is one that is sadly anath­ema to bu­reau­crats: pri­va­ti­za­tion.

Be­cause the tri-ju­ris­dic­tional gov­ern­ment agency lacks proper in­cen­tives, it hasn’t fig­ured out what con­sumers want or need, let alone pro­vided for those needs ef­fi­ciently. The dan­gers of gov­ern­ment plan­ning are clear from Metro’s ab­surd idea that rais­ing prices will in­crease de­mand for its ser­vice.

The Metro flap is rem­i­nis­cent of Am­trak’s ar­gu­ment that it needed more fund­ing be­cause fewer peo­ple were rid­ing trains, and its con­trary ar­gu­ment later that it needed more fund­ing be­cause more peo­ple were rid­ing trains.

Clear the smoke from Metro’s ar­gu­ment and it looks a lot like the ar­gu­ments of Am­trak and ev­ery other gov­ern­ment-run, gov­ern­ment-spon­sored, gov­ern­ment-funded en­tity: throw more money at the prob­lem.

It’s time to let peo­ple who un­der­stand how to at­tract rev­enue by of­fer­ing a valu­able and af­ford­able ser­vice run the show. It’s time to pri­va­tize Metro.

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