In keeping with my theory that you can sometimes learn more about political economy by reading the Vineyard Gazette, the paper published twice a week in the summer on Martha's Vineyard and once a week on the off-season, than by reading the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, here's a recent article reporting that three entrepreneurs seeking to operate tour bus routes on the island are not having that easy a time in getting the necessary approvals from all six towns on the island. The prospect of privately operated buses "has already drawn concern from the Vineyard Transit Authority," the Gazette reports:
Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela E. Grant recently sent a letter to the Oak Bluffs selectmen challenging the sightseeing license application from Native Island Tours. She said the drop-off and pick-up nature of the tour was too similar to the transit services provided by the VTA.
"It will be in direct conflict and competition with the existing transit services provided by the publicly funded VTA . . . [this] service . . . would need to be approved by the VTA," she wrote.
My goodness, we wouldn't want privately run companies competing with the government, would we? Citizens might get the idea that the government-run services might not be needed, or that a private company could do the job better, or cheaper. This has been an issue in New York City, too, as the city tried to prevent "dollar van" operators from competing with government-run bus lines. A case on the Vineyard for the Institute for Justice?
Defenders of the government bus lines will make the case that the VTA buses run year-round, not just during the summer tourist season, and that they cover pretty much the whole island, not just where it might be most profitable to operate. On the other hand, the private operators want to enter the market even though they know that they would be competing against an agency that has, at least indirectly, the power to tax and to issue tax-exempt bonds to fund its capital needs. Anyway, it's a little case study of what happens when government gets into a business.