(Originally posted at Sound Politics)
A report on KUOW this evening entitled “Why Washington Ferries Are Such A Headache To Replace” provided an excellent service in highlighting some, but not all, of the absurd rules and regulations surrounding this government monopoly.
As Carolyn Adolph reported:
By law, ferries must be built in the state. The purpose is to create jobs, even though it reduces competition and increases cost.
This sort of policy is great for the handful of workers that get to build the ferries, but not so great for taxpayers who pay more for them. In addition, reduced competition not only leads to higher costs, but usually reduces choice in terms of options such as design, quality, delivery time and more.
The state also demands that a portion of the Washington workers hired to build our ferries be apprentices. These two rules reduce the number of eligible shipyards.
Again, these policies are likely to lead to increased cost, poorer quality, fewer choices etc. They’re fine for the few apprentices that get experience, but poor for the many of us who foot the bill.
One thing Adolph didn’t address head-on in her report was asking the question as to why the state is even in the business of owning and managing a system of state ferries in the first place, although she touched on some of the inevitable governance failures typical of state run businesses. For example:
[T]he state auditor found that the state made so many changes [to an off-the-shelf design while a ferry was being rushed into production] that it doubled the cost.
Fortunately, KUOW addressed this in a report earlier this year “Washington State Ferries: Born From A Rates War”. As the reporters explained, when the state took over the ferries from Captain Alexander Peabody’s Black Ball Ferry Line in 1951, it was intended to be a short term measure. The state never planned on running them long term. But as with so many government measures in Puget Sound, such as temporary taxes and levies, once they’re in place they’re hard for legislators to give up.
Washingtonians generally have no tolerance for private monopolies and corporate welfare, yet for decades we’ve put up with a state ferry system that year in and year out delivers poor service and limited choice to consumers, and is extremely costly for taxpayers. There are numerous policy solutions to the problem, including permitting competition, public-private partnerships, outsourcing or privatization. All have been successfully adopted in one form or another in other countries. They’ve removed the burden and risk for taxpayers, increased choice and led to higher customer satisfaction. And we should end welfare programs for shipyards, which ought to stand on their own two feet, or should that be keels?