VDOT should not compete with private sector

Any company that was run as poorly as the Virginia Department of Transportation would be out of business and probably under criminal investigation. Mismanagement and inefficiency seem to plague the department. Cost overruns due to massive underestimates for various transportation projects seem to be the standard these days rather then the exception.

Last week VDOT announced that it will be cutting the number of Safety Service Patrol (SSP) trucks from 12 to seven during peak hours. I know that many people greatly appreciate this service, and I can’t argue with the fact that it does aid motorists who are broken down on the roadside; however this benefit does not justify the state providing a service that should be supplied by private enterprise.

The idea that a service like this should be provided by government rather then through free market competition is misguided. This logic would lead one to believe that a number of other services designed to assist people should also be provided by the state.

The fact is, when government attempts to act like a nanny there are unintended adverse consequences. While the Virginia state government is trying address the demands of various special interest groups, tasks that are part of its core mission are neglected. For instance, anyone interested in driving a car in Virginia must, by law, be licensed to operate a properly registered vehicle. Yet due to a “budget shortfall,” Gov. Warner, in what was clearly a politically motivated move, closed several DMV offices and reduced operating hours at others.

To those who would say that it is unfair to do away with the safety service patrol, I retort that it is unfair to make everyone pay for a service that most folks only need because they don’t keep up with their car maintenance or monitor their gas gauge. In fact, having the state provide this type of service not only alleviates a motorists’ responsibilities, but it discourages folks from becoming a member of AAA or patronizing a towing company or service station, thereby making it yet another government program that damages the private sector.

If a stranded motorist was required to pay their share of what it truly costs for the state to operate the SSP they would gladly wave off a state truck and wait for a private tow service.

When a company finds that it can reduce costs by outsourcing some of its functions, it does so. This is not the way VDOT works.

According to the VDOT Web site, “Reductions will be achieved mainly through eliminating contract services and reducing the hours of operation.” Rather then cut the more costly VDOT personnel they cut contractors, exactly the opposite of what a business does.

When a private business finds that it needs to supplement its income to pay for the maintenance of its vehicles, it will take steps such as selling advertising on their trucks to maintain competitive prices. This is not the way VDOT works. They demand an increase in funding and get our politicians to try and encourage us to raise our own taxes.

When a service station incurs the expense of buying and maintaining a tow-truck, they subsidize their towing service by acquiring some of the customers who have hired them to tow their cars. This is not the way VDOT works (thank God).

As recently as a year ago, the SSP operated out of poorly maintained trucks, many having over 200,000 miles on them, and were required to rely on an inadequate radio system due to numerous dead zones throughout much of their operating area. VDOT responded to these deficiencies by purchasing an Automated Vehicle Locator system (designed to track their employees rather then provide them with reliable equipment) at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars.

Another example of VDOT wasting money on an unnecessary project is “Operation Wildflower.” If it is deemed essential to Virginias’ travel industry to beatify the highway, then an arrangement should be made to allow the companies that benefit from it to fund it. Private businesses or organizations that pay for and maintain a wildflower plot could erect a sign, similar to the adopt-a-road campaign, which promotes their organization. (On a side note: While looking for further information on this program, the VDOT Web site answered a number of superfluous frequently asked questions, including inquires such as “Where can I get wildflower seeds for my own yard?” and “How do I plant wildflowers?” Of course they provided no information regarding the cost of this program to taxpayers.)

There are a number of bridges throughout Virginia that are way overdue for maintenance and repairs, yet with the state providing unessential services like car repairs and flower gardens, how can it pay for these projects? Oh, that’s right, increased taxes.

James Simpson welcomes readers’ comments and feedback. He can be reached at [email protected]

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