Government FAIL of the day: The (almost) empty school bus

Governments at all levels–local, state, and federal–whine incessantly about not having enough of the taxpayers’ money, and calls ring out for ever higher taxes. But why should governments get even a dime more while they are still mismanaging the money they already have? The mismanagement is in fact so pervasive that it’s hard to think of a single good or service provided by government that gives the taxpayer good value for money. For those of us paying attention, it seems that nearly every day brings news of another government boondoggle.

The latest example comes from New York City, where the New York Times reports that busing children to school costs the city approximately $7,000 per child.

Let’s do the math. The school year has 180 days. Assuming two trips per day, to school and then back home, implies 360 trips. $7,000 divided by 360 trips equals $19.44 per trip. The cost for ‘special needs’ children is even higher–$13,000 per child–presumably because the bus is shorter. That works out to $36.11 per trip. Putting each child in a taxi could hardly cost more. And remember, that’s with taxi rates kept artificially high by the government limiting entry to the market. So government in all its glory has achieved something almost inconceivable–making a ride on a bus more expensive than the resource cost of a ride in a car!

Apparently, the cost inefficiencies largely take the form of sub-optimal bus routes and some kind of union featherbedding that causes buses with a capacity of 60 to run with only a handful of students.

[A] long yellow bus pulled up at Public School 282 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the little bodies that popped out could be counted on one hand: Three. The big bus had dropped off part of its cargo earlier, at another school, but in all, 10 children had ridden on a bus fit for about 60.

A similarly large bus pulled up with 17. Finally, a modern-looking bus whose side panel said it could carry 66 children arrived with its passengers: Five children.

“I think in some cases, we have one child on the bus,” said Kathleen Grimm, the city’s deputy schools chancellor for operations.

Running a whole bus for just one child! That doesn’t sound good for the environment. Isn’t government supposed to be protecting the environment from evil capitalists?

In any event, the comments to the article provide evidence that the private sector can indeed provide bus service at a much lower cost.

My kindergarten child goes on a private bus from Brooklyn to a public school in manhattan. Since it is cross-boro, DOE doesn’t pay. The cost per year is $3000. So i know the DOE can get a better deal than almost $7000/per child per year.

The service is great from the driver and matron.

Parents and taxpayers could all “get a better deal” by just giving each parent a voucher for $3,000 to spend on transportation. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. The fact that the problem has been allowed to grow so bad and for so long suggests that the political system is not very receptive to rational solutions. Government truly is the God that Fails, every day, in thousands of ways, large and small.