Routing the two-tier economy: Part I – transportation

As long as there are great wealth and poverty in our country, we will never get completely rid of two-tier systems.


Examining (and criticizing) the various parts of our two-tier economy has become and important aspect about which I write.  In brief, the two-tier economy is one in which people with wealth can get for themselves an upper tier of a service while leaving to the middle class and the poor a lower tier.  We see this in many important parts of our society.  Healthcare. Education. Retirement. Air travel. In fact, if you examine any specific parts of the economy, you would be hard-pressed to find one which is not two-tier or multi-tier.

So I would like to examine land travel, which will includes cars, busses, trains, and subways.  In my view, these are or should be linked and treated as a single system.  I realize that cars, being mostly privately owned, are viewed separately from busses, trains, and subways, which are used collectively.  But should that be the case?  To my mind, cars should be used collectively as well, and I think it is possible to do so.

Why, after all, are cars privately owned and not used in a collective fashion? Think of how people travelled before there were cars.  There were trains, there were stage coaches, and there were privately owned buggies.  The first two provided collective transportation, and the latter mostly provided transportation for individuals and their families.  Cars came along and they transplanted horses and buggies.  Eventually there were busses, which took the place of stage coaches.  

Could there have been collectively owned cars?  Let’s say that at the beginning, it would have been difficult.  Let’s imagine a car owned by three families.  If the families lived next door to one another, ownership and use could be shared.  But it would have been difficult.  If one family drove the car into town, the other families wouldn’t have an easy way to use the car until it was brought back home.

Yet even in the earliest days, one can imagine a collective ownership system which would permit cars to be used collectively.  If, for instance, the government owned all the cars and rented them out to the citizenry, and if the cars were basically all the same, then any individual who got a right to drive a car could get a key and pick up any car on the street and use it.  There would be all sorts of problems with such a system, because there would be no real way of keeping track of the location of the cars.  Still, it could be done.

Fast forward to today.  A system of collective ownership through government (or even through a corporation) is far more feasible.  Our computers and electronic gear can easily keep track of where the cars are located and who has been driving them.  If a car needs gasoline or repairs, it would be easy to make sure that the car gets the attention it needs.

Moreover, our present system of computers, electronics, cell phones, and the like could be developed into a ride-sharing system, so that cars would be more likely to have four passengers instead of only one or two.  We are so used to having private car ownership that our insurance system basically prohibits car owners from sharing the costs of operation with passengers.  But having an insurance system that encouraged a person who rented a car to ride-share with others would collectively reduce gasoline use and lower the likelihood of traffic jams, because there would be fewer cars on the road.

Let’s think outside the box for a moment and suppose that ride-sharing were the norm.  In fact, let us imagine a transportation system that permits every person who wants to take a trip somewhere to locate others in the same locale who might want to share in the costs of taking that trip.  Four people in North Wickshire, CN, want to ride to the train station downtown.  They find each other online, pick up a neighborhood car, and drive it down to the station where each can take a train.  They park the car.  The car stays there for an hour until a group getting off the train picks it up to drive to South Wickshire.

Well, this sounds very good, but is there an efficient way to transform our car-laden society into a car sharing society?  Let’s say that it would be difficult until the government or a corporation with a lot of capital started making cars available for rent.  The owner of the rental system would probably need to buy up cars (in exchange for rental credits), use the newer cars in the rental system and dispose of the older ones.  It could probably be done by starting the system in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and then spreading out from there.  People would realize relatively quickly that they could save a lot of money by not owning a car, so long as rental cars were available locally.  The local communities would have to allow parking of the rental cars so that they would be available for use.  The rental organization would want to reward renters who brought in cars that needed repairs and who took the trouble to put gas in the tank, checked tires for air, and so on.  I’m sure that such small problems could be easily fixed, particularly if the renters felt they were part of a social organization.

Would this really solve the two-tier system?  Or would the wealthy continue to demand cars that reflected their status? If the rental organization only offered cars big enough for two or four (plus trucks for those who needed them), the problem might be easy enough to solve with a system of “diamond lanes” reserved for rental cars filled to capacity.  Forcing private cars to drive in crowded lanes would move even the wealthy into the rental system.

So please consider this as Part I of an overall system which whittles down the two-tier system.  As long as there are great wealth and poverty in our country, we will never get completely rid of two-tier systems.  (We will always have the wealthy sitting in the front row of the opera and those with little money sitting in the back row of the balcony).  But we can make life pleasant by tearing down the two-tier system in the important things in society.


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