Where the Waste Is: State-Owned Vehicle Fleet Edition

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John Micek’s used car salesman pitch provides me a nice opening to trot out one of my favorite hobbyhorses – the insanity of providing cars to government employees and politicians:

Are you in the market for a new vehicle? Maybe you’re looking for that first car for the new teen driver in the family? Looking for a gently used sedan that was only driven by a state Supreme Court Justiceon the way to and from the airport to catch flights to San Juan?

If so, then the Department of General Services may be just the place for you. They’ve got cars — 16,000 of ’em, give or take — and they’re trying to get rid of ’em.

In an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday, DGS Secretary Sheri Phillips told lawmakers that the state has reduced its fleet by about 1,200 vehicle since the start of the Corbett administration last year.

More astute readers will recall that Gov. Tom Corbett ran on a promise to sharply reduce the number of taxpayer-funded cars. But it’s never been quite clear how that effort was going.

This is one Tom Corbett initiative I can get behind. I wrote about this before, regarding the cars provided to Philly city council members.

The fact is that there are more ways to get around than solo-driving. You can drive, but you can also take a cab, or a bus, or a train as the case may be. If you’re in a walkable downtown area, you can walk or bike. There are lots of different choices.

Legislators and government employees, just like all people, should decide based on convenience and cost what’s the most appropriate kind of transportation to take where they want to go.

We shouldn’t be tilting their choices toward solo-driving by providing them free cars as a sort of in-kind compensation. Instead of buying them cars, we should just give them the cash and let them choose how to get around.

People always want to pop up and say that it’s cheaper to just provide a state-owned car instead of reimbursing people for the maintenance, but I would just ask why we would reimburse them for the maintenance, or the gas, or the parking costs or whatever. If they take a bus we don’t reimburse them for the gas the bus driver used, or the repairs to a cab. The extra costs of maintaining a car are voluntary – they are a part of the choice to solo-drive.

You see this bleed into other issues, like this story about whether Delaware River Port Authority employees should have to pay tolls on their way to work. Of course they should. If they took a bus to work, they wouldn’t have to pay the toll. Paying the toll comes with the choice to drive. Driving to work is a choice, just as living far away from work is a choice. Taxpayers shouldn’t pay more just because it’s assumed that legislators and government employees will want to drive to work. If people want to pay them more to cover their transportation costs, that’s fine, but let them choose how to get to work.

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