Michael Barone
Not long ago, I wrote about how the private sector outraces and laps government. While governments dither and dispute, the private sector discovers.

The example I mentioned then was energy. For years, governments, national and local, have been promoting wind and solar power, to little practical effect. Curiously, the biggest wind power producer is Rick Perry's Texas. But wind power isn't reliable, and both wind and solar cause serious damage to the environment.

In the meantime, the oil and gas industries -- the favorite target of Barack Obama and congressional Democrats -- have developed new techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) that have vastly expanded recoverable American energy supplies.

Now across my laptop comes news of another area in which private sector actors have overtaken government. Again an older technology has been improved and adapted to fill a need, while government dithers.

The old technology in this case is buses.

While the Obama administration has been desperately seeking to spend $53 billion on so-called high-speed rail lines, private businessmen have developed Chinatown and Megabus lines that provide inter-city service that has attracted legions of price-conscious travelers.

Chinatown bus service started in 1998 to provide a cheap way for Asian immigrants to get from New York to Boston. You lined up at the curb, paid your $20 fare to the driver and settled into a comfortable bus for four hours or so.

Now there's service to multiple destinations (including gambling casinos) from New York and on the West Coast, too. And competitors have arisen. Megabus routes exist between Maine and Memphis and Minneapolis, notably including many college towns.

The buses have bathrooms, AC power outlets and free wi-fi. They're not as fast as the much more expensive Acela train, but they tend to run on schedule.

Bus travel used to be decidedly downscale, with a clientele that scared off middle-class travelers. That's because, back in the days of heavily regulated transportation, bus lines followed the passenger railroad model, with stations in central cities, routes with multiple stops, fares propped up by monopolies and operators with no economic incentive to provide comfortable or pleasant service.

Chinatown and Megabus operators ditched this model for one that works for travelers for whom money is scarce and time plentiful. Who needs a station? Intercity buses can occupy curb space briefly just as city buses do. Who needs multiple stops? You can make money on people who want to go from one specific location to another.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM