Lessons from Snowpocalypse: Fire the DDOT

Could a private organization get away with handling the Snowpocalypse/Snowmegeddon the way the District of Columbia department of transportation handled it? Maybe, but they wouldn’t stay in business for long. Not planning ahead, making rash decisions, wasting money, destroying property you’ll later have to pay to fix, pissing off customers: these are not the tenets of a long-lasting and successful commercial enterprise. But luckily, DDOT doesn’t have to rely on consumer choice to continue the flow of money into the coiffures; they can just forcibly take taxpayer money to allow them to continue spending willy nilly on useless items like this:

The “Snow Melter,” as reported  NBC Washington and the DCist, was an emergency purchase in 2003 for $120,000. While the Maryland snow melter was busy at work in Baltimore, reportedly a big help, the DC Melter sat idle throughout the snow and the aftermath. NBC was able to locate the machine, but could find no clear answers as to why the machine hasn’t been utilized.

2010_0223_snowmelter2Officials declined a request for an on-camera interview, saying in a statement the snow melter needed parts, was difficult to operate and wasn’t worth using again.  So it sits on the city’s public works lot.

A major problem in the problems with DDOT is simply that the activities are publicly funded and thus there is no competition and no incentive to plan ahead, utilize resources effectively, or take care of other people’s property i.e. parked cars, residential walkways, and the roads that you might have noticed (if you drive in the DC-metro region) are increasingly marked by tire-busting, car-swallowing potholes.

If DDOT operated like a private organization it would have to worry about pleasing customers and being sued for damages by the owners of the roads their snow plows dig up. They would also have a greater incentive to invent new or improve old methods of snow removal. To be fair, the private snow plows that currently operate aren’t always a shining example of capitalism’s bounty, but they aren’t exactly operating in a free market. As it is now, private plows have no incentive to attempt to “capture” the market when the government already forces consumers to pay for public plows or for the private plows DDOT aka “the middle man” decides to hire to supplement their own ranks.

There are a lot of ways for private individuals to deal with snow-related problems (snow insurance is one interesting idea). Instead of paying lip service to privatization by letting the government choose the private contractor maybe it’s time to give the free market a real go. Maybe next year if Snowmeggedon rises again we’ll have better than a snowball’s chance in hell of getting back to normalcy within two weeks of the storm.