A while back I explained how occupational licensing laws and the minimum wage conspire against the needy. Just the other day I ranted a little about ridiculous regulations.
Along those lines, I want to tell you about another needless regulation that hurts lower-income citizens. In fact, it makes it really costly for people without cars to not become criminals.
Jitneys Outside the Supermarket
Whenever I leave our local supermarket, there is a group of men standing next to their cars. For a while this confused me. Then I realized the problem faced by many people in my community.
Lower-income folk who don’t have a car take the bus to the supermarket. However, riding the bus home carrying ten bags and then walking from the bus stop is not fun. Not surprisingly, the market has supplied a group of drivers more than willing to take shoppers home. These are the men waiting by their cars.
Now, these are not your yellow cabs. These are jitneys – illegal taxi operations. Local taxi licensing means that it is illegal to hire just anyone to drive you someplace. Such licensing laws presumably exist to protect citizens from unregulated drivers with unsafe vehicles, etc. More than likely this licensing is just another example of a government-created cartel that keeps prices high and supply below optimal.
How it Hurts the Poor
It wouldn’t be profitable, most likely, for legal taxis to service the local supermarket. Since those without cars are lower-income, they are less able to pay the higher taxi fares. Instead, unregulated jitneys fill the demand.
What is frustrating to me about these restrictions is how it places only bad options before a car-less person: 1) Don’t go shopping at the supermarket, 2) Break the law and hire a jitney, 3) Painstakingly carry groceries on the bus and walking home.
For elderly people I know #3 may be impossible. Choosing #1 may mean a selection of poor quality/nutrition foods. The government does all it can to force the neediest into a no-win situation.
This paper from way back in 1970 makes the same point I just did.