Nothing is “Free”


Nothing is “Free”

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Wags from New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to Science Fiction Writer Robert Heinlein have used this term to express economic truths. Economists write tomes on the subject. It’s a fact. You can’t get something for nothing. If you want something, you have to give up something else. Period.

Which brings me to the subject for today, “Free” Public Transportation. The idea is that if you give public transport away for free, more people will eschew their cars, ride buses and trains, and all will be right with the world.

We know that’s not true. First of all, something is going to pay for the buses and trains. Taxes, congestion pricing, tolls…The money will come from somewhere. It’s not free.

Don Shoup rails about “Free” parking. If you go to the store and there is “Free” parking in front of it, you are actually paying for it by the fact that the merchant has to increase the cost of goods to you to cover his increased costs for the “Free” parking. It’s not free.

The origin of the term TINSUTAAFL (There is no such thing as a free lunch) is unknown but consider bars that gave away lunch if you bought a beer. The publican would provide food, laced with salt, so his customers would be thirsty and buy more beer. So if you went in intending to have one beer and a sandwich, you would probably have three beers and a sandwich, thus paying for your “Free” lunch.

How many times have you had lunch paid for by a business associate only to discover that at the end you had agreed to a deal that certainly wasn’t free. My team was taken on a junket to Reno to see all that the city had to offer. There is no way that the airfare, hotel, and food provided was free. We will pay for it down the road. And what about “Free Love.” No need to expand on that.

I’m sure that all those high rollers that took a ‘Free’ ride on Epstein’s Lolita Express are wondering today just what the true cost will be.

Free Public Transportation has been tried. When people get something for “Free” do they realize that it has no value? It is something to be squandered rather than cherished. Can an organization that gives something away for “Free” really provide the service required to attract ongoing customers? “Why should I repair that broken seat or ensure the bus runs on time, they aren’t paying for it?”

You get the point.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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