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Ask Sparky

May 8, 2014

SparkyDear Sparky: I want to play devil's advocate here for a minute. I understand that we want public services and good jobs and all of that, but we have to think about the taxpayer too. I just saw a study about how out of control the costs of MBTA buses are. Wouldn't it make sense to go with a private company if they can provide the same quality of service for less?Signed, Devil's Advocate

Dear Devil: Have you ever seen a dog sniffing around in the grass? It’s amazing but a single smell can tell us so much about who’s been in that grass. Same thing when it comes to reports like the one you mentioned: the latest goody to drop from Pioneer Institute, a free-market "think tank" that has never met a public service it didn’t want to privatize. And this particular specimen was a gem, even by Pioneer's standards. Take their claim that MBTA buses are among the most expensive in the country to maintain. They reached that conclusion by comparing Boston's transit system to systems in places like Houston, St. Petersburg and San Diego—all places where it doesn't snow. In other words, when you come across a claim that sounds either too bad or too good to be believed, give it a good long sniff. Sparky

For more information on outsourcing, read "The Decision to Contract Out: Understanding the Full Economic and Social Impacts"