Covid-19 has brought to light the irrationalities of city planning

In opposing central planning, Frederick Hayek brought up one important point about society: No one in the economy has enough collective knowledge of time and space to plan society. Individuals, generally, have different needs and preferences. Moreover, even for the same individual, needs and preferences are constantly changing over time.

This is why Hayek emphasized that prices in a free market are a superior tool to allocating resources. Prices signal to entrepreneurs where resources are most needed and will therefore be allocated to their best use. Additionally, prices are flexible, so they can communicate changes in needs and preferences. Centrally planned ideas lack the flexibility to accommodate changes in people’s needs and preferences.

One of the current examples of this is the Met Council’s plan of the twin cities. In 2003, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners established the Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) plan. This is a project that looks to spark development centered around the transit system. The TOD is ” a walkable urban development supported by high-quality, frequent transit service”. The program includes “a mix of housing, retail, employment, retail, and recreational choices, allowing people to live and work in vibrant places with less dependence on a personal car”.

Covid-19 and public transit ridership

Covid-19 is probably a pandemic no one could have foreseen. But it has proven a point about central planning. In the twin cities, Covid-19 has changed transit ridership due to an increase in remote working and also people fearing they could contract the virus on the crowded trains.

In October KSTP reported that,

According to Metro Transit, ridership is down 96% since last March when the pandemic was declared. To put that into perspective: in April 2019, there were 65,532 riders. In April 2020, the number of riders plunged to 1,352—  a 97.9% decrease. It got even worse in May, dropping from 72,130 riders in 2019 to 1,158 in May 2020, a 98.4% decrease. The numbers have only slightly rebounded in August (down 97%) and September (down 96%).

Generally, the transit system costs taxpayers a lot of money. In normal times the subsidy to keep the transit system running costs on average $19.39 per passenger. However, due to the decline in ridership, that number had skyrocketed.

In August, even with the help of the CARES Act pandemic funding from the federal government, the subsidy per passenger for each one-way ride was $445.45. If the CARES Act funding goes away, the subsidy would go to $559.20 per ride, or more than $1,118 for a round-trip. Weekday tickets generally cost commuters $3.25 to $6.25 per ride.

In September the Metro Transit responded by cutting some lines but also expanding other lines. But the question now remains of whether the demand for transit will come back. Individuals have been accustomed to working from home and some would prefer to use less crowded modes of transportation after the pandemic is over. In fact, the Covid-19 crisis has expedited an urban exodus from America’s biggest cities.

But will Covid-19 stop the MET Council?

Yet it appears that despite the unfeasibility of central planning, especially in the face of a crisis, is not stopping the MET council. This may well point to the fact that central plans are too rigid to accommodate any changes that come up. In October, The Metro council announced the following:

The Metropolitan Council has awarded $4.5 million in grants for transit-oriented development in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and St. Louis Park. The grant awards help make it possible for people to live near transit services that help them get to jobs, school, appointments, shopping, and other destinations.

Three grant awards will help create 332 homes for families and individuals, most of them affordable to households with an annual income at or below 60% of area median income, which for a family of four is $62,040. The grants will help create nearly 60 full-time permanent jobs and nearly 700 temporary (or construction) jobs.

City planning is already a bad idea of its own that is bound to produce less than optimal results. Planners have no intimate knowledge of the needs and preferences of each individual. And more importantly, they cannot foresee any changes in those needs and preferences. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that the Twin Cities are better off without the Met Council’s grand scheme to plan the city around what could possibly be an obsolete transportation system.

In fact, research by the Center of the American Experiment has already shown that,

The Met Council’s supposedly expert planning has produced unaffordable housing, growing traffic congestion, a misallocation of scarce resources to obsolete transportation systems, and efforts to socially engineer a massive change in lifestyles to fit planners’ ideologies.

It is time the Met council let Minnesotans decide where to live and how to commute. Nothing good will come out sticking to a coordinated, heavily handed down plan to make more people ride the Transit.