How to Fund Roads with Bitcoin
Written by Ray Whitledge.
Anyone who has ever tried debating the merits of free markets over government monopolies has certainly run into the tired old question “But who will build the roads?” And while the possible answers to this question are limited only by the imagination, many people won’t even attempt to brainstorm some ideas before spitting out those six words, and declaring themselves Supreme Debater of All Things Political… But for those who are willing to listen to some new ideas, I want to talk about some of the possible ways that bitcoin can solve this problem.
For those who don’t know, bitcoin is an encrypted payment network that can process transactions far more efficiently than legacy debit and credit systems. One of biggest impacts of this technology is the viability of so called “micro-payments”. Due to the overhead costs of legacy systems (including the cost of mitigating $25 Billion per year in credit fraud), small payments can often cost the merchant more money than they make on a sale. That is why many places have a “minimum purchase” when using credit or debit cards. With bitcoin, these fees are drastically reduced, and can even be completely waived, if you don’t mind waiting a little longer for your payment to get processed.
By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with roads… Total state and federal spending on roads approached $200 billion in 2008, BEFORE the financial crisis, and the “shovel ready” infrastructure spending boost. That comes out to 7 cent’s per mile, or approximately $1500 per household. Traditionally that money has come from taxes, enforced, at great cost, by various state and federal tax agencies. At the federal level alone, the IRS has a budget of over $10 Billion. Imagine what that money could be used for in the private sector! So here are a few potential business models that could fund our crumbling infrastructure in the near future, in a way that is voluntary, efficient, and profitable!
Pay Per Mile
Toll roads are already a reality in many parts of the world. However the current implementation is often inefficient, and carries high overhead costs associated with manning toll booths, paying employees, and bureaucracy laden corporate and municipal structures. But because bitcoin is essentially a “computer program,” this means that it can be infinitely customized, particularly when combined with a platform like Ethereum. In fact it is possible to completely automate the corporate structure and eliminate virtually ALL of that overhead, in something called a DAC or “distributed autonomous corporation.”
One way this could work would be the following:
You load some bitcoins onto your car’s computer. Whenever you pass a toll station, you would be debited a set rate for the number of miles driven on that road. That money would instantly be transmitted to the owners of the road for immediate use in building and maintaining roads. Roads could charge different rates for different vehicles, just like current toll roads do, but could also tailor different payments for different times of day, and different seasons, and could do it all without the high overhead costs of traditional toll booths. This could result in lower costs for the end user, as well as mitigating traffic jams, and potential accidents.
Ad Supported Transport
You know what the world needs more of? Pop ups. We need pop ups EVERYWHERE! Including on your windshield, while sitting at red lights. Now I know you are probably experiencing an overwhelming urge to reach through your computer screen and strangle me right now, but this idea was actually suggested by a statist friend of mine when she first began exploring the ideas of liberty. She asked me about the roads, and I asked her to try and answer the question herself. She almost immediately suggested using advertisements on flat screen TV’s at red lights to pay for roads. I loved it, and decided to take it a step further: Project the ad’s onto your windshield and include options for purchasing the advertised item (the road would get a cut), or paying a penny (or some other micro amount) to skip the advertisement.
Imagine you are driving home from work, and forgot to pull out the steaks you were going to cook for dinner. At a red light, an ad for your favorite local pizza shop pops up onto your windshield, and with the touch of a button, you order a hot fresh pizza, and it is waiting for you when you get home. Does life get any better?
This would operate similar to how “registering” your car does today. You would “register” your vehicle with certain road companies, thus agreeing to their terms, and authorizing you to travel on their roads. In the current paradigm, interstate travel is governed by the “Drivers License Compact”, and a similar model could be used to iron out any differences between various road companies, like trade and reciprocity agreements, so you would not need to stop and register with every new road that you drove on. This also addresses the issues of speeding and drunk driving (traditionally viewed as “victim-less, but still potentially dangerous, acts”), since you have to agree to their terms, and violating those terms can result in penalties. Those terms could be enforced automatically by the DAC that oversees the roads.
Discount Coupons and Vouchers
SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! MEGA BLOWOUT MILEAGE SALE!! I can already hear the radio ads and see the coupons in my Sunday paper. Opening up “muh roads” to market based competition would not only spur innovation, but would pass these benefits on to consumers. When travel is in low demand, there might be sales and marketing campaigns offering steep discounts. Imagine “groupon” for your roads. Sweepstakes, give-a-ways, raffles, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Imagine if you OWNED a share of the roads in your neighborhood. And if you used one of the models above to generate revenue to fund and maintain the roads. If you had efficient, well maintained roads, with low operating costs and on routes that were “in demand”, you could actually get PAID by your road, as well as use profits to expand your Infrastructure Empire. The technology of the bitcoin blockchain makes this possible. It could also be used in commercial and industrial districts to provide roads to malls, shopping and distribution centers, factory outlets… etc.
Many of these models already exist, and would merely be made more efficient (and therefore cheaper) by using blockchain technology. Others would be new, and require some upfront investment, but could potentially yield much better results for the traveler. So the next time someone asks you “Who will build the roads?”, you can give them just a few ideas, and then, maybe ask THEM to think up some of their own models for funding things traditionally funded by coercive government. Because that is what it is going to come down to. Our ability to present viable alternatives to the masses.
Please post some of YOUR ideas in the comments.
Ray Whitledge is a carpenter, computer programmer, and writer. Currently living in central Kentucky, Ray’s interests include Voluntaryism, Agorism, Bitcoin, and Transhumanism.