The political economy of public agencies manifest in the morass of bad services

In the spirit of using this place to bookmark ideas to work through concepts and stuff, here it goes.

Tuesday at TRB I was in several discussions about how the structural dysfunction of organizations (DOTs) manifest in their data programs. I then commented that the silos of different departments a manifestation of organizational history, and the tendency for tiny empires. The next step in that logic is that the shift from agencies owning and maintaining the data from the transportation system, to buying it from vendors who were able to invest in the infrastructure due to the austerity and neoliberalism hollowing out the public sector.

When I said that last sentence out loud, I realized it was a step too far when somebody gave me a funny look.

Well today I wandered the TRB posterhall and found Andrew Guthrie’s poster, “Memphis’s Inaccessible Transit Vision: Bus Service, Austerity, and Inequity in a Neoliberal Utopia”. His work details Memphis’s Transit Vision project stalling out because it was only half implemented, illustrating how transit accessibility improved in some areas and languished in others. Being TRB, most people wanted to talk about the transit network and the renowned transit planner who came up with the proposal. I wanted to talk to him more about how the political economy in Memphis contributed to the plan’s failure. (Unfortunately an eager person who wanted to geek out about the same renowned transit planner in Alexandria, so I didn’t get a chance to get deeper into how political economies influence transit accessibility.)

I can’t quite tell if the style power analysis I’ve learned in my union work readily translates to other public sector disciplines, or if that’s just the hammer I have and everything’s a thumbtack.


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