As mentioned previously, urban or transportation planners often defend government planning of the urban transit system on the grounds that the system is too complex to be coordinated piecemeal by decentralized interaction. An ancillary goal of this paper is to urge planners to better understand the lineage of such notions: "We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become" (Benito Mussolini, quoted in Hayek 1944, 43).
Let us go back to the electronics example. Components are made in Korea, assembled into tape recorders in China, shipped to Long Beach, California, and loaded onto trucks for delivery to distributors throughout the American West. The coordination problems here are rather incidental. One of the simplifying features of this example is that tape recorders are not particular about the whens and wheres of the process. They are inanimate objects which will sit for days in dark, stuffy containers without minding a bit.
In urban transit, passengers are numerous, individual in their desires, and very particular about waiting. The problems of coordination are rather severe. Each passenger has his own preferred times and places to get on and off. Each day the individual's itinerary may differ or change on short notice. Vehicles usually follow schedules and routes to try to accommodate these desires. When making connections, passengers must coordinate with multiple vehicles, and the vehicles must coordinate with each other.
It is fair to say that a modern urban transit system, say in Los Angeles, achieves coordination. Generally speaking, the system has settled into a coordination equilibrium. People know when and where to catch the bus and where it will take them. From the point of view any particular bus rider, the actions of each of the parts of the system are satisfactory given what he himself is doing.
But it is no great praise to say that the system achieves coordination. The same may be said for prison life. The Hayekian challenge is as follows: When placed within Joy's broad view of society, is the current transit system conducive to metacoordination? An answer to this question must of course compare the metacoordination of one system to that of alternative systems.
Let us suppose that the governments of Los Angeles closed down all its transit services and declared a free competition policy for all bus, shuttle, and taxi services. Also, private entrepreneurs would be welcome to construct heavy or light rail lines, though it is unlikely that any would. All relevant levels of government sanctify this sudden transit tabula rasa.
Entrepreneurs both large and small would begin offering their services, just as entrepreneurs do in many cities today (sometimes even in defiance of law). We would expect the vehicles of most route-based services to be owner-operated vans, often operating under fleet brand-names or associations. The variations and peculiarities of transit markets are many, and the multiplicity of vehicles, modes, and service options are impossible to predict, especially in a free-enterprise context. I will posit some general features of what might take place.
First consider door-to-door services. Taxis, shared-ride taxis, carpools, van pools, and subscription commuter shuttles would compete in the open market. The parties involved would coordinate directly. Many services would use fancy dispatching or external display boards to aid on-the-spot coordination.
Then there is line-haul service on busy boulevards. One might envision a fairly steady flow of vehicles plying the boulevard, perhaps according to a fixed scheduled, perhaps not. Finally, for secondary routes off the main boulevard or in the suburbs, let us imagine scheduled fixed-route service, every 45 minutes or so.