First of all, what does the word "publicness" mean, and how is it used? According to Yamauchi/Takeuchi (2002), when undergraduate students at a university were asked the question, "what is the 'publicness' of transportation services," they responded with the following six answers.
- Transportation services are necessary in people's everyday lives, so the idea of "publicness" relates to services such as those.
- Railways and bus companies are usually regional monopolies, so the idea of "publicness" relates to services that are provided in such form.
- For the general public, transportation services are not used for their own sake, but is something that is required to achieve separate goals. Services like these are said to have "publicness."
- Transportation services must be available to the public when they are needed, such as taxis that drive around in the middle of the night to pick up passengers and railways and buses that operate early in the morning and late at night.
- Transportation services are used by an unspecified large number of people, which is what gives these services the quality of "publicness."
- Services provided by the state or by local governments are said to have "publicness."
I'll defer to Yamauchi/Takeuchi (2002) for detailed explanations of the above six answers, but one thing I would like to point out is that it is very difficult to define the term "publicness." To put it another way, the word "publicness" can be interpreted arbitrarily by the people who use it and we should be careful in using it easily.
However, this ambiguous word “publicness” can sometimes have very real consequences when being used to discuss matters related to transportation and public utilities. As transportation or public utility services are deemed to have "publicness," if, for example, a railway company wants to discontinue the operation of a certain railway line due to unprofitability (operating in the red), until recently, they first had to request permission from the government. In addition, for the same reason, if a company that provides transportation services or public utility services considers raising fares or fees, consumers tend to express their dissatisfaction to the government.
As I said earlier, the word "publicness" has been understood by many people in ambiguous ways, with vague interpretations, and has been used as such. Based on this ambiguous definition of "publicness," the government has traditionally been intervening in the market of transportation and public utility businesses by imposing regulations, providing subsidies and charging taxes.
Is it possible to avoid using such a vague word or concept like "publicness," and analyze the characteristics of transportation and public utilities to create measures and policies to cope with the real-world problems that occur from time to time, as well as to grapple with it as an academic subject? A useful discipline when trying to formulate such measures is economics. I would like to continue by offering a concise overview of how transportation and public utilities relate to economics, especially microeconomics.