I took a train from Prague to Prerov in Moravia this Sunday. I remember making this trip countless times since thirteen years ago to visit some friends including one of my best friends whom I was visiting this time around. It’s not the most pleasant place to go to, but the ride used to be the worst experience. It was slow and often delayed, cars were old and toilets dirty. You better always remembered to bring along something to drink as service was rare and expensive and there were no vending machines, only restaurant car with small selection of overpriced beverages, crappy food and instant coffee. On some routes, if you were lucky or knew which train to choose, where to sit and you paid a premium, you could have electricity, nicer wagons and cleaner toilets, but then the price would approach price of gas in a car. It hadn’t changed much during six or seven years before I made this trip last time using a train. Ever since then, I used car, which took me there quicker and gave me more flexibility. Some people consider not having to drive a form of relax, but I like driving a nice car, so arguably the only real drawback was inability to work.

Fast forward six year later and I visited the friend again and because I don’t have any car in Europe anymore, I used a train. It was nice, much quicker than before and there was plenty of room and electrical plug. There were a couple of stewards who looked like they enjoyed their work and who brought me a decent coffee and a bottle of water, all of which was reasonably priced and payable by card so people actually bought it instead of bringing it along. There was a free wifi network, spacious clean toilet and it was quiet. Even putting my laptop on a tray felt nice since the tray was made from some solid materials and felt comfortable to rest your arms upon. And all of this in basic – economy service, which was cheaper than state-run service.

I was pleased, but not surprised with any of this. I read, that state monopoly of train services had finally been broken by regulators and there were first two private companies operating in Czech Republic, so I had specifically chosen the only one of them operating this route: Leo Express. I automatically went online to buy my tickets, I didn’t expect anything else was necessary and indeed it wasn’t. I also didn’t feel like bringing any drink or coffee along because it was safe to assume they would make me buy beverages from them by keeping the prices reasonable and selection wide.

It took only one competing private company to deliver such vastly improved and cheaper service. I met the owner of the company coincidentally on Saturday’s Liberty In Prague conference. He is one of those heroes of capitalism who make our lives so much better while being celebrated much less than most sportsmen, actors or even useless politicians who create or maintain the state (or their friends’) monopoly in many other industries. Competition and free market are the best things to improve our lives, to make things we need to do easier and things we want to do more accessible and more pleasant. Competition drives prices down, identifies inefficiencies and reaches even the most inaccessible corners of the market in an effort to deliver products or services to widest possible masses.

It was also competition of Google with many other companies what created an excellent and affordable device which displayed the map and gps coordinates of the place I was going to for free, which made sure I was able to easily reach my friend if I got in trouble and which played my favorite music all along while still fitting palm of my hand. It was a competition of small music labels with established players which for a few dollars delivered Moderat and Cinematic Orchestra albums I was playing to the same device.

Next day, I was taking a train to Bratislava. No wifi, beverages were three times as expensive and could not be paid by card, I couldn’t change position of my seat and the guy who checked my ticket looked like he didn’t give a crap. What’s worst, the train was four hours late with no alternative transport or any form of compensation. I was riding with state-run operator, there was no private service available.

Before the train got delayed, two passengers were joking, that they hoped it wouldn’t be extraordinarily on time because they would have to wait for their connections for too long. Such is the public expectation of the state-run service. Yet there are still policymakers, journalists or other public figures who think there are products or services where competition should be kept in check by state regulation or they should be entirely delivered by the state and paid for by taxpayers. They seem to be blind to vast failures of the state regulation and management of entire industries: healthcare systems where people wait for months or even years for check-ups and surgeries, law enforcement which enforces stupid or draconic rules on hapless minorities, justice system in which poor can’t get justice and wealthy can buy out-of-the-jail cards, armies which turn their guns against their own citizens or kill millions abroad in aggressive wars. Free market and competition would never be perfect, but even if one ignores theories which don’t fit his narrative, it takes only one train trip with state and private operator to understand why the former never works and the latter will always be a resounding success comparatively.