Come on and take a free ride

I loved the music of Edgar Winter, but that is a mere aside. So, listen to his song and enjoy the Drake and Josh video.

My wife, also an economist, knows about the principles of free riding. But, because of that understanding, she is really loving travelling on the Metrobuses. She has decided that the capricious nature of their operations is really much in her favour. Most evenings she arrives smiling–as far as the immediate journey is concerned. Why? It seems that the buses have a set of fare machines that do not work much of the time, whether taking cash or payment via SmarTrip. Civic concerns aside, she is happy when the driver says “You can ride for free.” She is convinced–not hard to do–that it is much cheaper to use the bus than to pay $9-12 a day for parking.

How about offering to pay anyway? It appears that there is no system that allows drivers to take cash from passengers. I would think that somehow collecting money rather than not would be good for the long-term health of the finances of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transport Authority. I remember, while in Barbados, laughing at the willingness of public parking attendants to just let people park for free due to the absence of tickets to dispense to motorists. In the US, the more sophisticated system still has the same flaw. How about doing what is the norm in a lot of European cities? You have fare machines around the city (usually near bus stops, and that may be a problem in some areas as stops are very frequent) and you must buy a ticket and run the risk of being checked by an inspector who will fine you heavily on the spot if you are travelling without paying. While there is an honour system in place, the fear of being caught and fined is often very strong. My understanding is that Metro has no such system in place. Time for some rethink?

The other side of free riding is parking at meters without paying. On the good side, I had the good fortune of finding a meter space last night right outside Kinkead’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, where I was due to meet my good lady for drinks with friends. First, as I was about to back into a space, I was taken by the fact that driver of a taxi that had been parked in the space, gestured to me to park where he had been. I thought that was nice. Then, I saw that the meter had a flashing “FAIL” in its window. Whoo-hoo! But, I was a little unsure whether I could still park. My wife told me that I should call, and I found the number on the meter. Within one ring of the phone it was answered. I gave the meter number and the official was about to give me the confirmation number orally, but told me he could also send it by e-mail. I was stunned. All done within a minute. That was really efficient, and I complimented the official for that. I wondered though that, as the meter also noted that it was possible to pay by mobile phone, why the official did not suggest that I do that. I wondered, but did not suggest. We all love a free ride :-).


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
This entry was posted in Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Public policy, Public transport, Travel, Urban life and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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