Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day 22: Lemon Shortbread and Freeloaders

In preparation for another bumper crop of Meyer lemons, I was going through photos of the lemon snacks I made with last year's batch. This I think is the last of the photos I have. A lemon shortbread.

I thought it was just "meh". A little too crumbly? But I was thinking that I haven't really eaten shortbread much; never really got its appeal - so maybe I'm not the best judge of shortbread. The lemony frangrance was nice, though.

Today's Thoughts
Tonight on the bus home, I saw someone sneak on the bus through the back door just as it was closing. I used to get really incensed at people like that. It's like people cutting in line, or those drivers who bypass a backed-up lane of cars just to cut in right at the off-ramp. Argh, I'm getting frustrated just thinking about those people.

Anyway, I don't know if I was just tired or not paying attention but I didn't get too upset at seeing the person jump onto the bus without paying the fare. The first thought that came to me was, "Freeloader." And the second thought was, "Oh, that sounds like an economics problem I used to know. Hmm, I wonder what the economic approach to the freeloading problem is." Oh, that sound is the Nerd Alarm going off. Let me shut that off for you.

This wasn't the first time that I've seen someone jump into the bus from the rear. I only ride the bus maybe 30 times a month (actually, about 60 unique bus rides, since I have to transfer), and I see free riders maybe three times a month. But the buses I ride are just a fraction of a fraction of all buses running throughout LA, right? So if I extrapolate the three free riders I see out of 60 buses out to the hundreds of thousands of buses that are running in any given month, that's tens of thousands of free riders on the bus system each month! I'm sure that's over $100k in lost far revenue per month, maybe more, a lot more. So someone else is bearing that loss, obviously. It's part of the $1.00 (Big Blue Bus) or $1.50 (MTA) fares that are paid by the rules-abiding majority. So I wonder, if the fare-dodgers were eliminated, how much would the fares go down overall for everyone? I suppose in the aggregate, not much. A mere pennies, or less. And obviously to completely eliminate the fare-dodgers, there'll be a big cost for enforcement. And that cost will likely outweigh the revenue recovered. So the fare-dodgers keep jumping on the bus (if I feel feisty, I curse and hope that they get squished by the door).

This writer makes an interesting point about distinguishing between Free Riders and Freeloaders, mainly that Free Riders are people without the Ability to Pay (I'll shorten to A2P) and thus need subsidies to partake in certain goods and services, like riding the bus for free. One the other hand, Freeloaders are those who, regardless of A2P, scheme to get more than their fair share, "to beat the system" as the writer puts it.

I agree with this author's definition of Freeloaders and why they're a problem. But I'm not sure I entirely buy into his argument that Free Riders should be given a pass. Looking at the public transportation system, there are some efforts are trying to address the people with limited A2P, right? Like discounted fares for the poor, elderly, students, etc.? There are plenty of people taking advantage of these opportunities to ease the financial burden of paying for bus and train fares. Why should one person with limited A2P who follows the rules and gets discounted passes or tokens bear the cost of someone else with limited A2P who doesn't go through buying passes or tokens and just jumps onto the bus from the back? Well, maybe the issue is that the people that I see jumping onto the bus are Freeloaders indeed, not just Free Riders.

I guess in the end what bothers me most are exactly the people who try to game the system or best others who are "playing by the rules". And what's a little scary is that I think this tendency is condoned here in the US, maybe even celebrated. It's sort of what's behind the tax loopholes, right? And the whole mentality of the mortgage brokers and bankers and other architects and drivers of the current financial crisis?

What about the big online coupon craze (a la Groupon, etc.) these days? It's one thing to "find a deal" but should retailers and restauranteurs feel like they have to participate and give everyone 30% off or whatever, just to compete? What about the regulars who don't use the coupons? Do they get punished with higher prices, because in order for the restaurant to make money despite the severe online coupon discount, they just have to increase the menu prices overall, so even after the 40% discount or whatever, there's still enough of a margin?

So these are the things I think about on the bus, when I'm not reading or sleeping. And that's why I love riding the bus.

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