Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tragedy of the... TTC?

A little over a week ago I was riding on the TTC and looked up, and, to my amusement, saw this ad:

and snapped a photo.

If you're sitting there wondering to yourself "Why do people litter on the TTC?" think of this: People don't litter at home because, since they own their homes, they have an interest in keeping their home clean and generally in good shape - the benefit and the responsibility for the home fall on a specific person or group of people. Since everybody "owns" and uses the TTC, there isn't one person or group of people who have an interest in keeping it clean and so, since the responsibility falls on everyone, it effectively goes to no one.

If you're still confused, then I suggest you educate yourself on the tragedy of the commons, which is the name for this phenomenon. Here's the gist of it:

The parable demonstrates how unrestricted access to a resource such as a pasture ultimately dooms the resource because of over-exploitation. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals, while the costs of exploitation are distributed between all those exploiting the resource. (from Wiki)

If you have a few spare minutes, you should also play the Bunny Game.
(From The IHS' Liberty Arcade.)

While I don't think that privatization would necessarily have that great an impact on the litter levels on the TTC (a private owner who would be able to set the fares may be more inclined to hire people to clean it up than a forever rationing government administration... but then again they may not), I do find it simultaneously amusing and sad that people are so ignorant about a fairly basic economic concept that explains why so many well-meaning plans go afoul.

(And, for the record, though I don't think litter levels would necessarily be changed, I do think that the overall service levels and quality of the TTC would be improved by privatization... just so there aren't any crazy misunderstandings.)

Peter Jaworksi offers his thoughts on my photo here.


Kerry said...

Have you been on the transit system in Washington? It's private. And awesome, as a result.

mostlyfree said...

Washington DC? Because I'm going there over Thanksgiving weekend... and I've been on it before but I didn't realize how awesome it was at the time... now that I can compare it to the London Underground we'll see how it adds up!

Gerry Nicholls said...

Well I must admit, my private propety is pretty messy too.

dr_dog said...

This reminds me of an interesting publication available online: Creating Defensible Space.

It's about crime and vandalism in public housing. The main idea is that by making individuals and small groups own (or at least feel as though they own, and take responsibility for) more of the property they live on, problems with litter and crime virtually disappear. The tragedy of the commons in reverse.