Trust in me

I agree with Ryan Avent: this is lunatic.

There are interesting economic questions to be asked about Los Angeles’ plan to switch from an “honor system” to turnstiles on public transit. For which system is the expected revenue take larger? (This depends on the extent to which random checks act as a deterrent to would-be free riders). Also, for a system struggling to establish itself as a principle part of the transportation network, are there other advantages to the honor system? It may act as a means of price discrimination (if the expected value of fare-dodging is lower than fare-paying) under which expected revenue is maximized. Or a lengthy initial honor system period (or free period) could encourage riders to build their commutes around transit, such that when a more rigorous turnstile system is adopted, their transit demand is fairly inelastic and they keep riding.

Of course, the New York Times largely downplays these questions, instead going to Joel Kotkin, who can always be counted upon to deliver a baseless anti-urban assertion:

Some saw the move as another sign of the shifting ecology of Los Angeles.

“Unfortunately, as L.A. gets to be more urban, it has these breakdowns of trust that happen in big cities,” said Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles resident and author of “The City: A Global History.” “It’s the flip side of all the good things.”


It's not that Joel Kotkin is wrong--anyone who's lived in any two places of varying size knows that as urban aggregations get larger, politeness and trust go down. But LA was already well above the size where the trust problems kick in; the honor system was presumably a reaction to some other factor--perhaps the cost of turnstile maintenance was too high, or perhaps LA simply wanted to get people off the streets by any means necessary. It seems silly to speculate that the switch has anything to do with some change in LA's underlying trust supply.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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