Your Road Is Ready, Sir

There aren’t many goods and services in this country that you can’t significantly upgrade if you have the money.

You don’t like your municipal golf course? Join a private country club.

Don’t like sending your kids to the public school? Pay for private school.

Don’t like flying coach? Fly first class or, if that’s not good enough, fly private.

Don’t like your marginal neighborhood? Buy a more expensive house with better neighbors.

Etc., etc., etc.

But what about driving your car? Let’s say it’s a holiday weekend and you want to get from Point A to Point B, which is 50 miles away. It’s too close to fly. You could have someone else drive you — but still, you’re sharing the same road as everyone else, and on a holiday weekend especially, it’s bound to be really crowded. Wouldn’t it be nice to — well, upgrade to a better road?

That day may be coming. Consider this proposal to put private lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike:

On Monday, the State Senate president, Richard J. Codey, a Democrat of Essex County, unveiled his proposal for a private company to build an extension on the turnpike from Exit 8A to Exit 6 and on the Garden State Parkway from Exit 82 down to an exit in the 30s for drivers willing to pay extra to avoid traffic.

At the same time, State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County who is chairman of the Economic Growth Committee, offered his own twist, suggesting that the new lanes be reserved for buses and trucks.

Both senators said that the state could not afford a pending $2.7 billion expansion of the turnpike and that bringing in a private company would be the fastest way to raise the money without increasing tolls or taxes.

This is a very muscular form of congestion pricing, which charges more to use the same road at different times of day as opposed to charging more for a different road entirely. It is obviously far more costly (and probably contentious) than, for instance, the first-class line at airport security checkpoints. We are very accustomed in this country to roads that can be used by just about anyone at any time. Could this possibly fly?

It is fun to try to think of other goods and services that cannot be upgraded with more money. One that comes to mind is moviegoing. Variable pricing is not practiced very robustly in the U.S. If you want to go to a sold-out movie on a Friday night, there’s no upgrade substitute as far as I know. Sure, you can build your own screening room, but how do you get hold of a print of the new movie?

Other examples of un-upgradable goods and services?

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  1. RubyTues says:

    Wow bougeoisie much.

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  2. Steve says:

    Toronto has that. Pay a toll on a private highway to drive across town on a road that few use.

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  3. George Anesi says:

    Waiting in line at the DMV.

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  4. Ignacio says:

    To some degree, this has been going on in Chile, where I am from. Traffic was worsening in Santiago and other cities (although it was not as bad as Los Angeles or New York) and the government did not want to spend the money building new highways.

    Solution: Have private companies build them and have users pay tolls by means of an electronic device attached to your car (you do not even need to slow down and only pay on the miles driven on the highways). This can be considered an “upgrade” because you can take the old roads to get where you are going for free.

    The highways are nice (one even goes under Santiago’s main river) and have all the security features you would like (even emergency rapid response teams on standby).

    And after a period of time (20 years or so) the highway goes back to the government, which could choose to have users drive on tehm for free or maintain the tolls.

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  5. Jack T says:

    Freakonomics the book, even if i don’t like the authors, I can’t pay for better ones =)

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  6. Mercutio.Mont says:

    Upgrade from the road to a helicopter. If you can’t afford your own helicopter, use a helicopter commuter service.

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  7. Marc Robinson says:

    I quibble with your movie theater example. You can buy out all or part of the show (or get the theater to run a special screening); for enough money you could get the studio to send you a personal copy. There also used to be boxes at movie theaters, like those at opera or concerts. Even on the road, you may be able to get a police escort.

    That being said, customs lines might qualify. Also consider services that depend more on skill than on money – surfing, fighter jet pilot, puzzle solving. Finally, inexpensive goods that quickly satiate – ice cream cones, for example.

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  8. Jason says:

    Parking Spots Downtown – Or Anywhere For That Matter.

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