An Incentive to Hitchhike

(Photo: Shinya Suzuki)

Our “Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?” podcast poked into various reasons for the decline of hitchhiking, including rising car ownership and the feature of strangers.

A Wall Street Journal article now highlights one scenario where hitchhiking is on the rise: at the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey and New York. The rise in hitchhiking (or, really, carpooling) is driven by a desire to escape the GWB’s high toll: vehicles carrying three or more passengers get a $6 toll discount.  “There are no official meeting points or matching services for carpoolers,” writes Spencer Jakab.  “So drivers approach the bridge and pick up pedestrians at a bus stop just before the toll plaza, giving a free ride to two commuters who would otherwise pay $2.00 to take a jitney into town.”

The police have noticed and, claiming safety concerns, have begun issuing tickets to drivers even though they aren’t technically breaking the law:

But to those without the time or energy to walk, the crackdown on carpools smacks of a revenue-grab by the Port Authority, which has been criticized for lavish pay and benefits. With extensive overtime, some toll collectors make more than $100,000, while salaries for several officers working at the bridge topped $200,000 last year.

Curious to see what would happen, Mr. Topyan [an economist who’s been observing the practice] recently picked up two passengers in plain sight of a police officer—and was promptly ticketed. Having researched the law, he spent six hours in traffic court and won his case.

“The prosecutor was jumping up and down in disbelief,” he says. He didn’t have to pay.

But such small victories can’t stop the police from discouraging potential carpoolers. Mr. Topyan notes that, while economics dictates there should be enough cars during rush hour, passengers line up in vain during the busy two-hour stretch when police hover near the stop “like clockwork.”

(HT: Caleb B)


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  1. Angel says:

    This is similar to slugging in the DC region (and maybe elsewhere)? Commuting suburban drivers pick up random passengers so they can all take advantage of the HOV lanes. The riders get free transportation; the drivers convenience of HOV lane use. I was nervous to try it when I first moved into the region, but the few times I’ve been a passenger have worked well. The Pentagon even has designated areas for slug pick-up and drop-offs. It’s not officially sanctioned, and there’s occasional stories about some local official wanting to regulate it or shut it down. But it seems to be too important to the community to stop.

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    • Mike B says:

      I am not sure why slugging would appeal to the GWB drivers as I am not aware of any HOV preference or discount there. Unless drivers are getting tips for their service it makes no sense for them to do it.

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      • csdx says:

        I wasn’t aware of any discounts either, but conviently, I read the article:

        “The rise in hitchhiking (or, really, carpooling) is driven by a desire to escape the GWB’s high toll: vehicles carrying three or more passengers get a $6 toll discount.”

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      • csdx says:

        from the article right above you:
        The rise in hitchhiking (or, really, carpooling) is driven by a desire to escape the GWB’s high toll: vehicles carrying three or more passengers get a $6 toll discount.

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      • Mike B says:

        Ah there we go. Well this is just Slugging, not Hitchhiking. Slugging has its own Wikipedia page and should not be confused with Hitchhiking.

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  2. Enter your name... says:

    The WSJ article would have been more useful if it included info about (or a link to) information on how Topyan won his case and why the prosecutor was so animated: was he appalled at the ticket having been written, or was he appalled that Topyan challenged it?

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  3. Heather says:

    With pollution and global warming in the state that it is, surely we should be encouraging, not fining, people for hitch hiking. If carpools could be regulated, maybe a website set up or something, more and more people could leave their cars at home – saving people money, and saving us from unnecessary emissions.

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    • Zane Geiger says:

      This is a good idea. With more support for ideas like this, public transport could be, in a way, ‘outsourced’ to the public by providing drivers with incentives to do so.

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  4. Randy says:

    Slugging in DC has been going on since the 70s, and it has only grown. I’ve been slugging to work for 17 years, and it works really well.

    More info at

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  5. WarrengOnline says:

    Wow, this is crazy. So i go shopping and have to NAVIGATE strangers? Then go to a fastfood join to order food from another stranger? But let me assist a public stranger to save on money and you give me a ticket? Ooh, just for fun, I’d love to have my nieces and nephews at the bus stop JUST do pick them up in front of a police officer. I’d make it a spectacle as this is the more absurd thing I have EVER heard.

    I remember when my Dad used to do it ALL the time. I HATED it. But sometimes, you never know who you are helping and some of the people assisted my father and they became friends. This was when you could assist a total stranger in need and not worry too much about a negative impact in the late 70’s and 80’s.

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    • Su says:

      Oh, do it, do it! In fact, crowdsource yourself a flash mob and get them ALL to pick up friends or relatives at the bus stop. Great way to send a message.

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  6. paul o. says:

    The second sentence refers to a $6 discount at the GWB for HOV vehicles. This is what induces drivers to pick up strangers. Typically, those of us in NJ don’t have strangers in our car unless we have a vested interest in doing so.

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  7. Karen says:

    Casual carpooling has been structured in the San Francisco area for more than thirty years ( ), with more than two dozen publicized pickup points where cars and passengers meet in the morning. Drivers and passengers benefit.

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  8. COD says:

    I slug every day in DC. I do wonder if the local officials will be less tolerant of us once the HOT lanes are in place on I-95 and 3 person carpools driving for free can be viewed as lost revenue for the state.

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