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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)