Passing thoughts

Ian Ayres comments on the dilemma when lanes merge of moving over early (and watching others zoom pass you) or standing your ground (but causing more congestion). He and Barry Nalebuff never published but thought about a possible solution:

Since neither approach is satisfactory, we should look for a better answer. By this point it should be second nature to see that the problem is one of poor incentives. People who jump the queue don’t care sufficiently about how jumping slows down the other drivers.

Is there a way to prevent people from engaging in this behavior? Indeed there is — quite literally. Why not neither move over nor pass, but simply track the speed of the slower moving right lane? You can block people from passing you without taking advantage of the people who are already moved over. The drivers in the right lane understand how you’ve helped them and always gratefully let you in at the end.

Try it, it works. We know; we’ve done it. The only people who lose are the ones who wanted to jump the queue — but they are usually too self conscientious about their intentions to honk (or pull out a gun).

Is it me or isn’t this the norm on Melbourne highways? This is pretty much what I do for merging lanes every morning. I guess if someone got hold of the freeway camera feeds you might actually be able to measure this.

3 thoughts on “Passing thoughts”

  1. No they don’t do it in my experience, many people merge early and dickheads zoom down and push in.

    Nice idea, I’m going to do it.


  2. Don’t know how it is in Melbourne – but in Canberra, if a lane is merging up ahead and a lane (its always the left) is backing up, people head up the other.

    I’ve often just pulled up in the right lane in line with the last car…they were in the queue first right? occasionally, you get heckled from behind, or someone swerves around to get into that valuable open space in front.

    But despite my best efforts, doesn’t really appear to be turning into a societal norm! ?



  3. Really, this is something that traffic engineers and queuing theorists have been working on for ages, and their solution is in fact pretty much exactly what Ayres says he came up with (see the linked article). So yes, there may be some incentive issues, but not much comparative advantage for economists here.

    And North America generally has a worse ‘system’ than Australia. My personal opinion is that this is mostly caused by people merging in too early, but you couldn’t discount the effect of drivers who sidezoom down the exit lanes, or even on the shoulder of the road.


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