The Free Rider Problem

Posted on June 10, 2012


My local Skytrain station has been undergoing construction for some time now.  Last year they closed down one entrance for several months to rebuild the stairs.  This year they tore down the stairs to build a turnstile and accompanying bureaucratic paraphernalia – to fight against free riders.

It’s already been calculated that the money they save from stopping free riders will never recoup the cost of building the turnstiles.  So the government is spending our money in order to, um, lose money.

Free riders bother some people’s minds so much that spending useless money fighting it appears logical to them.

Honestly, it has never been the free riders on the buses that bother me; it’s the free riders in the cars.  We all pay taxes to build the roads, just like we all pay taxes to build the transit system.  But cars ride free while pedestrians have to pay.

The real free riders.

If we are going to have free riders, honestly, I’d rather it be pedestrians.  They are not sending 11 tons of pollution into the atmosphere every year like your average commuter car.

Which the owners also insist on dumping for free.

Why should I pay to pollute? the free riders ask.

Well, because there are real costs sending carbon dioxide into the biosphere, actually, that somebody eventually is going to have to pay.  And logically it should be those who incurred those costs.

What kinds of costs?  Well, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, not your usual bunch of eco-radicals, financed a study into the affects of climate change on wildfires in British Columbia.  The study found that over the next forty years, the number of wildfires may increase more than 50%. British Columbia is already suffering an increased burn because of earlier springs and hotter weather brought on by climate change, averaging 2000 fires a year from 2000 to 2010.

An extra 1000 fires a year in British Columbia on top of our already disastrous 2000 is an extra cost, a major one, but only one among many, that future generations will have to pay..

That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, pedestrians should ride free.  Pedestrians aren’t messing with my grandchildren’s (or children’s) future.

Cars are.

But I’m not saying put tolls on the streets.  Equality is fine for now.  I just say, if cars ride free, then pedestrians should too.

With free transit, people will get out of their cars anyway without anybody forcing or inconveniencing them.

We’ll all win from that.

And it will really put a dent in the free rider problem.  The free riders on the streets and highways, that is.


See Climate change to bring more severe wildfires to BC – report: Vancouver Sun