Defectors take the car, cooperators go by bus

February 3, 2009

National economies are driven by the automobile, even during an economic downturn. Every day, hundreds of millions of people take their cars to visit remote places, to commute, and to reach the supermarket.

The total outlay for building roads amounts to trillions of dollars and millions of worker-hours. Miklos Szilagyi of the University of Arizona, Tucson suggests this is an apparent waste of resources, a serious producer of pollution, congestion, delays, and the fundamental reason for US dependence on foreign oil, but is mass transportation in large cities the best alternative. Should commuters take the bus rather than driving to work?

Writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of the Internet and Enterprise Management, Szilagyi has used a computer simulation to help answer the transport dilemma of facing large cities.

The received wisdom suggests that the answer lies with public transportation. "If there were no cars but reliable trains and buses, everyone could get anywhere quickly and without traffic jams," says Szilagyi. His simulation greatly simplifies the issues, but works by considering each person to be cooperating if they use public transportation or defect if they selfishly choose to take their care. The decisions of all the individuals using the roads cooperatively or in defecting will accumulate over time to produce a collective order that will determine the success or failure of the transportation system.

If everyone defects, then there will be permanent gridlock. But, even if a few individuals choose the bus, this will not help, because the buses will also be gridlocked. Defectors and cooperators are both punished for the irresponsible behavior of the majority.

In contrast, if everyone uses the bus, the buses will be crowded although can move freely on otherwise empty streets. Everyone gets to their destination quickly but in less comfort and without the benefits of privacy, in-car audio, or a trunk for transporting cumbersome items.

If just a few individuals defect at this point, then they get the biggest reward, because they can move even faster, avoid the crowd in the bus, and have all the other advantages (and costs) of personal transport.

Szilagyi points out that the simulation reveals some of the characteristics of the well-known "game theory" game Chicken Dilemma. "The simulation shows that it is quite possible to achieve a situation when the majority of people prefer mass transportation," he says, "This can be done by running large buses frequently and on separate traffic lanes."

Ultimately, the simulation shows that if most people are happy to take the bus, and just a few people defect and drive by car, then there is a comfortable level of crowding on the buses, no gridlock and a few happy drivers with full trunks.

Reference: "Cars or buses: computer simulation of a social and economic dilemma" in Int. J. Internet and Enterprise Management, 2009, 6, 23-30

Source: Inderscience Publishers

Explore further: Buffalo is serving as an incubator for the bus of the future

Related Stories

Buffalo is serving as an incubator for the bus of the future

December 17, 2013

A temporary building on the University at Buffalo's South Campus houses a humble-looking contraption that could serve as a spark for improving public transit everywhere: a full-scale replica of a 40-foot public bus, complete ...

TOSA buses power up for less

June 16, 2014

EPFL scientists have developed a mathematical model to minimize the infrastructure and operational costs of the TOSA ultra-rapid rechargeable electric bus system.

A mobile guide for buses and trains

July 8, 2011

If people had access to a fully-fledged system to help them navigate public transport, it could persuade many drivers to switch to their local trains, buses and trams. Researchers are busy developing an application that will ...

Engineering lab helping ensure safety of Florida's minibuses

October 16, 2007

Paratransit buses, or the smaller buses, are a fairly common sight on the roads of most American communities. Public transit and social service agencies, among others, often use the 16- to 20-seat vehicles to provide access ...

Tests lead to doubling of fuel cell life

May 22, 2013

( —Researchers working to improve durability in fuel cell powered buses, including a team from Simon Fraser University, have discovered links between electrode degradation processes and bus membrane durability.

Recommended for you

Four pre-Inca tombs found in Peru's Lima

November 27, 2015

Archaeologists in Peru have found four tombs that are more than 1,000 years old in a pyramid-shaped cemetery that now sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Lima, experts said.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
That's great, some ivory tower guy sets out to show their "morals" are better. Bias bias bias bias bias. No science here just bias.

Just consider the factors a driver considers: risk of accident, traffic, cost vs LACK OF EXPOSURE TO CRIME IN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Of course these aren't reported. Government buys science to say "hey I know, let's grow the government."
1 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
Agreed. Crime on buses, never. Crime at bus stops, never. People, get use to being crambed into buses, being attacked by criminals, while the political elite, like Al Gore, high ranking Government types, and other green leaders, get to have their drivers take them to where they go.

I truely believe that if you want public transportation to become more effective and safe, then mandate that all those in Government MUST take public transport everywhere they go.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
I wonder how efficent public transportation really is. Busses seem efficent only during rush hours, the rest of the time, they'er driving around nearly empty. My car doesn't use any fuel sitting in the parking lot. If you don't run the busses frequently, empty or not, then they don't meet the need and we go back to cars. How dense a population does it take to make them efficent? How about lost productivity? I tried riding the bus a few years ago, it more than doubled my commute time.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
One of the big lies is "miles per gallon". Comparisons should be passenger miles per gallon and ton miles per gallon.
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
Yes comrade! I board the bus for the glory of the revolution! Up with socialism! We will build a workers paradise! Obedience to the party, and loyalty to your comrades. The strong arm of the peoples republic will smash the ugly head of capitalist climate change. No more private perogative, only the will of the party is to be loved and respected! One for all and all for the glorious green socialist revolution!
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
Eh I like taking the bus Iv seen so many ppl slam breaks infront of someone just so they can get into an accient. Let alone the ppl who cant help but get into one because they are terrible drivers and u dont need to do much to get on the road test wise. Its just not safe to drive imo. But yeah if more people took the bus they wouldnt be as empty at times. People cant give up cars even if they did hurt the enviroment to the point life couldnt exist ppl would still drive.
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
such brilliant comments from the peanut gallery... Yes buses can be dangerous, inconvenient, and unpleasant. But that's more a reflection of larger social issues and bad planning than of intrinsic flaws in the concept. In some settings PT works VERY WELL. The fact that it doesnt work in certain places is not because its a bad idea, more likely those are 'bad' places. Its not that public transportation isnt good enough for us, its that certain areas arnt good enough for public transportation. And of course a properly implemented PT system is FAR more efficient and less polluting than cars. But it can be wastefully mismanaged just like anything else.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.