Sunday, June 19, 2011

What we value

I'm a bit behind because of my trip to China where blogger is blocked, so I'll be putting up a few posts this weekend.

I have encountered a seemingly odd inversion of value in Melbourne compared to New York, and most of the US in fact.

When I go to my local Woolworth's (supermarket) I have to use a coin ($1 or $2) to unlock the trolley (aka cart). I get it back if I return it to the right location. By comparison, in the US you can take a cart without a deposit. They tend to be far less functional (carts here are like the spinner bags and the wheels go in all directions) but it enables the famed Idiotarod.

When I get on a tram, I'm supposed to pay about $2.50 for the ride, but there is no enforcement of this rule. I have been riding for 2 months and have yet to see an inspection agent and there is no restriction on boarding.

I know that trolleys are cheaper than running a tram system, so what gives?

So the first question is: are the supermarkets in the US more trusting or do they just value their carts less? And if you really think about it, $1 is quite the deal for a trolley with spinner wheels. So perhaps it is less about trust and more about an incentive to bring the cart back to the entrance. Since the minimum wage in Australia is $18/hour instead of the US $8/hour perhaps it is just not worth hiring cart collectors. Comparing this to the Chinese airports where trolleys are free and there are tons of staff collecting the carts - that seems like the most reasonable explanation.

As for the trams, I wonder if this is a matter of needing to encourage use. Since Melbourne is like LA - spread over a large physical distance - people prefer their own cars to get around, making for nasty traffic. If the trams are easy to board, then people have one less reason to avoid them. They want people to pay, so much so that they run ad campaigns to guilt people into paying, but not enough to slow traffic flow by erecting barriers to tram boarding without payment. Compared to major cities like New York and Beijing where the public transit requires a ticket before boarding, Melbourne has a much smaller lower class population, so most of the riders are probably middle class. Since it is not a burden to pay, most people probably feel it is part of their civic duty to pay. I can think of no other explanation for why so many people pay when boarding. The New Yorker in me feels I shouldn't pay if I'm not forced to, but I admit I'm starting to feel the social pressure to be honest when those around me are.

What a strange and mysterious land Australia is - where people are nice, trollies cost $1 and all the tram riders are honest!

1 comment:

  1. I think you hit it on the head with trolleys. It would cost way more to have people just sit around and collect them. It is far more cost effective to have the customer do it themselves. As for the tram, Minnieapolis is the same way. It is based on total faith that someone pays for the light rail. I think it is the culture and probably the fine if anyone ever gets caught without a ticket. There is also the "embarresment factor" of being the dufus getting caught.