Predictably Irrational?

“Anger and frustration are emotions Edgardo Romero has learned to suppress when, on a bad day, it takes him two hours to drive to work, a trip he swears he can walk in half the time.”

This comes from a recent piece in the Financial Times about bad traffic in Caracas, Venezuela.

Traffic is legendarily bad in Caracas, but the subtle question raised by Mr. Romero’s quote is that, if he knew he could always make the trip on foot in half the time, why he would ever choose to drive? Let’s weigh pros and cons. One the one side, the car: Expensive, slow, tiring, stress-raising, no exercise. On the other, walking. Fast, cheap, and good for you.

Caracas traffic has one culprit: Oil. Venezuela is home to the world’s cheapest gas, a mere five cents a litre, according to The Economist. With gas that cheap, time is the only disincentive to driving (and as the above quote shows, people are inexact managers of time). But it’s not just the price of gas: The oil boom has also put loads of new cars into a city that was ill-prepared to handle them.

The FT article goes on to note that many blame President Hugo Chavez for the traffic woes, and it brings up one of the stranger trades I’ve heard of since that story about the minor league baseball pitcher who was traded for 10 bats: Venezuela has been sending cheap fuel to London to help subsidize bus trips for lower-income people, while London has reciprocated by sending planning experts to Caracas to sort out the mess.

The irony of Venezuela’s cheap and subsidized gas is that, according to one IMF study quoted in the aforementioned Economist piece, the richest 20% of households received 42% of fuel subsidies, while the lowest 20% received less than 10%. Given that the wealthier classes in Venezuela are among the most committed anti-Chavistas, his policy is benefiting most those who oppose him most. By raising gas prices and using the proceeds to build things like bus-rapid transport, he could ease traffic, and the people who he might upset with such a measure don’t much like him to begin with (and besides, what driver doesn’t complain about congestion?)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008 at 9:53 am and is filed under Congestion, Drivers, Traffic Psychology, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



June 2008

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