Tragedy Of The Commons

Waze is a wonderful app that allows users to alert other users of traffic issues. I use the app because I like to report and know about road pirate activity but it’s also useful for avoiding traffic issues that aren’t caused by thieves with badges. Now that we’ve entered road construction season here in Minnesota Waze is useful to routing around the every changing landscape is the transportation infrastructure. But some people are unhappy with the app because it sometimes routes travelers through their neighborhoods:

When the traffic on Timothy Connor’s quiet Maryland street suddenly jumped by several hundred cars an hour, he knew who was partly to blame: the disembodied female voice he could hear through the occasional open window saying, “Continue on Elm Avenue . . . .”

The marked detour around a months-long road repair was several blocks away. But plenty of drivers were finding a shortcut past Connor’s Takoma Park house, slaloming around dog walkers and curbside basketball hoops, thanks to Waze and other navigation apps.

“I could see them looking down at their phones,” said Connor, a water engineer at a federal agency. “We had traffic jams, people were honking. It was pretty harrowing.”

And so Connor borrowed a tactic he read about from the car wars of Southern California and other traffic-weary regions: He became a Waze impostor. Every rush hour, he went on the Google-owned social-media app and posted false reports of a wreck, speed trap or other blockage on his street, hoping to deflect some of the flow.

He continued his guerrilla counterattack for two weeks before the app booted him off, apparently detecting a saboteur in its ranks. That made Connor a casualty in the social-media skirmishes erupting across the country as neighborhoods try to contend with suddenly savvy drivers finding their way on routes that were once all but secret.

Cry me a river. Mr. Conner must have quite the ego if he thinks he has some kind of right to decide who can and cannot use roads he doesn’t even own.

The issue he’s seeing, without being intelligent enough to realize it, is a tragedy of the commons. Most roads in this country are considered public (which is a fancy word for the State claiming exclusive ownership rights). They’re funded by money that has been stolen from the population in the form of taxes. That being the case, Conner has no right to bitch about how the road in his neighborhood is used. If it suddenly becomes popular with motorists and that popularity causes the road to degrade faster and to be less usable by people living in the neighborhood then there’s no recourse for the people of the neighborhood.

There is a solution to this: private roads. Suddenly everything changes. The people using your private road without your permission are trespassers. If they do want to use your road they can attempt to negotiate a deal with you. If you’re not interested in a deal then you can tell them to buzz off. But none of that is possible if the roads are public because then the State gets to decide who can and cannot use them.

Instead of whining about people using the road that they were forced to pay for, Mr. Conner should really try to see if there is a way to privatize the road so his neighbors and him can decide who gets to use it.