Surge Pricing and Slow Left Lane Drivers

My last post discussed surge pricing (including pricing during emergencies) and how people
often do not appreciate the benefits that such pricing provides. Part of what is going on with
people’s opposition to surge pricing is that they think of it in terms of a social norm – do not take advantage of people who are in difficult circumstances. People focus on this social norm and fail to understand or attend to the long term benefits such pricing provides. The way to address this is to educate people about these benefits, but unfortunately the state often exacerbates the problem by prohibiting such pricing.

There is another problem that I think involves similar issues: driving slowly in the left lane.
Such driving is not merely inconsiderate, it is also dangerous. Why? The left lane allows people who want to pass other cars an avenue to do so. If that lane is blocked, then these people – who want to drive faster – become all bunched up behind the slow driver in the left lane. There is no way for them to pass, since the cars in the other lanes are usually driving more slowly than these cars wish to travel (as is their “right” in the non-left lane). Thus, slow drivers in the left lane cause tailgating, which is dangerous. By contrast, when people can use the left lane to pass, there is no bunching since people who want to drive faster can do so.

What is the slow driver in the left lane thinking? Often they are focused on something else –
talking on their cell phone or to another passenger. When they do avert to the people behind
them, they often feel in the right. Their view is that they are already driving the speed limit or
faster, and no one has a right to drive faster than that. (How do I know this? I have spoken to
many people about the issue.)

Whatever you think of their argument – and I don’t think much of it – the result of their action is not safety but the opposite, caused by the bunching behind them in the left land.

How is this issue like surge pricing? First, people who drive slowly in the left lane are often not aware of the benefits that leaving that lane open produces, just as opponents of surge pricing are not aware of the benefits of that practice. Second, the slow left lane drivers, who believe that no one has a right to drive faster than the speed limit, use a “moral” belief to justify their action just as opponents of surge pricing employ a social norm to justify their actions.

Finally, the state often also fails in its responsibilities to stop slow drivers. While many state
laws seem to say that the left lane is for passing, it seems to be rarely emphasized – either in
drivers education materials (at least the ones I have seen) or by police (who do not seem to ticket such drivers).

Interestingly, Vox has the right view about both positions. Not only is it in favor of surge pricing (as I noted in my last post), it also advocates using the left lane only for passing.