On watching empty vans roll by


in Daily updates, Ottawa, Rants

In most cities, there are corridors through in which virtually every vehicle that enters at one specific point leaves at another. Examples include:

  • Vancouver: the causeway through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate Bridge
  • Ottawa: Booth street between LeBreton and Eddy

In both of these places, I have spent long periods of time with large groups of people waiting for buses. Meanwhile, thousands of cars containing single invididuals have streamed past.Is there any way spontaneous mass hitchhiking could be made to arise in such circumstances? What are the barriers to that happening? Are there any places in the world where it would happen already?

It just seems spectacularly inefficient for thousands of empty seats – powered by powerful engines and emitting fumes for the enjoyment of those waiting – would stream pass crowds of cold, or wet, or even perfectly comfortable people waiting to pay for a spot (probably standing) in a publicly owned vehicle.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie December 18, 2007 at 5:47 pm

Make a big sign:


Then put it in front of the bus stop. Once a few people start doing it, others will be encouraged to do so as well. Until the cops remove the sign, at least.

Ben December 18, 2007 at 5:50 pm
tristan December 18, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Hitchiking is a casualty of the fear wars.

Milan December 18, 2007 at 6:17 pm


That’s a great idea – and not just because I had the same general idea myself.

In addition to helping civil servants with cars help civil servants without get to work on time, it might just build some community spirit and/or communication between government departments.

It is probably fair to say that 90% of the people crossing the bridge on Booth Street work for the federal government.

Milan December 18, 2007 at 6:19 pm


The elaborate Dilbert idea is very clever, but much higher hanging fruit than what I am discussing.

There is no need to coordinate destinations here: every car is going to the same place. As such, they should just pick up passengers and drop them at the next intersection. Conveniently, that is right beside my office.

Milan December 18, 2007 at 6:21 pm


Speaking of the “fear wars” is a bit grandiose. Still, it is very much that case that most people think about risk in totally irrational ways. They go out camping and fear bears, despite how it is massively more likely their fellow campers will intentionally hurt them.

The solution? Read security guru Bruce Schneier’s book Beyond Fear and refuse to be terrorized. Also, try to get your friends, parents, neighbours, local police, and elected representatives to read it.

anon December 19, 2007 at 4:27 am

Do you not realize that bears are our single greatest enemy?

Milan December 19, 2007 at 8:50 am

Do you not realize that bears are our single greatest enemy?

So this is what Stephen Colbert is doing during the writers’ strike…

Ashley December 19, 2007 at 9:35 am

Ahem, cough, the very definition of a free rider…

Anon December 19, 2007 at 10:40 am

Ahem, cough, the very definition of a free rider…

It’s more like a ‘cost free gain in utility’ – the very opposite of a deadweight loss.

R.K. December 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm

People getting rides could be encouraged to make small payments to drivers.

Kerrie December 19, 2007 at 3:31 pm

I ruined someone’s 2006 Christmas dinner by laughing about how absurd it is that I can legally buy bearspray but not manspray.

Kerrie December 19, 2007 at 3:32 pm

And I’m not! sorry!

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