This article appeared in July 2013, in Romanian, in Wall-Street
Introduction: Usually, the concept of tragedy of the commons is related to the disappearance of fish from the oceans, global warming or ozone depletion. I think it rarely refers to the taxi drivers from Otopeni.
General framework: I thanked God when the monopoly of expensive taxi drivers at the airport ended. It was not only an attack on my money, but also an injustice and a violation of the free market competition rules. I’m surprised that no one notified the Competition Council. I started to use my Clever app for calling taxis in Otopeni and I was happy with it.
The process was simple: order a taxi from the app, then go to one office and tell the airport employee the car’s plate number and then the driver can come to pick you up. All good. This method had a disadvantage for the foreign travelers, they couldn’t understand the whole system. I once witnessed the astonishment of an older French gentleman when I explained to him what he had to do. And I couldn’t help him either, because the application only calls one taxi. So, I took him with me.
Problem: The Clever team was smart and brought a touch screen device inside the terminal, from where you could call a taxi in a few seconds. Very civilized! However, I like to avoid congestion and use my own applications, so for the last two or three arrivals on Otopeni, I tried to use Clever on the phone. Surprise! “Application currently unavailable!”.
I asked the man from the office what happened but he didn’t want to tell me why it isn’t working. However, I found out from a nice taxi driver: instead of waiting for their turn, some taxi drivers from the parking lot downstairs were using Clever on their own mobile phones to launch fake orders for the ones in front of them so that they get to the clients faster.
When their colleagues arrived to the top to take the order, they couldn’t find anyone and they couldn’t take another passenger either, so they had to return in the queue and wait for hours. So now the phone application can no longer be used by anyone at the airport! I find it sad, but characteristic to the Romanian tendency to mess up.
Analysis: Tragedy of the commons refers to the exaggerated exploitation of a common property by individuals acting in their own self-interest, although they are aware that the depletion of that resource will negatively affect the whole group in the long run. In the case presented above, there are several commons that disappear:
- Customer satisfaction – people (like me) who prefer to use their application on mobile;
- The peace of mind of all taxi drivers that they will not experience the same ugly scheme;
- The commands from airport staff (they didn’t want to go to the terminal to use the device);
- Customer trust in taxi drivers from airport (especially after this event);
- The solidarity of taxi drivers (with normal prices) in front of others;
Puff! All disappeared!
Along with the tragedy of the commons, there is another concept in utilitarianism, enlightened self-interest, which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. I don’t think that altruism, moral behavior or the inclination to do good deeds can still be learned by adults.
Or that they can be learned logically, with arguments. However, I would like taxi drivers (those who placed fake orders) to find out how much money they’re losing due to the business damage they caused. As I would like, for example, those who block intersections to understand how much time they personally lose per week due to blocked intersections. And so on.
In connection with the tragedy of the commons, the most frequently mentioned solution is having government regulations regarding access to common property. There is, however, another solution which I would like to see in the Romanian society and in the local business environment: instead of thinking “if I go down, you should go down too”, think more like “doing well by doing good”.