If people were rational creatures, you might expect them to respond to rising gas prices by doing less solitary commuting. The cost of filling up the tank would provide an incentive to either carpool or use a heavily subsidized mass transit system. But that hasn’t happened:
Despite high gasoline prices, the share of commuters driving alone has increased slightly since 2000 while the proportion in car pools dropped and those using mass transit remained about the same, according to a Census Bureau analysis released yesterday.
Nationally, the share of people car pooling dipped, to 10.7 percent from 12.2 percent. Over all, people driving to work accounted for 88 percent of commuters. Those driving alone inched up to 77 percent, from 75.7 percent, with the highest proportions in the Midwest.
There’s another reason why rational commuters should, at least in theory, figure out a way to stop driving alone. While people can adapt to just about anything – we learn to cope with all sorts of permanent tragedies – we can’t adapt to unpredictable situations. And the morning traffic is certainly unpredictable. Because we never know how long it will take us to get to work – it all depends on the state of the highway – our nervous system can’t habituate to the commute. The end result is that commuting remains one of those annoyances that never stops being annoying.
You’d think a rational creature would be better at avoiding activities that make it miserable.