Rule following and bus drivers

Today on the bus the bus driver stopped to tell school kids to stand up. This happens on occasion, and generally the adults on the bus act like they think it is a complete joke. You can here comments like ‘this is ridiculous’ and ‘the bus driver just wants to feel important’ from adults/civil servants lounging around, but ultimately I think the bus drivers understand what is going on better than the group of civil servants on the bus.

Bus drivers are like the government, they are given a certain welfare policy that has to be followed on their bus. Although conditions such as standing up to let frail older people sit down are solved internally in the ‘marketplace’ of the bus, the condition of having all adults sitting while children stand is often violated. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the rule is right, ultimately in social welfare terms I think there is no difference between me standing or some 14 year old boy is standing, but this is the rule that the bus driver has to enforce.

Now it obviously upsets people when the bus driver stops and tells the children to stand, so there is a social cost to their yelling. However, their yelling is also costly to the children that are sitting, as the 14 year old boy gets embarrassed, also they are forced to stand . As well as making them stand, the yelling also impacts on the kids belief that the bus driver will yell at children sitting on a full bus in the future. As far as I can tell, the bus driver seems to yell just enough to force the majority of kids to stand on the bus in future periods. This allows him/her to achieve their social goals at the lowest social cost.

I think that 98% of bus drivers in Wellington are brilliant, and realising that they are better at achieving social goals than a number of world governments increases my respect for them further.

  • Kimble

    It also teaches the little snots to appreciate the contract they accepted by purchasing a cheaper ticket and entering the bus. No free lunch, kiddies.

  • Older people also get cheap tickets, imagine if we could also make them stand ;). I don’t think I could do it, I don’t mind standing on the bus. Especially when your bus driver is in a rush, and its nearly impossible to stay standing, in those cases it feels like a challenge I just have to take up

  • Kimble

    As part of the concession for youth tickets they explicitly accept the need to give up their seat to a full fare paying passenger.

    Pensioners get a concession as part of their retirement income.

  • Yes, I was just being sarcastic.

    Tell me though, if a student buys a full price bus ticket, do they have to stand for adults to sit? All the signs just say that children should stand, does buying an adult ticket change this?

  • Kimble

    Yes it does, Matt. Purchasing an adult ticket means the kid wouldnt have to give up his seat to the Queen.

  • Interesting, if I was a kid I’d do that at least once to be a smart arse. It would be awesome.

  • I would be interested to know if bus drivers realise that they can’t make children stand if they have an adult ticket. Imagine if the driver makes the child stand, could they then demand compensation from the bus company.

    What should the level of compensation be? The difference between the ticket prices? As the child was willing to buy an adult ticket he must have valued the right to sit down at a greater value than the difference between the ticket prices, and as a result compensation should be greater. Interesting.

  • Kimble

    The kid would refuse to stand, the driver would drag them up, the kids parents will sue, the driver will be fired and serve 6-months for assault, the child will be forced to attend counselling sessions for 2 years to cope with the trauma.

    Drivers do know the rules I expect, and I would also expect that they had significant leighway on expelling people from the bus.

  • Dunno about this whole ‘drivers are enforcing social justice’ thing. They may be optimally enforcing the rules, but are the rules optimal? I doubt it: as you point out, there is a social cost of forcing the children to stand up. I doubt that the adults feel all that comfortable sitting in a seat that a child was forced to vacate. The difference in prices is just a case of price discrimination so I don’t know why the bus company chooses to differentiate the service provided as well. I think it just makes people unnecessarily uncomfortable.

  • “They may be optimally enforcing the rules, but are the rules optimal?”

    Indeed, that is why I never called the policy optimal in my post, I don’t really feel that it is optimal either (which is why I say “ultimately in social welfare terms I think there is no difference between me standing or some 14 year old boy is standing”). However, that is the bus firms ‘welfare policy’ and I feel that bus drivers are using the best means available to achieve these goals.

    The discussion of whether the policy itself is optimal is an interesting one, however if I had to make a judgment call I would say that the policy is a waste of space.

  • Kimble

    “I doubt that the adults feel all that comfortable sitting in a seat that a child was forced to vacate.”

    Sure, but what about the adults that are able to have seat because the child voluntarily gives up theirs? That is the desireable outcome, and to ensure its occurence in the future, drivers must enforce the rules.

    The truth is children should be polite to adults, which includes giving up their seat. So the question really comes down to, are good manners socially optimal?

    Deference to your elders is one of those fundamental social rules. It occurs in most cultures naturally* over time. Just like deference to pregnant women. I reckon there must be reasons for it. Given thousands of years of testing human society will end up with the optimal structure, even though the specific reasons for its optimality will be forgotten, if it was ever known in the first place.

    *The western idea of the primacy of youth is a historical abberation, I blame the hippies.

  • “Deference to your elders is one of those fundamental social rules.”

    Fair point. However, whose to say that we aren’t suffering from some form of path dependence. Maybe this rule was optimal given one type of social arrangement, but given that social arrangements have changed overtime this type of norm following leaves us in a suboptimal equilibrium.

  • Kimble

    I think social arrangements are temporary, human nature is constant, and that the fundamental social rules work with, but at the same time counteract, human nature.

    They are not going to be optimal at every point in time, covering all temporary social arrangements, but in the long-term (as in thousands of generations) they probably do better than their opposite.

  • Kimble

    “covering every temporary social arrangement”

  • The way I see it, social rules evolve to improve outcomes for a given social structure. If this structure changes enough, the rule can end up making outcomes worse than without the rule. That is why monarchies collapsed and dominant religions changed.

    Human nature is so heavily intertwined with social issues that I find it difficult to believe that there will be any ‘mean-reversion’ within social structures. Social structures are not stable equilibrium, that is why they are so dynamic and changing. The only thing on see constant about human nature is the need to maximise utility, and all that tells us is that people have the ability to reference ‘self’ and make choices.

    Although you are right that we should be careful about throwing out social norms, just because we feel they do not fit, after all there was a purpose for them in times gone by. However, I think the best thing to do would be to try and understand the purpose of the rule, and see if it still (or in some reasonably conceivable circumstances will) be a rule of thumb that is useful for society.

  • I guess when I was riding the Wellington bus system a few years back, these rules escaped my notice.

    We have no such ones in Canada.

  • Just cos a norm has evolved and is evolutionarily stable doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Evolution doesn’t design things to be beneficial to us, and most mutations which are only marginally beneficial won’t propagate in the population. It is mistaken to think that evolution ‘creates’ an ‘optimal’ society or norm: evolution is blind to good and bad. Unless we know what social advantage the norm of deference gave us we can’t evaluate whether it’s good or not. There may well be mechanisms we could design which are far more efficient that achieve the same thing.

  • Just cos a norm has evolved and is evolutionarily stable doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Evolution doesn’t design things to be beneficial to us, and most mutations which are only marginally beneficial won’t propagate in the population. It is mistaken to think that evolution ‘creates’ an ‘optimal’ society or norm: evolution is blind to good and bad. Unless we know what social advantage the norm of deference gave us we can’t evaluate whether it’s good or not. There may well be mechanisms we could design which are far more efficient that achieve the same thing.

  • Kimble

    Biological evolution may be random (though to be fair, it may not be), but societal evolution isnt. You have rational actors within the system testing it and making changes.

    Just look at parenting in the 20th and 21st century. New fadish things were tried in parenting. A simple thing like how to deal with a crying baby had dozens of new and better solutions, but in the end what worked? Wrapping them up tightly, holding them, rocking them, and sssshing in their ear. This was known for centuries, millenia, before the experts came along to tell us a “better” way.

  • “Biological evolution may be random (though to be fair, it may not be), but societal evolution isnt. You have rational actors within the system testing it and making changes.”

    Although we may have rational agents, the choice to follow rules is a rule based method of maximising utility, which does not involve agents changing behaviour based on the latest information. If agents could re-evaluate their behaviour in their own best interest, the social norm would not hold in the first place.

    As a result, any changes to the social norm must be the result of random mutations to the rule, which are not at the behest of individual agents.

    There is a difference between the child example and the bus example. In the child example a rule developed that gave an individual information to use in their own best interest, these are likely to be optimal. In the bus example we had a social norm that evolved ‘potentially’ to put the social good above the good of the individual (this involves assuming that the value to sitting is greater for the adult than the child, or that it provides an appropriate social structure for transaction etc etc). It is possible for the social structure to change but for the rule to stay, in this case it may be better to have no rule, than an antiquated rule.

  • Everyone seems to have missed all the time that is being lost while the bus is stopped. 30 seconds x everyone on board!

    But yeah, if part of the cheaper ticket deal is standing, then stand. It’s the same on the Wellington trains btw.

  • “Everyone seems to have missed all the time that is being lost while the bus is stopped”

    That is definitely an annoying cost of this policy, I hate it when traveling takes longer than it needs to 😉