The Bus is Better Than You Think it is

If the institutional and political obstacles to creating a less car-centric society were not enough, there is now growing evidence of psychological obstacles:

A field study and two experiments provide evidence that commuting by bus is estimated to be less enjoyable than it is experienced to be and that driving to work is estimated to be more enjoyable than it is experienced to be. To the extent that commuting behaviour is informed by subjective expected utility, commuters will inflict unanticipated costs on themselves and on society.

The paper goes on to show that “affective averaging” — a technique where people recall concrete features of a recent experience and think about where that experience ranks on the spectrum of all their experiences — can reduce the bias in people’s estimates.

Unfortunately, unless we’re willing to require that every person spend 10 minutes imagining a commute before they purchase a car, there doesn’t seem to be an easy policy solution. Perhaps things would be different if cities made TV ads showing buses full of slick businessmen and beautiful women zooming around a picturesque coastal highway as classical music played in the background.

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