Government and unintended consequences

January 12, 2007

Stephen Dubner comments on the fact that NYC government workers are more than twice as likely as retail workers to drive into the city, creating additional traffic congestion:

Still, it seems unusual that more than a third of all government workers drive into the city, an even higher percentage than construction workers. So why is that?

According to the article, the government workers have a very simple and powerful incentive: “because they have free parking.”


2 Responses to “Government and unintended consequences”

  1. Oddly enough, the people on that article’s talkback have a pretty good reason for this. To quote one of them …

    1) Many municipal workers are required to live within city limits. In most cases this means “outside Manhattan,” given the cost of housing. As the article itself acknowledges, large stretches of the outer boroughs are poorly served by public transportation and therefore driving can be a better option.
    2) City jobs are much more dispersed thoughout the city than are Manhattan-centric private sector jobs. Once again, this puts many workplaces in areas with poor transit service.

    This was debated, but by the end it seemed like this logic made more sense. Maybe you read it differently, either way, it seems like there may be actual reasons (beyond the one you posted) for that percentage. Just thought I’d point it out.

  2. Jake Savage Says:


    You’re absolutely right. It’s entirely possible that there is some other explanation for this large discrepancy. I don’t personally think the ones you’ve identified can completely explain why government workers would be more likely to drive than would construction workers. I just thought it was an interesting statistic and that free parking may be one of the reasons for it.

    Also, economic analysis would suggest that lowering the price of a good, like parking, will tend to create a higher demand for that good, so I would be surprised if free parking didn’t have some effect on encouraging government workers to drive rather than take a train. Still, the other factors you listed probably have an impact as well.

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