Queuing and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Is queuing an alien concept to us promdis?

My cousin from GenSan is here in Manila for a management training in Red Ribbon.  Young and greenhorn in Metro living, she and her co-trainees were embarrassed when a taxi driver scolded them for not lining up under a Taxi stand.

I also received a lashing from a taxi driver when I was in Singapore last year, albeit for a different reason.   Unsure of where I was and where I was going next, I sat down in a covered taxi stand while examining my handy city guide.  A taxi driver stopped in front of me and impatiently waited for me to embark.  As I was still not certain of my whereabouts and there was nobody else in line after me, I ignored him.  That was when he shouted unnecessarily loud, “Don’t stay in the taxi stand if you don’t want a taxi!.”  I grinned.

When I was in Davao City last Christmas, waiting for a taxi ride has become an endless game of chase.  But no one seems to be enjoying it.

I experienced this several times, especially when coming out of Gaisano Mall.  At the exit near Gerry’s Grill, there are two or three taxi lanes purposefully built to serve as, well, a waiting/queuing area for taxi passengers.

This section of the mall is calm when taxi cars are lining up waiting for passengers to arrive or when demand (for taxi) is less than supply (passengers).  But chaos reigns once supply exceeds demand.

On that particular night, when I was a helpless victim and participant, taxis speed over the waiting passengers.  The passengers, like a mob, runs after the taxi.  Waiting passengers see other passengers as enemies, like a cat to a mouse and dog to cat.

I wonder what happened to the taxi stand.  People just ignore them.  And taxis too.  Mall security personnel seems uninterested to the whole situation.  No one directs the traffic.  I even saw bystanders getting a taxi from across the street and bringing them to the mob.  As if in a cockpit, he sells the rights to take the taxi to the highest bidder…or the loudest nagger. Ah, perfect ingredients for anarchy.

What’s with queues that people’s behavior changes in their absence as much as in their presence?  Is queuing a measure of civilized and modern societies?

It is odd why people seems to ignore lines and bump over people just to be first.  I spent most of my school life lining up:  first thing that I do in school every day from kinder to fourth-year high school.  You remember that too?  And most of us, especially graduates of Unibersidad ng Pila kept on lining up until college graduation.  That would have made practically all graduates of the Philippine education system majors in lining up.

But how come we forget to line up when it matters most?  Here is where the Prisoner’s Dilemma comes in.

Prisoner’s Dilemma is a story of two prisoners who must decide whether to tell on their partner in crime. If they both squeal, they’ll get medium-length sentences; if they both stay quiet, they’ll get light sentences. However, if one stays quiet and the other testifies, the “informant” goes free while the “sucker” gets a long prison sentence. What makes this interesting is that the pair ought to cooperate to get the light sentences, but they’ll both have the temptation of squealing especially if they are being interrogated separately. In the end, they will likely rat on each other.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma illustrates why people should cooperate to achieve a win-win situation.  You either fall in line and wait for your turn or run amok like everybody else and chase taxi cars.  In the end, so much time will be wasted running around, not to mention the effort spent in doing it compared to just standing quietly waiting for taxis to arrive one at a time.  If nobody wants to cooperate, all passengers will end as a loser.  The sly taxi drivers will even ask for dagdag knowing that he has bargaining power over you.

Queues characterize order and discipline.  It shows how civil and educated people are.  There is respect for time (first come, first served), personal space, and for equal chances.  Most importantly, everybody wins.

I hope people would take lines more seriously, most especially mall owners and operators, policymakers, public managers, and the general public.  Queues and queueing systems have become an interesting subject for many scientists, mathematicians, operations managers and psychologists.

Fall in line.  Live and let live.