Microeconomics Question from Walter E. Williams:[]

An urban rapid-transit line runs crowded trains (200 passengers per car) at rush hours, but very empty trains (ten passengers per car) at off peak hours. A management consultant makes the following argument: "The cost of running a car for one trip on this line is about $50 regardless of the number of passengers. So the per passenger cost is about 25¢ at rush hour but rises to $5 per passenger in off peak hours. Consequently, we had better discourage off-peak hour business." Explain the fallacy. "Commutation tickets" sold by some transit systems (reduced-price, multiple-ride tickets) are predominantly used in rush hours. Are such tickets a good idea?


During peak hours, the demand for train service is less elastic, allowing for a possible price increase without a correspondingly large loss of passenger traffic. However, the demand for off-peak service will be more elastic, and therefore more sensitive to price increases or decreases. Therefore, off-peak business will be encouraged by a price reduction. Commutation tickets for rush hour are less effective than the same type of ticket offered for off-peak times. Since governments frequently in charge of transit systems, this is an example of inefficiency which could be resolved by the free market process.

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