Friday, August 20, 2010

How is Automobile Traffic Like Financial Markets?

Automobile traffic like financial markets? One concept: arbitrage.

In finance the concept of arbitrage keeps markets fair. Given two farmers' markets in your town with different prices, Pepper Place and Alabama Farmers markets (two real farmers' markets in Birmingham, AL), farmers and buyers will ensure prices are equivalent. Given a perceived similar tomato, it should cost the same at either market. Market participants are smart, and they will create balance. Sellers and buyers at either market will move quickly to the other if they can get a good price.

Market participants participating in arbitrage ensures these markets are balance. Non-farmers could make money by purchasing at one market and selling at another.

In Birmingham, AL, traffic runs south through multiple channels: I-65, US 280, US 31, and AL 52. Given no traffic, everyone traveling to Montevallo, AL (25 miles) would travel I-65 and arrive in 20 minutes (70 MPH). Given stalled traffic on I-65, the next person starting in Birmingham going to Montevallo would travel US 31.

Consider different paths as different markets. Instead of tomatos, the highways sell transportation, and their price is travel time. As with costs for commodity products, people minimize their costs. For the average person with the average knowledge of the market, he cannot travel quicker than average using any of the four methods. For the person with the highest level of knowledge about the different markets, he can expect to travel faster regularly.

Information Reduces Cost

As with financial markets, real time information creates advantages on the road.  Googles realtime traffic information creates advantages for people to take advantage of arbitrage.  Any driver can determine travel time on one route, shorten exposure to that route, and lengthen exposure to another route.

Capital Asset Pricing Model

The Capital Asset Pricing Model is: for more risk, you would receive more reward, or it is a poor decision.  Each level of risk has an optimal reward, anything less than the optimal reward for a level of risk is a poor decision.  In Birmingham, you could go North to get South, but I'd expect the South-bound systems to be dead still.  That would be a scenario of taking extreme risk with an attempt to have a greater reward.  The more logical path is to wait as the South-bound systems to free up.

The System

For the average level of risk, you can't expect to do significantly better or worse than the system.  Within any system, rewards are a function of the system.  In a car, traveling to Montevallo from Birmingham, travel time will never be less 20 minutes.  Any stoppage will always cause exponentially greater travel time from the average.  Therefore, for the average person, choosing a path different than the interstate is useless, and don't expect to get there faster than the internet.

Why Buses are Useless for Mass-Transportation

This begins my thesis: buses are a waste of money for mass-transportation.  I'm not talking about transporting lower economic classes: for that buses have their place, but they still suck.

If everyone rode buses one day, then no cars would be on the road.  Seeing no cars on the road, most people would drive their car the next day.  Eventually, the market for transportation (i.e. the interstate) would balance.  Buses as mass-transportation are useless because they are a function of the same system: the highway system.

Trains are apart from the highway system -- though not without fault.  Given a dual track system, they offer a "benchmark" for interstates.  If a train takes 30 minutes (no matter what) to travel from Birmingham to Montevallo, then the train should make the average travel time on the highway 30 minutes.

Each South-bound travel method, the four highways and one train route, would equalize overall travel market.  However, the one train route would have the greatest affect because it is apart from the other linked systems.

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