Dunedin’s ride-share

The big questions.

What constitutes inequality? What constitutes age discrimination? Legally and morally? Is immoral behaviour always illegal? What is needed for institutional irrationality to occur? Who personally takes moral responsibility for institutional decisions? Is it possible for a local governance representatives to make a debatable or morally wrong decision and turn it into bylaw (or law)? If that happens, what are the mechanisms for the system to correct itself? How transparent the system is? If a debatable decision is made, is it OK to give in and follow the rules, even though they might be morally wrong? Should people continue “to do their job”? Or should they actively oppose the wrongdoing by refusing to follow the rules? What at the end of the day defines what’s moral, and what’s not? How did Nazism happened? When should Civil Disobedience be justified, or encouraged?

I would like to hear YOUR opinion thoughts and examples.

A simple case: a limited public resource.

Let us imagine that in your city the traffic and parking situation got out of hand. There is more road users than road or parking space. In other words, there is more people that would like to use a public resource than the amount of the resource itself. Due to the fact that the resource is limited, some people will simply not be able to use the resource (will not be able to park their car or example, or will queue in long delays caused by traffic jams).

One of the ways to deal with the situation is so called ride-share or carpooling scheme. This is how it works: imagine that there is only a one single empty space left for parking in front of a large shopping centre; there are four cars, that arrived EXACTLY at the same time, and are now negotiating/deciding who should park in the last empty space:

  1. a car with a single driver,
  2. a car with a driver and 1 passenger,
  3. a car with a driver and 3 passengers,
  4. a minibus, with 8 people.

Which car would you give preferential treatment to? The dillema is, only ONE of these cars can park, and all the other people will have to return home and take a bus instead (because there is no more parking space left). So, what scheme would work best in the scenario? What scheme would maximise the happiness, and also, the VALUE out of the resource itself?

According to utilitarian morality, the moral preference should be given to a car with more people, as this simply creates more happiness: “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”. By giving preference to the option (4) we would make 8 people happier, and 7 unhappy. If we give preference to option (1) we would end up with 14 unhappy people, and only 1 happy. With option (4) more people get the VALUE out of the limited resource. So, if we follow that principle, the ordering of our preferential treatment could be: 4, 3, 2, and 1. Option (4) utitlises the resource better than (3), (3) does it better than (2), and (2) does it twice as good as (1).

And this is EXACTLY how ride-share/carpooling schemes work. The schemes provide preference to vehicles with more people, so that the greatest number of people get the value out of a resource.

How to implement it?

The ride-share/carpooling is in many countries implemented by a set of articles in the traffic regulations, enforced by police, traffic officers and traffic cameras. There are usually dedicated lanes with marking (for 2 or 3 people), which drivers can take advantage of if they have sufficient number of people in their cars. See for example: California’s carpool/high-occupancy vehicle lanes, or a general description of carpool laws (Note this: “Second passengers are considered any living person. Additional passengers may be adults, children or infants.”)

The rules simply provide preference to vehicles that have a driver together with one or more passengers. Interestingly, in the case of the carpool lanes, the provision is to allow busses and motocycles to use these too. I’ve participated in the scheme in many countries, including toll-free bridges and carpool lanes in California. The system is simple: if you have more than 1 passenger, you are privileged. If you are on a motorbike, you are privileged. If you are alone in your car, you cannot make use of the preferential lanes. The system in its core is very simple, straightforward. It is a simple addition to traffic regulations (in most cases). It also leads, as a side-effect, to many very interesting social phenomena, such as “slugging”.

The preference scheme: a puzzle.

So far the argument was quite straightforward. We have identified that a simple ride-share (carpool) scheme is a good way to deal with the traffic problem. The scheme generates greater happiness. It makes the best use of a limited resource by providing it to the largest amount of people, it encourages sharing of resources, it encourages young children to be aware of environmental and social issues, and it limits the single-occupant vehicles on the road, by providing strong incentives for sharing. The scheme is fair, treats everyone equally, does not discriminate, at anytime anyone can use it provided that there are at least 2 people in a car.

Let us imagine now the following dilemma: as before, we have just ONE single parking space left, and we have the following situations to decide the preferences:

  1. A couple, in their 30s, with two friends, also in their 30s.
  2. A single mother with 3 children: 2-, 3- and 4-years of age.

In this case we have 3 possibilities:

  • Option A: we could give no preference to anyone. Both of the cases: (1) and (2) are THE SAME, indistinguishable, and will qualify for the limited resources in an exactly the same way. In both cases 4 people benefit, therefore, the cases are indistinguishable. (Recall the phrase: “Second passengers are considered any living person. Additional passengers may be adults, children or infants.”).
  • Option B: we could give preference to the mom and her children, as she most likely needs it the most. Taking a bus with 3 small children is a major hassle whereas taking a bus if you an adult with your friends is not a problem at all. We could call upon Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article [25](2), and give preference to the mother and her children, on the basis that she probably needs it the most, and should be treated with special care. This would constitute a case of “positive age discrimination”, where children were given preference over the adults.You can check for example in the Australian Age Discrimination Act 2004Articles 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, and 33. The purpose of Age Discrimination Act 2004 is to ensure that people of all ages are treated equally and have the same opportunities, among others, in “getting or using services” and “accessing premises and facilities” provided by governments and local administration.

Which option would you choose? A, B or C? Which option is FAIR? Which option is discriminatory? In positive or negative sense? Which option would meet your moral standards?

The world of carpool laws.

All the ride-share and carpooling schemes quoted above go simply with Option A and this is probably what most of people would choose as a FAIR option. What’s wrong with options B and C? Option B make sense and seems fair, but is impractical to implement and enforce. It would require somehow to give preference to children which in the case of carpooling is impractical (separate lanes?). “Positive age discrimination” seems fair, and there is nothing wrong with option B.

How about option C? Would it constitute a negative age discrimination case? If you are a lawyer, and you know the answer, please let me know.  From my layman reading of Articles 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, and 33 of Austrialian’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, I would guess that Option C is or is really close to, breaking the law.

If you know of carpool schemes in your country that use Option C, please let me know.

My hometown case: Dunedin, New Zealand.

Some years ago Dunedin City Council (DCC) together with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, University of Otago and Otago Polytech has setup a ride-share parking scheme on its own. This is an applaudable and forward looking initiative that provides a mechanism to deal with the traffic problem.

The scheme is overly complex though. Much more bureaucratic as compared to carpool schemes around the world. It worked more or less for the last 8 or 9 years, and the traffic officers were issuing fines to single people trying to park in the ride-share zones. You’d have to have at least one passenger. The passenger could be anyone, and children were not fined, until 2010, when the DCC amended the rules. Please have a look into the Dunedin ride-share rules. The 2010 rules include the new clause, that was not there before:

1. The Rideshare parks can only be used by Rideshare users who:
a. Are at least 15 years of age

Apart this extra rule, the scheme is pretty much consistent with previous years rules. The change, however, means that people that used to park in the ride-share zone with their kids, are now fined if there were no other adults with them in the car. A child is not anymore considered “a passenger” (or, like locals want to call it, a ride-share scheme participant).

What reasoning could possibly lead my local governance reps to opt for Option C instead of opting for Option A? How could that possibly happen in a freedom and fairness loving country like New Zealand? Do they really mean to negatively discriminate children under 15 years old? The rules are pretty much black and white, and there is not much space for interpretations or misunderstanding. Since the start of the year, the traffic officers were eagerly (at least some of them) issuing fines to the single moms and dads with their small kids trying to take part in the scheme.

Of course, the City Council officials do not mean to negatively discriminate children. The arguments vary depending who you talk with:

  • according to Ride-Share administrator, Bruce, the current scheme is fair. According to him, the scheme is designed only for staff and students of the University of Otago and Otago Polytech, and since there are no staff or students under 15 years of age, all is good. As far as Bruce is concerned, the correct understanding of the 1(a) rule “are at least 15 years of age” is:

“are students or members of faculty of the University of Otago and/or Otago Polytech”

  • according to G.Fraser from DCC who deals with customer requests, the scheme is actually designed ONLY for licensed drivers. Since there are no drivers under age of 15, all is good. So, as far as G.Fraser is concerned, 1(a) rule “are at least 15 years of age” should be understood as:

“hold a valid New Zealand driving license”

So why the rule 1(a) does not use the actual words that the DCC official use for interpreting the rule, but instead talks about people under 15 years of age? This is a bit of a puzzle. Interestingly, with both of the interpretations (being a member of faculty, or holding driver license) there are certain legal consequences, which, as far as I understand it, would not hold a legal scrutiny and might constitute an inequality case. I am not a lawyer, and it is rather difficult to get to the bottom of WHY EXACTLY this particular rule (the age-limit rule) has been introduced into the scheme  with this particular wording, instead of the one of the “proper” rules: the faculty membership rule, or the driving license rule. I am not sure also what regulations govern the management of public parking spaces, such as in this case. It would seem unfair to me to restrict public parking space to a selected subgroup of the local community – but this is probably a completely different issue.

It seems children in New Zealand constitute a “special case” as far as human rights are concerned. Children do not have all the rights that are attributed to adults. To put it simply, people under 16 in New Zealand do not have the same level of protection that adults enjoy, and it is somewhat easier to discriminate children. Unfortunately, New Zealand does not have the equivalent  of the Australian’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, and even then, I am not sure if that could be used in this case.

Reality check.

With the wording as is, with the “no people under 15 years of age” rule, can a non-faculty member and non-student or person that does not hold the valid NZ license take part in the scheme? Yes. The parking officers do not enforce membership to any of the institutions, and do not check driving license. This somewhat contradicts the interpretations given above.

Can a child use the scheme? No. The parking officers will enforce the age rule simply by visually judging the age of the passenger to be or not, 15 years of age. Little children are not allowed to participate in the scheme – the smaller the child the easier it is for the parking officer to issue a fine. If the child look as if it is 15 years of age or older, well, you may be lucky to pass the parking officer’s scrutiny (they tend to observe the parking from a distance). With infants and very little children, you really out of luck. Sorry.

Is the system fair?

Civil disobedience.

I know this is a trivial issue, and there are much more serious tragedies in the world to worry about. Yet, there is something beautiful about this case: by being so simple, yet, so eagerly defended by local authorities it demonstrates that mistakes can happen, and that it is not trivial, to have them corrected.

Who introduced the rule? What went through their head when they have done that? Are people’s moral barometers completely out of whack? If trivial issues like that cannot be simply and swiftly fixed, are we running a risk of repeating some of the history’s biggest nightmares again?

What would you do if you were a parking officer issuing fines to single moms and their kids? Most of the officers do not dwell onto moral dilemmas, I guess. Or show much empathy and compassion. For them, the rule is the rule, and they just do their job. Is that what we all should be doing? Are we justified?


After 8 years of using the ride-share scheme I and my two daughters are using buses now. There is nowhere else to park in the morning. I have to admit that my girls enjoy riding the bus. I just do not quite know how to explain to my older daughter what the Dunedin’s ride-share scheme is all about.

2 thoughts on “Dunedin’s ride-share

  1. Pingback: What constitutes a passanger? – Praeteritio

  2. Pingback: Is child under 15 a person? – Praeteritio

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