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TCAT Game: Unfair.

Choosing a mode of transportation is an “N Person Game,” meaning a game played by some number of people N.  All around the world, this game is played daily. The options are endless: bus, plane, train, subway, taxi, car, wagon, carriage, bike, rickshaw, etc. However, in Ithaca NY, the options are limited.

Cornell University is more than figuratively upon a hill; it is quite literally upon a hill. The town around it is a charming place called Ithaca in Tompkins County, NY. As Students, we are all familiar with the large blue and white vessels known as the “TCAT” that take us to places like the mall, Wegmans, Tops, Wal-Mart, the Commons, and any place under the sun, locally. We take this service for granted; as freshman, we are given free year long bus passes, as upper classmen, on weekends and after 6 on week days, we can ride for free. However, locals do not have the same luxury.

Students out of the equation, when a local Ithaca resident chooses a mode of transportation, they have the options of TCAT, personal car, bike, or taxi. In the winter months it becomes increasingly dangerous to pedal down and up icy sidewalks, often taking bikes out of the equation. Winter resides in Ithaca for roughly 2/3 of the year, from November – May. The majority of Ithaca residents do not own personal cars. This leaves roughly two options for local residents, public transit, or a taxi. This is the perfect representation of Game Theory, a setting in which a group of people in varied circumstances and settings must simultaneously choose how to act. Each individual will act accordingly to their best interest, hoping to achieve the best outcome for their single person.

The competitive choice for a mode of transportation in Ithaca is public transit, the TCAT. It comes down to numbers: with a taxi, you are on the clock from the instant you step into a car, getting from place A to place B can range anywhere from $7 – $30 dollars, at minimum. Currently, using the TCAT is a fare of $1.50 from place A to place B, if there are no direct busses; you are able to catch a connecting bus at no additional cost. Public transit is in the best interest of the average Ithaca resident because without personal vehicles, the alternatives of walking or biking in the below freezing temperatures, and the exceedingly high cost of taxi’s, the TCAT offers the best personal outcome, financially, for the individual.

Unfortunately, the TCAT has recently announced an upcoming increase in bus fare, $2.50. One might think, as a game, a commuter always has another option. If the bus becomes too expensive, choose another mode of transportation that will better fit your needs. However, this would be an incomplete view of a game, because in fact, not all factors remain constant. Outside of the theoretical world where we can make predictions about how people will react to an increase in bus fare based on Game Theory, there are added factors that come into play, such as poverty.

According to public records, as of 2009, roughly 46.6% of Ithaca, nearly 50% live below the poverty line. Of that percentage, 31% live below 50% of the poverty line. Given the radical changes in our economy and the constant climb of the national unemployment rate, it is likely that these numbers have increased in the past 3 years. That being said, let us come back to our Ithaca local, player 1, faced with options A, B, or C as a mode of transportation. Assume A means walking or biking, B means the TCAT, and C means the taxi. We can eliminate C for short distances since by comparison the bus would be cheaper. In winter months, we can eliminate A, leaving only B. However, is this really a fare game? If a commuter almost certainly has to choose option B in order to commute to work, run errands, pick up children from school or day-care, then we can almost safely infer that at least in winter, public transit has some kind of monopoly on transportation in Ithaca. An increase in fare, assuming two trips a day, each day of the year, takes an additional $730 from each person each year. In a place where nearly half the population is below the poverty line, this number quantifies as several meals, clothes, child care, and more.

The TCAT held hearings open to the public to hear concerns many signs were posted around CU campus. However, despite our close physical proximity to all of Ithaca, many students are ignorant to this world and the impact an increase in bus fare would have upon it. It is unlikely that many students attended these hearings because contained by our own social networks and close groups of friends, we share in the exchange of information that we all know, assuming the typical student group does not include a local Ithaca resident, it would be unlikely that we would understand the repercussions of an increase in bus fare in the local community.

So what now? Where do we go from here? I challenge my fellow students to get more involved, because as we’ve learned in class 6 mere degrees of separation stand between us, or less, from people who stand to lose fractions of livelihoods from an increased bus fare.


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