Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Boston Visit and Greyhound Game Theory
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
On Saturday I took a Greyhound bus to Boston to visit Julia and Moss, who have a new place in Cambridge, Mass. Another objective: to get a day's head start on reuniting with Leonard, who had just spent a week and a half near Boston on business.
I found the one-day trip wonderful and intend on returning; what I saw of Boston I liked (what a civilized bus terminal they have!) and of course Moss and Julia are a powerhouse. And Greyhound has a deal where if you buy your round-trip ticket online, Boston-NYC roundtrip is $30.
However! A ticket from Greyhound using that special fare is not, despite the date and time and bus number printed upon it, a specific boarding pass for that bus. It is a general pass that can get you on any bus on that route, for something like a year after the purchase date. So if you arrive a half hour early for your bus, as the ticket suggests, and there's a bus right there and there's room, you can get on that bus! But that means that the bus is first-come, first-served. Should you arrive on time at 9am and find a huge line in front of you, even if your ticket says 9am and theirs don't, they'll get on before you. If the bus runs out of room, you'll have to take the 10am bus. A fellow behind me in line at the Port Authority was vocally unhappy about this with a Greyhound employee, who didn't sooth him terribly well.
And yet! I recently noticed a sidebar notice on Greyhound's web site, in the middle of the purchase process:
Reserve your seat and preboard the bus for only $5.
Available on select schedules only at select terminals.
Reserve Seating can only be purchased in station at the designated ticket line. Customers must be prepared to board 20 minutes prior to schedule departure. See ticket agent for details.
And indeed the not-terribly-amiable Greyhound employee at Port Authority mentioned this $5 reserved-seat upgrade to the disgruntled passenger, so he and a few others who overheard her took her up on it. I assured the people behind me that, despite how very much it sounded like a scam or entrepreneurialism on the part of the Greyhound agent, it was legit. The new VIPs clustered in a new, separate line; they'd board the next bus before our line did.
But then we wondered: what are the game-theoretic implications of this ticketing system?
I didn't buy an upgrade and I made it onto the next bus anyway. Thoughts?
12 Nov 2007, 21:45 p.m.
14 Nov 2007, 9:31 a.m.
14 Nov 2007, 10:22 a.m.
15 Nov 2007, 9:54 a.m.