Traffic Gridlock and Prisoners’ Dilemma

Traffic gridlock is something that people really never want to experience. Quality time is merely wasted just waiting other private vehicles to move. People can then easily get stressed because they know that their time should be spent most without anything to do except waiting. Unfortunately, this is something that people in Jakarta may face in 2014, as predicted, if the number of private vehicles in Jakarta keeps growing in current trend without any significant addition of road. Should we face this nasty condition?

Current debate is arising talking about Low Cost Green Car (LCGC). You could afford such a car by spending your money about 80 million rupiah. It is not then a huge amount of money for those who live in the upper or even middle class family. Furthermore, the driving forces are not merely located at the price that can be considered “low.” LCGC also offers “green living” by bringing slogan “green car.” It then means that you could save more gasoline while using the car. But, the most important driving force, based on my opinion, is still one: prestige. By buying private vehicle, driving it by yourself, your prestige will be substantially raised up, regardless the price you pay for it. But the crucial question arises: with traffic gridlock is waiting ahead, how important your prestige really is with LCGC?

Prisoners’ dilemma

Prisoners’ dilemma is a well-known game theory describing a situation where there are two prisoners detained together but they are separated when being questioned regarding the crime they have just committed. The rule of the game is simple and can be described as below:

  1. If both of the prisoners still cooperate each other (trust his/her colleague for not committing any crime), there will be no evidence taken regarding the crime. Both of them will serve 1 year in prison based upon the evidence taken by judges.
  2. If one of them chooses not to cooperate (tend to defect) and another one still keeps silent (tend to cooperate), he/she who cooperate will serve 10 years in prison based upon clear evidence stated by his/her colleague. And he/she who defects will be freed as a reward.
  3. If both of them defect each other and not keep silent, they will serve 5 years in prison based upon the evidence taken by judges and as a reward since both of them cooperate with the judges. But, the punishment also clears: since it is clear that they committed crime, they have to serve in prison.

Prisoners’ dilemma does also prevail when people live in society and such a dilemma is true when people talk about traffic gridlock that Jakarta people are going to face. The dilemma happens between using private vehicle and public transportation. Let assume that private vehicle is the state of defect and using public transportation is a state of cooperation. To summarize, the dilemma can be stated as below:

  1. If all of us trust each other, using public transportation rather than private vehicle, all of us will be rewarded: no traffic gridlock happens since all of us will prefer use public transportation even though we have to share our private place and maybe turning down our prestige.
  2. If there are few of us defect and use private vehicle rather than public transportation, they will be rewarded road that is free from traffic jam because most people still tend to cooperate for using public transportation. Those who defect will be rewarded prestige and free-road and those who cooperate should still to share place and not thinking about prestige.
  3. If all of us prefer private vehicle rather than public transportation, traffic gridlock will then happen. All of us will be rewarded prestige but should suffer traffic jam everywhere and wasting quality time.

This is the prisoners’ dilemma happening in our society nowadays. Most of us only think about how to enhance the prestige without have anything to consider about how to be a good citizen. Current condition clearly shows a condition either in number 2 or 3. There are only few people who feel that using public transportation will bring reward. On the other hand, those who use private vehicle for prestige always hope that many people will use public transportation in order to ease the traffic. Such a condition can bring a conflict in society. Those who prefer use public transportation demand better service while those who use private vehicle protest about traffic congestion. How could our government solve such a conflicting circumstance? Building road means cutting the space for public transportation and vice versa. Who should be prioritized?

Furthermore, if this conflict brings to the condition number 3, people then feel that “I would also like to purchase private vehicle since those who use private vehicle do not want to change their habit.” In such a circumstance, there is one thing that will happen: the end of public transportation era and all of us will suffer traffic gridlock. This is the actual condition that is happening in Jakarta and maybe in other big cities in Indonesia.  

A good citizen will absolutely choose the first option since all of us will preserve justice and also get advantage from it. No quality time is going to be wasted when all persons choose to use public transportation since the road will then only serve such mass transportations. No one will suffer punishment when they become cooperative each other to use public transportation. The only disadavantage maybe about the pristige that can still be preservend when private vehicle is used. 

But, people then will raise a doubt: public transportation service is not good at all; that is the reason why I choose private vehicle. I often talk to many people raising such an argument. My answer is quite easy: if you want check and balance system happens in our society, you should then use public transportation; you may say that the quality is not good enough but you would improve your skill more if you are incentivized and the same reason does prevail for our society, namely using public transportation is a mean to incentivize our government to do more to improve the quality. If only few people use it, I do not think our government will be triggered to enhance the service of public transportation. If we move together to use the public transportation, we will then get two benefits: avoiding traffic gridlock and improving the check and balance system. Thus, why not use public transportation?

But, such an improvement cannot be accomplished just by moving together to use public transportation. The triggering activities should also be conducted by government. In Jakarta, for example, law enforcers should be firm for not letting any kind of private vehicle to get into Transjakarta line even though the traffic jam can no longer be bore. Hopefully, this condition will deliver people to think that using public transportation is better.

Hence, cooperation scheme between society and government is important in this matter. If we are to avoid traffic gridlock, public transportation should be prioritized rather than private vehicles. The statement raised by industrial ministry saying that LCGC is good for people from low class is then questionable. On the other hand, I agree with Jokowi: Jakarta’s current traffic is already saturated and using public transportation will bring many advantages if cooperation happens between society and government.