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There was an anomaly in the system. Government action often produces unusual market reactions. In the case of the Northern VA commute to government jobs in DC and close environs it was all about HOV lanes on HWY 66 and Beltway 495.

The government said you could only travel in the HOV lanes if you had at least three in your vehicle, so spontaneously from whole cloth emerged a market in single passengers, bodies who made up the three who rode along to the Pentagon drop-off. The majority of the commute was completed in an expedited manner, and for the “third man” it was a free ride at rapid pace to the hub to all government jobs.

Pentagon Station.

At the other end of the construction were the endless “slug lines” at the Pentagon’s massive parking lot to return home to the suburbs at the end of the day, where the govt workers lined up according to destination – signs posted – for the cruising vehicles to pick up their third passenger. I’ve got a golden ticket. A drama played out every single day in the life of the commuting government worker. Cruising for action. Waiting in line. Placing your bets – time versus money. Going home.

Interestingly enough and contrary to opposing arguments that without government regulation there would be chaos, the opposite was the case. The HOV cruise commute was controlled not by legislation but by human action. By custom. And unless you were terminally stupid you understood the basic rules by the third ride. Or you became known as stupid and the driver always had right of refusal. Voluntary regulation according to property rights.

The free market did not cause chaos, it cured chaos.

Rule One: Never talk to your driver. You are a body in the car to expedite his/her commute to work. If he/she feels chatty, you have the option to respond. Otherwise, shut up.

Two: Never wear too much cologne or perfume. You are a guest getting a free ride. No one wants to smell you. Don’t dare eat anything or have a flatulent issue.

Three: Sit in the back and be invisible. Wait for your driver to engage you if he/she wants. Never turn up your music on your headphones (no earbuds those days). Be silent. No one wants to hear your “jams.”

Four: Get in quickly and only say “thank you” upon entering. You are not starting a friendship. You are getting a free ride to work.

I first observed this strange anomaly when I moved to Haverhill Drive in Springfield, VA, where there was a corner serviced by a DC Metrobus to the Pentagon that cost a few bucks every day, but whence you could observe a casual hierarchy of arrivals should one of the commuter cars pull up and show one or two fingers indicating how many passengers were required to make up the magic three for the HOV lane and a fast commute into town. We all stood at the stop…

…and without getting in a line we each knew who was next. No one would jump ahead of anyone else. It was unheard of. Human action. Based on reciprocity. If you were an ass, you would be shunned. A pariah. So everyone was much more finely tuned to the unwritten social custom because no one wanted to face ostracism for violation.

On a government salary you could save a good deal of money each month participating in this spontaneous human action while getting to work just as quickly.

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