What plays out here every day at the toll plaza lies at the intersection of technology and behavioral economics. In this case, going old school—handing over printed, physical money (remember that stuff?)—can get you through faster. But it also comes at a premium: Electronic toll payment systems deliver a discount—so paying with cash actually means paying more. Cash is also more inconvenient than electronic (assuming you actually have cash in your pocket, think of all the steps: Stopping, fishing for money, lowering the window, actually interacting with a live human, paying, getting change etc.).
There is irony in seeing cars stopped dead in the supposedly fast lanes. This is the opposite of how it’s supposed to be: We invent and adopt technologies that make things more efficient and run better and faster—not slow us down.
Originally published 2/6/11