"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."
If the truth of this statement is not immediately apparent, you probably have never commuted in a West African city. Accra needs a lot of infrastructure improvements, but one thing it does not need are more cars. After work, I can run the two miles to my gym faster than I could take a taxi there. Traffic is similarly bad in Kumasi and Dakar, and is rapidly worsening in Tamale.
Driving is no picnic in American cities, either. The difference? In American cities, rich people often choose to live in places accessible to public transportation, and their taxes and patronage support transit systems that benefit the rich and poor alike (even LA is getting on the bandwagon). In developing country cities, the poor take low quality public transit, such as trotros and shared taxis, while the rich clog the roads with their private cars and taxis.
While roads in developing country cities could certainly be improved (I would love to see someone apply traffic light efficiency models to Accra traffic), the reality is there is limited capacity to expand current roads or build new ones in the middle of the city. Poor people are already taking public transport. That leaves one viable solution to traffic in developing country cities: getting rich people to convert to public transport.
For practical and cultural reasons, this is an uphill battle. First, the main reason rich people use public transport in developed cities is not because they are altruistic, it is because it is faster and easier than driving. Accra currently has no public transit system that can rival the speed and efficiency of a private car. Considerable investment would have to be made in a rail or bus system with widespread coverage and efficiency in order to convince people to convert. Second, there is a cultural attachment to driving. Owning a car is a definitive status symbol in West Africa; taxi drivers are often confused when I, a person who apparently has the money to take a taxi, choose to walk.
Improving traffic in Accra will require a commitment from the wealthy and elite-- both foreigners and Ghanaians-- to get out of their air conditioned Toyota Landcruisers and both fund and use public tran
It's every bit as ridiculous as you might imagine, with a high fence (NO Photography) and expansive, manicured gardens.. When I arrive, the lawns have sprinklers going. (Meanwhile, the water hasn't been flowing in a lot of Osu, and people line up with buckets when their neighbours buy a tank of water, to collect a bit for bathing and washing clothes and dishes.)
I've made the mistake of bringing my backpack, which hasn't been cleaned in a while. All electronics have to be left at the security check. It takes me three runs through the x-ray machine to find my Kindle, two cell phones, headphones, scanner wand, and two mp3 players, all buried in the depths of my bag. After some discussion about the pros and cons of the scanner wand, I can go in.
There are a dozen service windows inside a long, well air-conditioned room. Two windows are reserved for American citizens; they have an icon of a flag. The others are marked for visas (a picture of the capitol building) and immigration (Lady Liberty, of course.) I sign in at the window with the flag; I have some misgivings about whether scrawling my name on the piece of paper will actually result in anyone helping me, but I sit down and wait to see what happens.
There is a flat screen television on the wall. While I wait, we see episodes of South Park and 16 and Pregnant. I’m not sure if the selection is intended to actually deter aspiring immigrants, or just give them fair warning.
While I wait, the well-heeled (literally) woman next to me complains. She has been waiting an hour and a half to pick up her passport. It’s unacceptable. There is no water, even for the children, and they don’t let you bring in liquids. I wonder if she’s ever been to a bank outside of Accra, but I don’t ask.
It turns out the sign–in system is functional. A young-sounding American woman periodically calls out names, pronouncing common Ghanaian names awkwardly. Kelly is 38 weeks pregnant and eating cake when my name is called; my German surname, with its proliferation of consonants that usually challenges Ghanaians, is pronounced perfectly.
I'm here to add pages to my passport. I have no room for more visas, and I will likely travel outside of Ghana before returning to the States. The process is a big pain in the U.S.: you either have to make an appointment at one of only a dozen central passport offices in the country, or you can go to your local passport office, and wait a month while they send it to one of the main offices. Even with expedited shipping, the fastest it can be done is a week. I’ll have the pages added by tomorrow, and the fee is just the same.
The whole experience--the efficiency, the relative extravagance, the culture on display (or lack of culture, depending on your views on MTV)-- really brought home the idea of the American Embassy as American soil. It’s almost literal, as if someone dug up a DC agency and plopped it down in Accra, and everyone who works there hasn't really noticed their lives just landed in West Africa. I like to imagine this is all an illusion, and when 5pm comes around, the entire staff passes around bottles of Mandingo and dances Azonto. Maybe they do.
Ryanair's CEO was recently quoted as saying that customers should have to pay exorbitant fees for being stupid, after a woman complained about paying roughly $380 to have boarding passes printed for her family. The discount airline charges 60 euros to print a boarding pass at the airport.
What is a stupidity fee? Charging 60 euros to print a boarding pass is one example; extremely punitive charges on late credit card payments might be another. I would define "stupidity fees" as having the following characteristics:
So are they efficient? Cross-subsidization is not necessarily inefficient. However, I see three potential problems with stupidity fees:
1. People tend to overestimate their own intelligence and savvy, and therefore probably don't think they will fall prey to a stupidity fee. by underestimating the likelihood that they will pay a fee, buyers underestimate the cost of stupidity fees, leading them to accept deals they might not if they valued the cost more accurately. (This is an asymmetric information market failure.)
2. Because the fee far exceeds the cost to the supplier of the stupidity, the supplier has every incentive to encourage the stupid behavior. As a result the supplier doesn't have a good incentive to give consumers clear information about how to avoid fees, or create systems that help consumers avoid them.
3. The cross-subsidization may or may not be progressive. I see arguments for this to go either way. On one hand, those with more money may be more willing to pay fees in return for convenience, whereas those with less money may be more careful to avoid fees. If this is true, the cross-subsidization would be progressive. However, if the fee truly is a "stupidity fee", people who are less educated, or purchase the service less, end up cross-subsidizing more
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.