If Traffic Costs Americans Billions, What About Waiting for Coffee?

The folks over at City Observatory brew up a "Cappuccino Congestion Index" to show that anything can be shown to cost Americans vast sums of money.

1 minute read

April 20, 2018, 11:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Caffeine

baranq / Shutterstock

In a (partly) tongue-in-cheek analysis, Joe Cortright uses methods to estimate the cost of traffic congestion to examine another economic scourge: waiting in line for coffee. His grievance is clear. "It's annoying to queue up for anything, but traffic congestion has spawned a cottage industry of ginning up reports that transform our annoyance with waiting in lines into an imagined economic calamity."

Cortright writes, "we've applied the 'travel time index' created by the Texas Transportation Institute to measure the economic impact of this delay on American coffee drinkers [...] When you scale these estimates up to reflect the millions of Americans waiting in line for their needed caffeine each day, the total value of time lost to cappuccino congestion costs consumers more than $4 billion annually."

No one, Cortright says, expects Starbucks to scale up enough to eliminate its morning lines. "But strangely, when it comes to highways, we don't recognize the trivially small scale of the expected time savings (a minute or two per person) and we don't consider a kind of careful cost-benefit analysis that would tell us that very few transportation projects actually generate the kinds of sustained travel time savings that would make them economically worthwhile."

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