Studies Say We've Been Lining Up All Wrong

Last-come-first served is unfair but efficient, researchers claim
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2015 5:44 PM CDT

(Newser) – Researchers have figured out a way to reduce wait times everywhere lines are found—from the DMV to Disneyland. Unfortunately, their ideas are unlikely to ever be implemented because of people's unbreakable allegiance to the concept of fairness. Quartz reports on two research papers published in 2012 and 2014 but just now getting wider attention. These papers call the traditional first-come-first-served method a "curse" and advocate instead for a last-come-first-served system. With the help of 144 volunteers, researches tested both methods—as well as a third method where people in line were served at random—and discovered last-come-first-served resulted in the least wait time, while the traditional method was the worst for efficiency.

Danish researcher Lars Osterdal, who calls lines "a wonderful example of a waste of time," tells BBC News last-come-first-served works (as long as people know ahead of time) because people stagger their arrival times, easing congestion and cutting wait times. In contrast, traditional lines encourage people to arrive early and spend more time waiting. "There will be some people trying their luck arriving early, but on average people will arrive later, and it means on average that everyone will be better off," he says. Osterdal admits his favored method would be hard to implement in real life, as it goes against many people's "intuition about fairness in queues," the BBC reports. And, while it would end the scourge of "cutting" as we know it, the outbreak of "backsies" would be unprecedented. (Elsewhere on the sociology front, a study finds that disobedient kids make more money as adults.)

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