The Express Lane's a Myth

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2009 2:12 PM CDT
Shoppers go through the checkout lines inside a Kroger's store in this April 4, 2007 file photo, in Loveland, Ohio.   (AP Photo/David Kohl, file)
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(Newser) – Which is faster: the express lane with more customers, or the standard lane with fewer? It’s a conundrum we’ve all faced, and there are too many variables to give a definitive answer. But math teacher and blogger Dan Meyer broke down data from a 6-hour shift, added his own observations, and concluded that in general, the express line is usually slower.

Each person you add to a line tacks on 48 seconds to the wait, before you even address the items in each cart. Each item tacks on 2.8 seconds. So, you’d rather add 17 extra items in front of you than a single extra person. Seems counterintuitive, right? Ryan Sager at True/Slant theorizes that we tend to fall back on a cognitive bias, equating the length of a line with the length of the wait.