Why losing the free Gong Shuttle hurts

It hurts: University of Wollongong academic Michal Strahilevitz understands why people feel upset about paying to ride the Gong Shuttle. Picture: Sylvia Liber

It hurts: University of Wollongong academic Michal Strahilevitz understands why people feel upset about paying to ride the Gong Shuttle. Picture: Sylvia Liber

The angry reaction to the government’s decision to make people pay to use the Gong Shuttle comes as no surprise to Michal Strahilevitz.

The University of Wollongong senior lecturer in the business faculty is part of a multi-disciplinary study now under way on campus.

The team set out to study the benefits of the free shuttle, before the government’s announcement it would introduce fares.

Since then, the study has broadened its focus to look at the effects of taking away the free component of the shuttle.

Dr Strahilevitz said behavioural economics explains people’s unhappiness with paying to ride the green bus – it’s called loss aversion.

“Loss aversion means if I take something from you I leave you in a much worse state than if I never gave it to you to begin with,” Dr Strahilevitz said.

“The minute I have something I’ve adapted to having it and if you take it away from me, that’s psychological trauma.”

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People will protest to save something more than than they’ll protest to get something they don’t have.

Michal Strahilevitz

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That feeling of loss aversion also goes a long way to explain the protests over the decision, which are far louder than those to introduce it in 2009

“People will protest to save something more than than they’ll protest to get something they don’t have,” Dr Strahilevitz said.

“If we never had a free bus you wouldn’t see all these protests to make the bus free.

“But people have adapted to their lives, maybe chosen where to live, because of the free bus.”

Behavioural economics also holds that even if the bus were moved from one region to another, the overall effect would be negative.

The community’s anger at losing the bus, Dr Strahilevitz said, would be far greater that the other community’s happiness at getting it.

“The people who didn’t have a free bus were used to not having a free bus,” she said.

“It’s nice for them but it’s not like it s a big deal. The people who had the free bus were used to the free bus and had arranged their life around it – ‘I’m going to rent this apartment because it’s got a free bus to work’.

“Now every time they get on the bus they’ll remember that they have to pay, and they’re not used to that.”