Since we seem nowadays to be on the topic of fuel-efficient vehicles…How is a fly in a urinal like the dashboard of a Prius?
I hope that at least got your attention. First, take a gander at the urinal fly:
(You just never know what you’re gonna get with my web site…) The urinal fly is not an actual fly, but rather a sticker that is commerically available for the express purpose of sticking in urinals. From the Urinal Fly (no, I am not kidding) web site:
- Keeps Bathrooms up to 85% cleaner
- Reduces spillage in Men’s restrooms
- Made famous in the Amsterdam International Airport
- Cleaner, Safer restrooms in minutes
- Includes specific location information for maximum effectiveness
- Long-Life, fully tested materials used
- Easy to Install
(That last point is particularly important, since you can’t imagine how much concern I had over the adult assembly that the urinal fly was going to require.) The general idea is that men will either consciously or subconsciously aim for the fly if it’s there, and thus bathroom owners can easily keep their bathrooms cleaner with this subtle nudge. (I think we have learned by now that I am a fan of nudges.) This supposedly started with a fly eched into the urinals at the Amsterdam Airport, and no, I don’t know if more literal designs such as targets would work better than flies. The point is that if you put a challenge in front of people, they are somehow compelled to take it.
So now consider the Prius control panel. For parity, here’s a nice, though less amusing, picture:
Now, I am not overly familiar with the specific setups of all hybrid vehicles, but I am told that there is generally some record of your historical miles per gallon staring at you in the face…just like the fly in the urinal! So what do people do? They try to maximize their miles per gallon, obviously. For example, from a hybrid cars forum:
If every car had this mpg display, the nation’s collective (mis)use of gas would probably be dimished by some amount, as people saw first-hand how their driving behavior [sic] effected mpg.
The comments then go on to give anecdotal support for this point. This MPG feedback has even given rise to what are called hypermilers– people who are quite obsessed with getting the maximum MPG out of their vehicles, even when it involves them pretty much driving like jackasses. Read the article, it’s pretty funny. A choice quote:
How about that urge to “draft” trucks — follow close behind for less wind resistance — on the interstate?
“There’s another term for that. We call it tailgating,”
Now, driving douchebaggery aside, this striving to get the highest MPG possible has got to be a good thing, right? The cynical economist in me says “not neccessarily.” Let’s think about this more carefully. MPG stands for “miles per gallon”. What we really care about from an environmental standpoint is the absolute amount of fuel used- wouldn’t it be better to drive an SUV 5 feet than a Prius 5 miles? (I am actually not sure about that tradeoff, but go with me here.) One would typically assume that maximizing MPG and minimizing fuel used would go hand in hand, but this doesn’t have to be the case. How many times have you driven a longer distance because it’s faster? The same goes for fuel efficiency here- it is quite posible that you can be more fuel-efficient PER MILE by driving more miles. In extreme cases, you can get a better MPG and use more gasoline at the same time because of how far you’ve gone out of your way.
I wish I could find the article that I read a while back about how people were actually doing what I just mentioned- i.e. driving farther distances and taking more time to do so in order to keep their precious MPG as high as possible. Thankfully, I don’t think that this behavior is widespread enough to actually offset the environmental benefit of having the MPG staring at drivers in the face. But considering the potential misalignment of goals and incentives and deeming it to not be a problem is very different from not realizing that there is a potential problem in the first place. I suppose that you can think about the MPG display as a fly in the urinal that is placed suboptimally- you can pretty confidently say that overall it is better than nothing, but you still get that guy every once in a while who makes a mess because of it.