The Sanctity of the Queue

The simpleton that I (probably) am, I’m particularly particular about observing the rules of the queue; that –

1. First come first served
2. Each person has to wait in accordance to his distance from “window”, hence no breaking the queue.

Given the population in India, and the USSR-inspired partly communist way of functioning of governments in India for decades, the queue is an everyday reality, and more importantly, a part of government psychie. I’ve had to stand in line to – buy concert tickets, book and cancel railway tickets, submit exam forms, get information from the inquiry counter, meet the branch manager of the local MTNL exchange, get forms signed/attested/verified… there’s really no escaping it. I tend to play truant when in line, and often am the first to someone to get in line. Usually, support from the rest of those queued up follows a little later.

This may sound chauvinistic and politically incorrect, but I think women are among the worst offenders: they set up a ‘Ladies line’ where none exists, and often with a smile and some sweet talk, get ahead in line. Of course, they’ve got every right to take advantage of whatever’s left of chivalry in society. T, in Pune, was particularly adept at submitting forms in spite of long queues, often submitting four or five forms in a single go. Possibly the only places where such a problem doesn’t occur is in girls college (Aishwarya?).

The point of this post? Well, the good people at Harvard Business School conducted a survey on The Cost of Cutting in Line, which is quite interesting. Professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee decided to pay people to allow him to cut in ahead of them. Some of his observations were rather surprising, but I guess that depends on which part of the world you’re from; I won’t break the suspense so go read it.

I believe that having to stand in line is a complete waste of productive time, and the system needs to be reworked and made more efficient to reduce these delays. Networking and automation has already saved us a lot of trouble, but there’s still a lot left to do. It’s a remarkably anti-consumer funda – that instead of having the seller waiting on the consumer, the consumer is being made to wait for the seller.

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