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What Free Burritos and Traffic Congestion Have in Common

Occasionally Chipotle has promotions where they give away a free burrito to anyone who shows up. Apparently Halloween is one of these occasions, which I discovered last Saturday night when I showed up craving a burrito and found a line wrapping all the way around the store.

(from flickr user LSykora)

I took my business elsewhere.

Most highways in the United States suffer from the "free burrito problem". When I go to Chipotle, I expect to pay $5.50 for a burrito. I expect the line to be anywhere from no wait to a ten minute wait; but nothing like the line I saw on Saturday, which I suspect might have taken a little over an hour to maneuver.

Every morning people take their cars and curse the congestion on the "free highways" they use to get to wherever they're going, even though it's pretty much exactly what they expect. And there are strong political constituencies to keep things this way.

Of course, there are plenty of alternatives to Chipotle, so even though I would have preferred a burrito, I wasn't going to go hungry. But in some of the American cities with the worst congestion, there aren't many alternatives. The Chipotle with the insane line is the way of life.


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