I don’t like going to places in public. To be fair, I don’t like going to places that sell things. The incentives are screwy. Take a cafe for example. You might go to a cafe for the coffee and the atmosphere. But you can’t just sit and enjoy the atmosphere, at least not without being repugnant to the owner. A cafe is a business, and your occupation of space costs them money. To be a good patron, a rule of thumb is to buy something every hour, but this may not even reflect your true costs. When a cafe is busy, the value of a seat can be well over $20 an hour. Enjoying a cafe with this in mind is impossible for some, and the only ones who can must be ignorant to some degree (think people who work all day in a cafe. On a side, it’s got to be one of the most distracting places to work). Occupying a seat creates externalities for everyone around them. For those who dislike feeling like a burden, places like libraries and parks are much more enjoyable places to relax, but there never seems to be enough of them.
A private solution is to charge per time spent at a cafe. Now, point of purchase technology allows your phone and cards to pay passively. Think a location sensor that monitors how long you spend in a location, or a timer that clocks you in. When you leave, the payment occurs and reflects your exact usage. This would remove the need to be conscious of buying items and charge customers appropriately, allowing people who value the cafe more to be able to utilize it during busy hours. From the business’s perspective, there is no need to ask loitering patrons to ever leave, which has got to be the most uncomfortable thing to do, and profits may increase as capacity is utilized efficiently with prices adjusting due to demand. For consumers, the prices of drinks and food may decrease because these items don’t reflect the cost of overhead, finding a cafe is easier, and grabbing a coffee to go becomes much cheaper.
I would love to see this and other pay-what-you-use methods in real life, ranging from traffic congestion to trash usage. Socially, these might be be viewed as unacceptable, but I think it’s too early to call them unfeasible until they’re applied on a large scale. If the benefits of people paying for the externalities they cause are significant and noticeable, then we may all find it an improvement to live in a world where our activities are paid for directly.