Campus Life

The Cambridge West Saferide:

On the Spatiotemporal Reasonability of Laws

On another freezing night in front of 84 Mass Ave, a crowd of exhausted students await the SafeRides, those hypothetical saviors from the long walk home in the extreme cold. Among these peoples, we are interested in the unlucky few waiting for the legendary Cambridge West, the one fated to be the latest, and by far, the most ‘lawful’ of all.

These Cambridge-Westerners look anxious and nervous: with their teeth chattering in the cold, they’re counting each other and moving in peculiar ways, to optimize their positioning with respect to the possible stop location. Why? Because “the law” says that nobody can stand up in this particular SafeRide, so only the few blessed people to find seats can enjoy the ride back home, and the rest must watch the vacant-looking van leave.

Our fellow drivers devotedly carry on the task of not allowing any more than “the law” says, even if that involves having serious confrontations with some uncivilized students. Thus, it is extremely important for our frustrated friends to use all their engineering capabilities to find the right position, take their last supplies of energy to react properly to the arrival, push others if need be, and do their best to be among the few lucky people to get in. Such remarkable realizations of survival of the fittest happen every freezing night, right around the corner: here, on MIT’s campus.

There are many issues to study concerning this socio-transportational phenomenon, the most uninteresting of which is why it is impossible to have another vehicle for this route, especially when we know there are many more students trying to use it in the cold seasons. It is straightforward to see that there is not much money to be made here. Most of the Cambridge-Westerners are graduate students going home late at night; thus, the amount of energy or time they would save by getting a ride at that moment can’t be used by MIT, and is thus deemed undesirable.

What is of our interest here is how, and under what conditions, laws have non-uniform space-time characteristics. For instance, consider the observation that this law applies only to the Cambridge West SafeRide, although the vehicles used for these routes don’t seem significantly different. Or, consider the rather stochastic nature of another law: the size of the vehicles vary from night to night, completely independent of the number of people waiting. Moreover, there is evidence that the first law can sometimes be relaxed by certain drivers. The gifted reader recognizes the fact that all the aforementioned variations of “the law” are beyond interrogation, and gain their inherent legitimacy from the will of the authority issuing them.

Likewise, if we consider the behavior of subjects under different spatial and temporal conditions, some other variations will be discovered. Take, for instance, the complaints received about “the law” that come solely from people living in west campus, and not from the east campus or Boston contingents. Moreover, the first group is more likely to try to ignore the rule, argue with the driver, and insist on getting on at certain times, such as when it is heavily raining, snowing, or there is a significant temperature drop. In order to explain all this, one should bear in mind the psychological instability of students’ characters at the end of a possibly unfruitful, and frustrating day of research or problem-setting. That is why none such complaints received by MIT Facilities are worth being considered, and ultimately find their ways to the trash.

From the theoretical point of view, some have argued that under certain space-time conditions, when it seems intuitively more reasonable, or moral, it might be justifiable to alter the law in order to preserve what they call the “spirit of the law.” Such people usually point to some inconvenient incidents which happen once in a while, when the poor student starts begging the driver to let him in, and in front of all the onlookers, his plea is rejected and he is kicked out. Another point usually brought up is that only a small fraction of the many people waiting can actually get on, and when there is no means to determine who is to be among those lucky few, there is a possibility for tension and contention among the students.

It could, then, be argued that it might be possible, for the sake of mercy, to allow the transgression of the law under such circumstances, especially since almost everybody gets off at the first couple of stops. In response to such sentimental arguments, one should note that these sacred laws, sent to us for the common good, are not meant to be influenced by our morals or emotions. Thus, these claims are fundamentally invalid, and such variations in “the law” are forbidden.

Returning to our friends left behind by the SafeRide in front of 84 Mass. Ave. — there are ways to remedy their problem. First, they ought to distinguish between the legitimate and illegitimate alternations in the enforcement of law, and avoid requesting the forbidden ones. Secondly, they should adopt the following variation: instead of trying so hard to take Cambridge West to get home supposedly in 5 minutes, they can take half an hour each night touring the sights of west Boston with the Boston West SafeRide, which allows people to stand. This SafeRide passes Tang Hall at the end of its long journey back home!