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On balking from an empty queue

ABSTRACT

The intuition while observing the economy of queueing systems, is that one’s motivation to join the system, decreases with its level of congestion. Here we present a queueing model where sometimes the opposite is the case. The point of departure is the standard first-come first-served single server queue with Poisson arrivals. Customers commence service immediately if upon their arrival the server is idle. Otherwise, they are informed if the queue is empty or not. Then, they have to decide whether to join or not. We assume that the customers are homogeneous and when they consider whether to join or not, they assess their queueing costs against their reward due to service completion. As the whereabouts of customers interact, we look for the (possibly mixed) join/do not join Nash equilibrium strategy, a strategy that if adopted by all, then under the resulting steady-state conditions, no one has any incentive not to follow it oneself. We show that when the queue is empty then depending on the service distribution, both ‘avoid the crowd’ (ATC) and ‘follow the crowd’ (FTC) scenarios (as well as none-of-the-above) are possible. When the queue is not empty, the situation is always that of ATC. Also, we show that under Nash equilibrium it is possible (depending on the service distribution) that the joining probability when the queue is empty is smaller than it is when the queue is not empty.