I hitched a ride this week for the first time since college. What happened was that I started out hiking, but my old dog went lame. I got her to the side of the road and stuck out my thumb. Three kids just out of high school from Ventura pulled over. They dropped us at off at our campsite. It was easy. It was free. The wonk in me thought about free riders. For those not familiar with the expression ?free ridership,? it?s a regulatory term. Although the definition varies with the issue, it basically means that those that came before pay for infrastructure; those who come later just pay operating costs. With enormous growth in demand this summer?in part due to increased population, in part due to ?livin? large,? as writer Bill Kelly notes in a story this week on page 5?there is no end to free riders. At the same time, I wouldn?t want to lock them out. Free ridership has advantages. If it feeds the economy, it becomes a rising tide that lifts all ships. Face it, someone has to pay for the infrastructure the first time around. I think of it like having a family?you raise the kids with blood, sweat, and tears, squirreling away paychecks for things like a college education. The investment, however, may or may not pay off. Your kids could drop out of college and move back to the nest. Or they could become investment bankers and buy you a vacation home on Catalina. <i>Circuit<\/i> has plenty of hitchhikers. It?s a dilemma for us. We put out the best energy news and analysis around. We want everyone to read <i>Circuit<\/i>. We know politicians and policy makers, utility executives and private corporate officials, consumer groups and attorneys all do a better job if they keep abreast of what?s going on in this vastly complicated business via our publication. To that end, we strive to make our articles as accessible as possible. We endeavor to have the publication read well and look smart. We add more reporters? ?voices? to reflect a diversity of views. We seek out guest editorials so readers get a multifaceted perspective on the energy world?not just one seen through the same pair of glasses every week. We are happy to showcase world-class writers such as <i>Financial Times<\/i> columnist John Dizard in his regular slot, ?From Wall St. to California, the 3,000-Mile View.? We also make it easy for readers to use their passwords to enter our Web site and search through current and past articles. Readers can effortlessly download the weekly issues that show up in their e-mail boxes every Friday afternoon. As some of you have figured out, readers can also easily pass the issues to just about anyone. In some ways, that?s good for our business. Word of mouth (or in this case, word of e-mail) is the best advertising. We want our stories to be discussed and debated?even when readers disagree. In fact, we invite dissenting opinions. Be that as it may, <i>Circuit<\/i> is a business. And it is one that gets no federal grant money. We don?t take advertising, because it could influence our reporting and strain our independence. The dilemma is that most people have become used to ?free? information?anyone can get all the Los Angeles Times on line, without thinking that the infrastructure was paid for by advertisers and real estate development. For us, free riders are a mixed bag. We can?t live with ?em and we can?t live without ?em. But <i>Circuit<\/i> does implore our readers to help lift all boats to keep our publication sailing strong, serving you better. If you want to pass around an issue, please ask for reprint permission. If you pass on an issue with blinders to our copyright, please, check with your recipients to see if they want to subscribe. Let them know our e-mail, phone numbers, and Web address. And this reminds me about my hitch with the kids this week. You know, I should?ve given them some gas money. Next time. I promise.