Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Honor System

As I read horrifying accounts of the MTA’s “doomsday plan” to scale back service throughout New York while increasing rider fees, I thought about one particular nuance in the European rail system and just how distinct it is from “the American Way.” Once again, I first learned about the so-called “transit honor system” in Zurich, wherein riders are obliged to purchase tickets even though they likely will not be checked by an attendant. The mere threat of a major fine is enough to sway citizens and tourists to saddle up to the ticket booth. Now, such a policy made sense in such a polite, well-ordered city as Zurich. So Trofie Wife was somewhat surprised to learn that the same principles follow in freewheeling Italy. At least from what I’ve witnessed, people here wait in line and buy their tickets (it might be worth looking into official statistics on this matter at some point). I have yet to have my ticket checked on a local or regional train, and in fact, the only time that we were asked to show our stubs was on the way to Venice while riding an Intercity train. I wonder then, when the odds seem to be stacked in favor of fare evasion, why people still buy those tickets. Is it out of sheer principle? Dedication to their country’s functioning, albeit severely flawed, transit system? Or fear that the one time they don’t buy and validate, they will be discovered and fined? (Martello chimes in with his co-worker's accounting of sitting on the local bus when such a random check, involving three members of the elite local police, occurred. As far as Martello is aware, no fines were collected.)

It is quite difficult to imagine a major city in the United States standing for even the threat of mass fare evasion by not requiring a swipe or ticket check (heck, you have to wait 17 minutes between Unlimited Metrocard swipes!). Do Americans not have an innate trust that people will buy tickets even if they are not routinely checked? Are we that jaded? Or are we over-employing ticket takers/wrongly throwing money into card readers when we could invest in additional service or amenities like my long-desired bathrooms on subway cars? A serious point to ponder as we (hopefully) head into this new era of hope and change…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

1 comment:

andy said...

Den Haag has a similar ticketing system on its trams and trains. I think more than anything, the prospect of a public shaming is big incentive to buy a ticket.

On trams, I've been checked once so far. On trains, it's about 1 in 4 rides.

Tot ziens,


Karen and the Kept Man