Cracking Down

It was almost three years before someone asked my to show a ticket on my local commuter train. I was so surprised, I fumbled to produce it – I just wasn’t expecting the request.

The train runs from Basel, Switzerland, to Freiburg, Germany, and is used by thousands daily. There are no turnstiles. At many stations tickets are sold by machines instead of humans. It is definitely an honor system.

I had wondered just how many people would roll the dice and take their chances on not being checked and therefore travel for free. It must be tempting. The Germans I mentioned it to seemed surprised that anyone would think of not paying.

I wasn’t asked for proof of payment in 2017, 2018 or 2019. Then once in January 2020. Not again until this past month. Now it seems like whenever I travel toward Freiburg I will be asked for my ticket – but not if heading towards Basel.

Maybe someone at Deutsche Bahn, the rail company, realized that income wasn’t as high as passenger volume would suggest. Many people travel on monthly passes, so maybe making an estimate is difficult.

The new inspectors don’t seem to be railway employees, or at least don’t wear Deutsche Bahn uniforms, so perhaps fare inspection has been subcontracted. Or maybe they are all temporary hires to make sure passengers are wearing face masks and the fare inspection is a bonus.

I must admit I am curious as to how many people they are catching. Supposedly Germans are law-abiding and wouldn’t think of riding without paying. I’m not sure I buy that, human nature being what it is.

Certainly they are catching some people. When I took the train this past Thursday I witnessed them talking with a man who had no proof of payment.

As I understood it, he told a tale about forgetting his ticket at home. It seemed obvious to me the story wasn’t credible. I think he was given a citation.

I don’t know how much the fine is, but I presume it is at least full fare for the entire trip, since the inspectors can’t know where you boarded. Plus a penalty.

My guess is that this new procedure will be a money maker for the railroad. Which means it will be permanent.

I won’t say I would never think of trying to travel for free, because obviously, having noted the absence of fare inspectors I have thought it possible to do. But I would never try to do it.

There has been, in my opinion anyway, a fair amount of social disintegration during my lifetime. Lines have become blurred between what is right and what is wrong. The consequences of that are not usually pleasant.

Which is why I am somewhat of a rule follower, even if I disagree with the rules. I don’t want to add to the chaos.

Mind you, it is pretty easy in this case. If everyone rode for free, there would soon be insufficient funding to operate a railway system. To me that seems obvious.

Maybe that was once obvious to the majority as well, but I doubt it is now. Values have changed, especially collective ones.

That explains why there are now fare inspectors on the train I take most often. I wonder if this is system-wide thing?


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