Imagine you’re in a store and you see somebody shoplifting. You’re embarrassed to say anything or to make a scene, but inside you’re pissed-off. You pay for your merchandise, so why should that guy get it for free? And if he’s ripping off the store, doesn’t the merchant actually make you pay more to make up for that loss?
It’s morally wrong and it’s just not fair.
Yet this is what happens every single day on Metro-North when conductors don’t collect all riders’ tickets.
Here’s a typical scene: Your train leaves Grand Central and the conductor makes his way through the train collecting tickets. Sometimes he leaves a colored seat check, punched to show your destination, but not always. Why?
Your train makes some intermediate stop (New Rochelle, Greenwich or Stamford) to discharge some passengers and take on new ones. You know who the new riders are, but does the conductor?
So when the conductor comes through again saying “All Stamford tickets, please” and you see that new rider not responding, you know the railroad got ripped off and that cheater just got a free ride.
Now, if the conductor had issued a seat check he’d know who got off, who got on and who owes him a new ticket. Simple enough, but not for Metro-North which for years has not enforced their use. Conductors who are too busy or too lazy, don’t use seat checks and we all end up paying more.
Metro-North acknowledges this problem and admits it loses millions of dollars a year to uncollected tickets. But they’ve crunched the numbers and say that staffing trains with more conductors to be sure all tickets are collected would cost even more.
Hey! Here’s a concept: Make the existing conductors do their jobs instead of hiding out in their little compartments. From Grand Central to Stamford you’ve got 45 minutes without stops to collect everyone’s ticket, give ‘em a seat check, say “Thank you” and still have time for a cat nap. And there’s still time to ask people to keep their feet off the seats and to stop yapping in the designated Quiet Cars.
Back in the good ol’ days before the TVM’s (Ticket Vending Machines) came along, conductors collected cash fares to the tune of $50 million a year. They had a money room at Grand Central that looked like a casino. Now most fares are bought from the machines or on your smart phone. That means conductors should have a lot more time to make sure all tickets are collected.
Conductors on Metro-North make good money. And they do a very important job keeping passengers safe, operating the doors, answering questions. They’re the face of the railroad and most passengers give them high marks.
So what can you do if you see someone getting a free ride due to uncollected tickets? Try this, which always work for me:
When I see a conductor miss a passenger’s ticket, I’ll wait until the conductor comes back and say something like “Excuse me conductor. I think you missed collecting that gentleman’s ticket,” and then smile innocently at the conductor and the chagrined would-be thief.
If I see the same conductor always missing ticket collections, day after day, I report it on the Metro-North website complaints page, detailing the incident by name, date, train number, etc. That allows the railroad to “re-train” the offending staffer.
So if you’re tired of all these fare increases, let’s stop the shoplifters. Make sure everybody pays for their ride by having conductors collect all tickets. Please!
Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.