Monday, September 7, 2009

If A Law Falls In The Woods, And There's No One There To Enforce It, Is It A Law?

Such is the question I pose to myself every time I watch a passenger hop onto the back door of Muni without paying the fare. What is the driver supposed to do? Yell "Hey! You! Stop!"? Or how about "Come on...please? Pretty please? Pretty please with sugar on top?" There is one driver and almost 100 passengers. The driver's main responsibility is to drive the bus. S/he is not a security guard. The passengers are all very desperate to arrive at their destination and they can't wait one more extra minute to watch the driver meekly attempt to enforce the unenforceable.

A couple of weeks ago an elderly black man brazenly stepped on through the back door. The bus was already half empty. Usually people hop on through the back door when the bus is obscenely crowded. But we were near the end of the route. An Asian woman stepped on through the front door at the same exact time, flashing her FastPass. This man was not even trying to be discreet. The bus driver, who was also black, shouted out, "Hey, come on man!" The elderly (probably homeless) fellow proceeded to launch into an incoherent tirade. "Hey come on nothin'! I don't owe you shit, you know what I'm sayin'? I'm goin' to the Greyhound station. I don't owe no one nothin', I been ridin' this bus for forty years and I do what I want, my daddy was a bus driver, you don't tell me nothin' you hear?" The rest of the passengers, mostly white-collar workers such as myself, sat there silently, pretending not to hear. Unfortunately I had my headphones on, so I did not catch the full conversation clearly. After only two more stops, the man then ran out the back door. The bus driver turned around, shook his head, and let out an amused laugh. "I thought you were going to the Greyhound station!" Some of the other passengers chuckled awkwardly.

Another day, riding home from work, a swarm of gangsta-looking teenagers jumped on through the back, laughing and shouting. The bus driver called out, "Gotta come in through the front door! The front door!" One of the kids barked back, "Hey man, is that how you talk to your wife back home?" The other kids snickered demonstrably, and the bus rode on.

Is Muni just hoping that most people, out of guilt, or the kindness of their heart, pay the fare even though there appears to be nothing Muni can do to punish them if they decide not to do so? Has Muni considered hiring more people to "enforce" the fare? Oh my God, what a concept. Last weekend I rode to Palo Alto on Caltrain, and guess what: on the way there, and on the way back, someone came by to check my ticket. I guess Caltrain can afford to hire these people. Or maybe San Francisco simply knows that their poorer citizens have no other way of getting around and they figure it's not worth it to make a scene with a group of unhinged teenagers.

And so I ride. And I pay. And I pray.

1 comment:

ninquelote said...

I use to ride the CalTrain quite often to get to the BART station in Milbrae and those guys are militant about checking fares and I've seen them kick off more than a couple of people. I don't ride MUNI much at all, but I rode the bus from Hayward to San Mateo for a few months and it does seem that they have much less power to do anything when it comes to enforcing the rules and making people pay the fares. Besides that, teenage kids are in general jerks, so it would really take some action on the part of the other passengers to get them to do anything about it. I'm talking about a flood of letters all saying that "We the People" refuse to ride the MUNI any more until something is done about these disturbances. Good luck with that one.