Monday, January 5, 2009

This Time, I'm Hating on Caltrain

Clearly my mistake was buying a 10-ride ticket this morning.

Last year I rode Caltrain 3-5 times one way a week. I bought tickets one at a time except for a 10-ride in the Fall, which I lost after about 5 rides. This year I'll be riding it both ways from SF to Palo Alto around 4 days a week. So on my first trip of the year I bought a 10-ride ticket at Millbrae and vowed to hang on to it. I validated a first ride in Millbrae, rode to Palo Alto, all was well.

Returning home after work, I stuck it into an inoperative validator at Palo Alto while a friend watched. "Oh, you didn't get the free pass from the company," he commented. Nope, we have change in our commuting program this year and we do get free passes for one mode of transit (3 zones of Caltrain in my case) but I missed the deadline. "These things only work half the time. The one down there probably works but whatever," I said, pointing to the other ticket machines 75 yards away. I put the ticket away and we sat down and talked. The train came and we got on. He went on forward to the restroom and do his own thing and I sat down and opened my computer.

I looked up and a conductor was going by, so I said, "Hey, sir...." You have to see the conductor promptly if you have a 10-ride that isn't validated so he can do some scribbling on it. I got out of my seat and started fishing around for my shiny new 10-ride. Meanwhile he didn't even notice me (or ignored me) and headed off to another car.

I would have taken off after him except that I kept looking for the 10-ride ticket, and couldn't find it. Not in my jacket pocket where I thought I put it. Not in any pockets. Not in my briefcase. Not on the floor. Not anywhere! This preoccupied me for several minutes as I more or less turned my belongings inside out trying to find it. But, nope. So I sat back down, philosophically accommodated the $50 I had just wasted, and started fiddling with my computer again. Whatever, I figured, it'll get sorted out.

A few minutes go by and a conductor appears, checking tickets. I really don't know if it was the same guy - the first one blew by me while talking to someone else and I never saw his face. He spends a while dealing with someone else who either didn't have a ticket or took a while finding it. Anyway, he walks up to me and I tell him, matter of factly, hey, I had a 10-ride ticket when I got on, validator wasn't working, now I can't even find the ticket.

I guess I expected he would do one of the following:

1) "Okay, man, sorry to hear that, you have to have a ticket, be sure you have one next time." This is what I see conductors do about 1/2 the time.
2) "I'm sorry, sounds like a bummer, but you'll have to get off the train and get a ticket." This is what I see them do the rest of the time.

Instead, what he does is flip open a pad and say, "You're giving me no choice, I think it's time to write you a TRAN-SIT CI-TA-TION." (He lingered over the syllables.) So he writes me up. I give him a series of "What the hell?" looks as he progresses down his pad. "I bought a new 10-ride in Millbrae this morning. I stuck it in the non-working validator 15 minutes ago. I *thought* I brought it on the train with me. But I don't have it."

He gives me a series of indifferent stares and repeats "You're not giving me any choice" a few times, then says, "Well, I work with people when they come get me right away." I pointed out that I tried to get his (or someone's) attention, failed, and then spent 10 minutes looking for my ticket. Then shortly after that he came along. What am I supposed to do, run down the hallway after him fumbling through my stuff trying to find my missing ticket?

Anyhoo, now I have a fare evasion ticket, requiring an actual court appearance in San Mateo (where I don't work and don't live), and I'm out 9 3-zone rides (well, I guess I got this one for "free"), and instead of being wryly annoyed at myself for throwing away money for a couple of pizzas, I've been fuming about this jerk for the past 2 hours.

Just for the record, "R KELLEY," or "R KELLET," (I can't tell your T from your Y) serial number 551, you are an asshole.

I have my banking statements and whatnot and it should be pretty obvious that I'm actually telling the truth whenever I show up in court. Hopefully I can get the conductor to appear, and get Caltrain to produce maintenance records for the broken validator.

If I weren't on a diet I'd go drink a whole bunch of alcohol calories now.


Anonymous said...

The court appearance thing is a major pain in the rear. I'd thought they eliminated that a year or two ago, but I guess not. I assume that those who get parking tickets don't have to physically show up at a window at the county jail. In fact, in NYC, you can pay your fare evasion tickets by mail, which is very convenient if you don't live there.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you lost your tickets and got a citation, but this sounds to be mostly your fault. You knew you should have contacted a conductor right away, but you didn't. (you did try, but it doesn't sound like you tried very hard, maybe he didn't hear your the first time). The conductor could have been cooler about it, but if they are cool with that sort of stuff you get fare evasion problems and the overall service deteriorates.

Joseph N. Hall said...

Well, I've only knowingly ridden Caltrain once without a ticket, in several hundred trips, and this was not that time. "Mostly my fault," my ass. Meanwhile every time there's a ticket check there are invariably 1-2 passengers who don't have one, in just the car I'm in! Number of times I've seen a citation issued: 1. Mine.

Hell, on the ride south this morning, the guy in front of me didn't have a ticket, explained it as "the machine didn't take my credit card" (he got on in San Francisco ... how many machines are there?), and the conductor actually let him get off and buy a ticket at the next stop. Seriously, give me a break.

Yesterday evening it was a family of four with no tickets (a mom and three children) who were asked to get off the train.

I'm not talking about people who came up to the conductor immediately. These are people who have been seated for one or more stops.

And so on.

A while ago I was talking to a guy who regularly rode the train between Palo Alto stops without a ticket. Apparently at least some conductors wink at the practice.

Really, it's ridiculous. If conductors are going to issue citations, maybe it could be more than 1% of the time.