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Fare Collection In the Alternate Universe Isn't That Far Fetched...

showme.jpgLast night on the first half of the season finale of FRINGE, we finally got to see the alternate universe we've seen hints of for the last 2 seasons. We saw a United States similar to ours, but not the same, and at least 30-50 years ahead of us in technology.

In addition to such sights as Martin Luther King Jr. on a $20 bill and most of the central coast of Califonia simply gone (or at least not a part of the USA, we're not sure), we also saw a place where fare evasion was almost nil - by way of the use of a national "show me" (the alt-universe's word for national ID card) required to board any bus, anywhere in the country. Yikes.

Compared to what we have (a semi-functioning Translink/Clipper card and fare enforcement that's suspended when successful) and you begin to realize the over-reaching statements about "racism" and "fascism" about San Francisco is a bit far fetched. I mean, a national ID card required to ride the bus? Ouch.

But here's the truly witty rejoinder - this isn't advanced technology from an alternate universe at all. Estonia has a national electronic ID card that's used for all kinds of things: voting online, voting in person, a travel document in the EU, paying bus tickets, etc. Reloading it isn't a pain in the ass, it's more accurate than Clipper, and overall said ID card is way way more useful than a California driver's license, a passport, and a Clipper all in one.

Oh, and what happens if you don't pay? Well, unlike here, where some foul mouthed "f*ck you pig" rhetoric is fashionable amongst the trustafarian, temper tantrum leftists, in Estonia, not only are you issued a fine - you're taken off the bus, put in a police bus, and taken to bus headquarters where you're given a lecture on why not paying is not cool. Needless to say, they're not having the phony debate about "ooh fines aren't a bounty ergo we must stop enforcement of all fares and pay for Muni with unicorn taxes" talk we have here. It's a bit extreme, but that's how they do it in Estonia.

The point? Simply this: A tiny nation like Estonia seems to have figured this basic stuff out. Heck, Third World countries have figured basic things like this out and run better transit systems than we do in larger areas. And yet in San Francisco, the alleged home of "tech innovation" and whatnot, we have an over-politicized, inefficient way of doing things that ensures we get the worst of the worst. And whatever you do, don't expect the owners of Muni to do anything to help - it seems they'd rather leave the system in the hands of a lying incompetent fool like Nathaniel Ford, then wonder why it sucks.

We don't need a national ID card to improve collection of fares. But we do need a sense of duty that we're all in this together, and have everyone (insert list of ways to improve Muni finances here) do their part. If we're not willing to do our part, don't complain when they cut services again, and again, and again.

For more information on the alternate universe in FRINGE, consult your local library or such sites at Fringe TV where you can find out more, and endlessly speculate about said alt-world.

Comments

But, um, immigrants and stuff. Or something.

you just said the magic word! (cue Groucho Marx reference).

In Estonia if you're not a citizen you can buy a simple ticket from a machine or a pass. But if you are, there's no reason not to use your national ID because it's used for so many other things. They even have a USB card reader so you can use it as your signature for documents on line with the government. They are way ahead of us on this stuff.

The downside is that when a cyber attack was launched, the country shut down for a few days.

Every now and then I check into the "freepublictransit.org" website to see their latest postings. The basic theme is that since a relatively small (but variable from city to city) part of transit operation costs is covered by farebox and pass revenue, why not increase the subsidy to 100% and eliminate handling all that money (and tempting dishonest employees), delays while the driver explains the fare system to a visitor from Podunk or a foreign country, delays when a person calls out, "Anybody got change for a ten?", and help out the really poor folks to whom $2.00 is big money. We can debate all day about the flaws in this scheme, and of course if it applied to SF, how would Muni charge tourists $5.00 to ride the cable cars? For anywhere else, the question is, how do you keep the "winos and weirdos" and the rowdy, loudmouthed teenagers from discouraging patronage by people who really have someplace to go.
Regarding Estonia: I suspect that a considerable percentage of Americans would "have a cow" (or in Biblical terms, "wax exceeding wroth") if a similar system were proposed in this country. Both the ACLU and the right-wingers would have a lot to say, probably starting with either "Over my dead body!" or "When the Devil goes ice skating!"

This could easily be solved by having 3 Muni Fare Enforcers being in plain clothes, and springing on everyone at once.

All this misses one point: it's too easy on Muni to get caught despite paying full and proper fare. How? Forget to take your transfer when paying at a gate.

Happened to me a few months after moving back here from Toronto, where the fact that you're physically within the paid zone is considered proof enough that you paid. Then I tried to explain that to the officer, without much success.

You know, fare enforcement isn't a problem on AC transit.

About the Estonian ID card: from what I understand Estonia is (apart from the Russians who continue to live there) pretty much a mono-cultural country. A country like that, without significant power blocs and other special interests, and without a huge immigrant population, can do things that would never be possible in the US. It would take several more terrorist attacks on the order of 9/11 before we ever have a national ID. Being a civil libertarian, not sure I'm much in favor of one here. And you can be sure that it would be hacked, and hacked ones available. But who would want an Estonian ID card? You'd have to be able to speak Estonian.

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