city slick

I found this article in the New York Times this morning and thought to myself, bus drivers/cab drivers/ city transit must have to know an awful lot about sociology to get by on their adventures.

“Bus drivers could be forgiven if they are confused by New York City Transit’s policy on how to deal with fare-beaters, which tells them on one page to act like Mohandas K. Gandhi and on another page says that they can deny access to the bus to riders who are “trying to put one over on” them.

“We’ve stopped using the word ‘challenge’ to describe what a bus operator needs to do to thwart fare evasion,” drivers are told in the transit agency’s Bus Operator’s Guide to Customer Service [pdf]. “‘Challenge’ implies confrontation, which too often leads to hostile verbal exchanges and even physical assaults.”

The subject of bus-fare evasion has been discussed intensely among drivers following the fatal stabbing of a driver, Edwin Thomas, by a passenger who did not pay the fare, sat down anyway, and later demanded a transfer ticket. On Tuesday, a 20-year-old man was charged with murder.

The guide for bus operators states:

We don’t want you to be injured, or your other customers forced to witness a violent exchange, just for a fare. Instead, the strategy is to let the offending customer know that he or she hasn’t put one over on you. It’s also to let the other decent, fare-paying customers know that you’re not tolerating exceptions. Since they all had to pay, this one offender should not be excused from being asked to pay.

The guide continues with what it calls “some random thoughts”:

The key to your reaction to fare evasion is your tone. In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., you need to put up some passive resistance. In words spoken evenly and not in a threatening or sarcastic manner, you may say something like, ‘Excuse me, sir. The fare is (GIVE AMOUNT).’ You’ll notice that there is no accusatory ‘You’ or direct command used here.

It adds: “Never just take your bus out of service or argue with the person.”

In a separate section on transfers, however, the guide is vague and appears to contradict the earlier instructions.

It says that paper transfers are only supposed to be given at the time a rider pays a fare. But it says that sometimes riders wait until later to ask for the transfer. In those cases, the guide says, “a bus operator’s judgment is essential when determining whether a customer asking for a transfer in the middle of a trip is asking with the intention of ripping off the system or instead merely forgot to request a transfer while boarding.” It says that riders who make an honest mistake should get transfers but it does not say what drivers should do if they believe a rider is scamming them.”


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