Cheating the Subway

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: akiwitz

A few years ago, I hurried to catch a Berlin subway and forgot to buy the $2.10 ticket. Usually nobody checks tickets, although every once in awhile checkers pass through the subway-which they did on that trip! I paid an instant cash fine of $40 and was completely embarrassed and chagrined. My friends tell me now that not buying a ticket is a smart move-the probability of being checked is below .05. And my small sample of subway-riding this trip suggests that statistic is true.

So a risk-return comparison argues that I should never buy a ticket. But I always do. The reasons are simple: risk aversion-I don’t like to worry about the potential for being caught out; and a desire to conform to the social norm of buying a ticket-I don’t like being embarrassed. I believe this behavior is typical, but I wonder how long adherence to this norm will prevail.

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  1. Mike B says:

    Just consider the fine to be the ticket like a waiter delivering the bill. After you pay the fine enough times you will simply lose all shame about it.

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  2. MRB says:

    Portland’s MAX system faces a similar problem, low rates of fare-checking, but with the wrinkle that fees escalate rapidly after the first offense. However, they have a second problem in that it’s easy to get off a train if you see inspectors waiting.

    Also, they have a third problem in that they have way more inspectors in the… less posh parts of town (the yellow line N of Rose Garden) – and then use the higher amount of fare evasions caught there to continue the disparity.

    The sad thing is, they’re probably technically correct to do so.

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  3. Myron Joseph says:

    Risk aversion is not an accurate analysis of the situation. The tickets are purchased because the probablity (low) of being caught without one times the negative value (high) of being embarassed and fined is much higher than the cost of the tickets.

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  4. Imad Qureshi says:

    I noticed the same thing in Zurich. But if you see the price of annual or monthly tickets and then compare with the chances of getting caught, then its probably worth buying the ticket. Fine is 80 Frank for the first time which isn’t that big but for me, cost of embarrassment is too high so I’d rather buy a ticket.

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  5. Miguel says:

    It is basically the same thing to pay the fine or pay the ticket…

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  6. Nick says:

    That must be a tricky art to figure out the right number of fare inspectors. At some point, if the enforcement is heavy enough, it’s just as wasteful to pay a team of fare inspectors as it is to never check a single ticket and rely on nothing but the honor system.

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  7. Christina says:

    Take the risk if you live there, sure. But for tourists it can get worse, my fiance and I were caught last year but only had cash between us for one fine. The officials said the Authority would bill us for the other 40 euro. When I got back to America I had a bill for 80 euro. The difficulties of translating the money transfer documents via Google took me 3 attempts & 8 months. Compared to 120 euro I will ALWAYS buy tickets when I travel.

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  8. Beth says:

    I had a conversation with someone from Germany about the train tickets. They felt morally justified in not buying tickets because they are residents who pay into the local tax system, and the taxes subsidize the train. They felt I had to pay, though, since I’m not a local taxpayer.

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