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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.