Julie Jozwiak figured that taking Virginia Railway Express would be the easiest thing. She had an early morning class to get to, and, rather than starting her day in a line of traffic, she would hop on the commuter line.That would be the usual Washington kind, which sees the customer as the enemy.
And it was easy. She had bought her ticket two days earlier at Union Station and so, on April 28, went straight to the platform at the Woodbridge Station and onto the 6:48 a.m. train to the city. No sweat.
That is, until minutes later, when she was accused of trying to duck the fare because she failed to validate her ticket -- garnering her a $150 citation from the conductor and a court appearance Friday that could run her an additional $66.
"It was a completely innocent mistake," said Jozwiak, a VRE regular until about three years ago. "It didn't even enter my mind I had to validate the ticket because it had been so long. But what I don't get is why a conductor who sees a person hasn't validated a ticket, why are they not willing to validate it on the train? What kind of customer service do they have?"
Things have changed since Jozwiak last took VRE. Three years ago, conductors could punch a hole in tickets to validate them for riders on trains. But in November 2003, VRE switched to an automated system that requires riders to purchase tickets and validate them by getting them stamped by machines at stations.Such a shock that a Washington-area transit thingy has a confusing bureaucracy you have to navigate just to legally ride a train. "Sorry, you didn't fill out Boarding Form 32-E in triplicate." I guess it's good practice in the morning for government workers who have to do that stuff all day.
OK, so they've got this weird system in place that's unlike any train in the Western hemisphere that I've taken, and that allows the conductors to be lazier. Whatevs. Surely this causes a lot of confusion, and I'll bet a lot of people buy tickets and hop on the train without realizing they have to "validate" them at the stupid machine.
For which the appropriate penalty is, apparently, $150. $-fucking-150! It's an $8 train ride, and they fined this woman $150. Out of whose ass did they pull that dollar amount? That's just infuriating. And what's the point of having conductors, if they can't sell you a ticket, as in the rest of the civilized world, or do this stupid "validation" thing? Lady already bought the ticket, homes. Do you really think that $150 citation you're writing is a fair punishment? Maybe just let this one go.
Anyway, so now that this has been in the Post, VRE's public relations people have of course been deeply apologetic, and assured the VRE-riding public that it would work on reducing the confusion caused by the validation system, and be more judicious in handing out fines.
AH HA HA HA! That was another test! The bastards didn't do anything of the sort! (Did you pass the test? Give yourself 72 points.) No, instead they went with the quickly-becoming-a-Washington-standard line: "the customer is always a filthy whore who got what she deserved."
VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said riders are alerted to the procedure when they purchase tickets, on the tickets themselves, on the system's Web site and by "monstrous, yellow, glaring signs" at stations.See? She missed the monstrous, yellow, glaring sign. And for that she must be put in the stocks, or a pillory.
Linda Davenport, a district manager with Amtrak, which contracts conductors to VRE and prosecutes cases, added that it is a rider's responsibility to know how the system works. "I can't go on an airplane and say, 'Oops, I've got a knife,' " she said. "Once you get on the train without a valid ticket, you are in violation of fare policy."Yeah, good anology, train lady. I think that was on the SAT test.
AIRPLANE : CARRYING A KNIFE ON-BOARD ::
a. TRAIN : PURCHASING A TICKET BUT NOT REALIZING IT NEEDED TO BE STAMPED BY A MACHINE BEFORE BOARDING.
Yup, same thing really.
Jozwiak doesn't dispute that she ended up having a testy exchange with the conductor. "He asked if I was aware the ticket was not validated," she recalled. "I said, 'Can you validate it for me?' He refused to do that. I said I'd previously rode the train and had seen conductors punch tickets, and I also said there must be a lot of people who ride the train and don't have a validated ticket.Oh well, you didn't validate your ticket, but at least you did validate the conductor's ego.
"He didn't say anything," she said. "All he said was, 'Ma'am, I could issue you a ticket.' I think I challenged him, and I don't think that he liked that. The whole thing is just crazy to me."
Hey, I just thought of something. Uou know those endearing (read: hella-nnoying) radio ads where they sing "V-R-E To-mor-row" as a conga-line song? They should re-work it and change the words:
"V-R-E Ges-ta-po! V-R-E Ges-ta-po!"
Roeber said he doesn't believe the fine is excessive or turns away riders. "If the penalty doesn't have some consequence to it, some people would be like, 'I pay $50 just to park.' Clearly, at $150, it catches their attention, and they don't want to do it again."OK, a) where is this guy parking, and 2) she bought a damn ticket. This is not fare evasion; it's just a matter of not knowing VRE's stupid procedure.
ARRRGHHH. OK, to recap: we stymie development near Metro stations, drag our feet on improving transportation infrastructre, and make it as difficult/inconvenient/annoying as possible for people to ditch their cars. Thus, we have the third-worst traffic (and getting worse) in the nation.
Oh, and also, we're complete dicks to each other.
So come live here! Really, it's great.