Misplacing Shame

San Francisco is a big city with a big problem – people want to ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) for free.  A one-way ticket costs just shy of $4.00.  BART estimates  they lose between $1 million and $25 million a year due to people hopping over the turnstiles without paying.  That’s a large range.  A better handle on more accurate figures could assist in determining what – if anything – should be done to prevent people from free-loading more often.

What they’re currently testing is  not popular with a lot of people.

They’re installing chrome blades that shoot up out of the turnstiles if someone tries to push through without paying.  I’m sure they aren’t sharpened, but are designed to make it harder and slower for someone to circumvent the system.  This article describes the outrage these modification systems are raising.

The blades are cited as a danger to people in wheelchairs, though unless someone is bent over at a very awkward angle I’m not sure how that could be.  Others are cited are critical because they see this as an economic oppression of the lower classes.  Their solution is that BART should be free to low-income people.  An interesting proposition, though one that undoubtedly comes with a hefty price tag in terms of systems implementation, and still would not likely deter those who won’t bother to register and prefer to just hope the turnstiles.

But nowhere in the article is there any shame cast at those who are the problem – those people stealing free rides by jumping the turnstiles.  I’m not unsympathetic to an argument for a free or lower-cost rate for low-income people, but I find it problematic that nobody – other than BART – thinks that the real problem is people who  feel they should be able to ride for free while others pay.

Throughout the article, those people are never called out.  Never criticized.  Never shamed for their behavior, no matter how justified or necessary their situations may make it seem to be.  If theft isn’t shamed and called out as wrong, it won’t change.  Justifying the behavior just makes it that much more acceptable to a wider range of people.  It’s an endemic problem in our culture these days,  and it’s contributing to the deterioration of law and order on a wide scale.

Go ahead and be critical of a particular methodology aimed at curbing fare-theft.  But don’t forget to be critical of those stealing rides.  They contribute to lost operating revenues and the need for ever-increasing fares, which only makes the situation for low-income people as a whole (at least honest ones) worse.

 

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