Mar 29 2008

What the #!*& is wrong with train ticket controllers?

Tags: , , , , , Filed under: Written in Englishhugo @ 5:10


So this morning, I arrive at the train station as the train is stopping. I run on the platform, and see that nobody is going in nor out anymore. I quickly think: either I run to the ticket validating machine, and I’m pretty sure I’ll miss my train, or I just get on the train without validating my ticket. I go for the latter. It turns out that the train stays in the station for an extra 30 seconds, so I might have had time to validate my ticket.

Anyway, as the doors close, I go straight to the ticket controller and explain that I didn’t have time to validate my ticket, and ask him to validate him for me.

Ensued a 5-minute lecture about Caltrain rules; some highlights:

  • Can you see the sign there? It says that you cannot board the train without a ticket.
  • I should really be writing you a ticket.
  • Do you know that it’s not my job to validate your ticket? My job is to get you to your work on time. Your job is to get to the train station on time, and validate your ticket.

Caltrain ticket validator

I did have a time management lecture once as well, but this guy, behind his sunglasses, was just out of control.

When I mentioned that I could have just gone hiding into a corner and not pay for my ride, he just went on and on about how I was making him waste his time. At some point when he was talking about how his job was to bring me to my work on time and how he should fine me for being late to the station, I wanted to ask him what were the consequences of him bringing me late to my work, but the discussion was getting more and more absurd, so I decided to just smile and nod, and he finally validated my ticket.

Interestingly, years ago, I had a similar experience in Paris. I had bought a ticket, failed to find the validating machine, and boarded the train with my freshly bough – but not validated – ticket. When I got off the train, I tried to exit the station, and the machine wouldn’t let me out because it rejected my ticket. Instead of tailgating behind a passenger with a valid ticket, or jump over the doors, I thought: hey, there’s a controller back there, he’ll sort my problem in no time. The guy assessed that I had cheated on purpose (nevermind my proof of purchase from 1 hour beforehand, and the fact that I was the one that came to see him), and proceeded to fine me.

Something’s seriously wrong with ticket controllers!

12 Responses to “What the #!*& is wrong with train ticket controllers?”

  1. Random Passenger says:

    The ticket “controller” (conductor) was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. YOU were the one in the wrong. Just be glad he decided to validate your ticket for you by hand, because you could have been (rightly) issued a citation. It’s amazing how many people jump on the train and tell a sob story about how they “didn’t have time to buy a ticket” or “didn’t have time to validate”, yet they apparently had time to stop at Starbucks or Krispy Kreme on their way to the station as evidenced by the breakfast they are carrying on board.

  2. hugo says:

    I guess that this is where I basically disagree with their attitude. Yes, technically, I was in fault and he could (should) have issued a citation. But context needs to be taken into account: a guy out of breath, without a cup or donut in his hand, coming to the conductor as the doors close, is obviously trying to do the right thing. If it had been the 3rd time of the week – the conductors are usually always the same on a certain train, and considering how he reacted, I’m sure he’ll remember me next time –, then issuing a citation might have been the right thing to do. Not to mention that validating my ticket took about 1/30th of the time he spent ranting.

    His behavior only has one effect: push people that are late to cheat. People are sometimes late, Caltrains sometimes run only once an hour, and people will get on. I have seen quite a few people getting caught without a ticket on a random check, and you’re basically treated better then voluntarily going to a conductor.

    Maybe this is my eco-friendly side talking, but making people feel good when using public transportation and building a community that wants to use the train rather than their car seems more important than giving time management lectures to people just because you can.

  3. rob says:

    i agree with you, hugo. but reflect for a moment on what type of personality it takes to become a career train ticket controller. generally, this is not a field one stays in if one is a creative problem solver, a insightful judge of character, or inquisitive. this is one of the most boring civil service jobs i can imagine. even bus drivers have more control over their destinies.

  4. rone says:

    Was it the short bald East Asian dude? He is the fussiest damn conductor ever. On average, the conductors aren’t bad folks, but he makes me cringe whenever he upbraids a passenger for, well, anything.

    (i ended up here after Googling for sSMTP)

  5. hugo says:

    It actually wasn’t him, but I know what and who you’re talking about.

  6. Random Passenger says:

    “It actually wasn’t him, but I know what and who you’re talking about.”

    So do I, and I agree with the sentiment expressed here.

  7. Alice says:

    3 weeks ago I got a citation. That morning I arrived at the caltrain in late, the train was about to leave , I didn’t have time to validate my ten ride ticket and I jumped in the train . I said immediately to the officer that I didn’t validate the ticket … I am not from here, I didn’t know i could be citated for there. I wish I could just pay a fine. How much I will pay for that? I know I was in wrong…but the situation is particurarly annoying. I get in the train in Palo Alto but the officer wrote that the closest caltrain station was San Mateo ( I noticed that some hours later), she wrote also the wrong train number..( I checked it out on the caltrain wesite). I am wondering if she was traing to make me paid more of what I am supposed to do…She also suggested to me to say to the court that I didn’t validate the ticket because the validator is broken. She suggested to me to tell a lie…It doesn’t make sense.. How will be the process? Should I go to the san Mateo court as she said and write or contact the Palo alto court?

  8. Ann says:

    I got citation in Feb. The validatior did not work on that morning, but the conductor was no listening. He just gave me a citation. I have a trail this week. I have no idea whether it is helpful to tell the judge the validator was broken.

  9. Emily says:

    Please tell me how much your citation was. The FAT BLEACHED-BLONDE BITCH gave me one this morning for no zone upgrade. That I bought and couldn’t find in my cavernous purse. Anyway, how much is the citation because I surely can’t miss a day of work to go sit in court over a $1.75 zone upgrade unless the citation is ridiculously high.

  10. David B says:

    Hello Hugo,

    I have been in this same exact situation…except i was given a citation. I ride the caltrain everyday and routinely see people get off without getting a ticket almost every week. I have even seen cases where tickets have been hand validated while passengers have been sitting on their seats! I was on my way to have my ticket validated and was in a hurry. I was on the train for about a minute or two when i realized i had to find a conductor to validate my ticket. I have heard on the loudspeaker plenty of times which state that passengers need to find a conductor before they find you to avoid a ticket. I was in this situation where I had asked the conductor politely to validate my ticket. He immediately issued me a ticket. I asked him why would I try to evade a ticket when I ride this train everyday and have had my ticket validate by hand many times before. He told me that passengers needed to have their ticket validated BEFORE boarding the train. Well if he wanted to get technical, that means individuals with 2 feet planted on the train are boarded and should not even have their ticket validated on the train. I see this everyday and feel discriminated and am pushing this to court.

  11. Jo Ann says:

    Hi, David B,

    I had the same experience on Feb 20th. At which station did you get the ticket and who is that conductor? I am pushing you this to court too.

  12. Nobody says:

    SOME Caltrain operators are assholes. If you want to understand why, just watch the movie “Das Experiment” (The Experiment). Give people some position of power and they will abuse it. There’s a WASP bitch on the train that is like that. The guys are cooler and more understanding. They actually take CONTEXT into account. They also realize the world doesn’t end if they don’t give a ticket/fine and it makes for a better community, people wanting to take said mode of transportation more often, and thus making their job more important and longer lasting!

    I really like Caltrain, but their treatment of their customers (us, who pay them to be in business) is not the best. And it’s pointless to argue sense with some thickheaded person who’s drunk on power exploitation.

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