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November 17, 2006

Tickets Please !

The Beatles were wrong when they sang, “she’s got a ticket to ride… and she don’t care.” Passengers on Metro-North do care when they’ve paid for their ticket, but they see others getting a free ride.

Uncollected tickets are second only to the stinky bathrooms in generating complaints to the Metro-North Commuter Council. And despite years of pressure from the Council, the problem persists.

Here’s the typical scenario: you’re on a train from Grand Central heading home in the evening. The train stops at Stamford (or Greenwich or New Rochelle) to discharge passengers while other intermediate commuters come on board, filling the previously occupied seats.

As the train proceeds, the conductor walks through the train asking for “Stamford tickets!” and a few honest souls proffer their passes. But having seen the new passengers who got on and where they sat, you realize the conductor didn’t collect all the newcomers’ fares. Why?

Because the conductor, working several cars on a train carrying more than a thousand passengers, isn’t sure whose ticket he collected leaving New York City and whose ticket needs to be collected having boarded at Stamford. That is, unless he issued seat checks.

Those stubby, colorful seat checks are punched by the conductor when tickets are collected, indicating the number of passengers in that row of seats and their final destination. At least they’re supposed to be punched.

Sometimes, perhaps because a conductor is rushed or lazy, no seat checks are punched and then new passengers get a free ride. Free for them, but hardly free for the rest of us who’ve paid for our tickets.

Before the introduction of the Ticket Vending Machines in 2002, most fares were collected onboard trains by conductors to the tune of $50 million a year, cash. Now, the cash collections are minimal, thanks in part to an on-board “service charge” (penalty) of up to $5.50 for boarding without a ticket. (And that’s on top of the cost of the ticket!)

Conductors on Metro-North make good money. And they do a very important job, opening doors, answering questions, directing passengers in an emergency. For the most part, they get high marks from commuters for their work. But being human, sometimes they cut corners, don’t do seat checks and lose the railroad a ton of money that we end up paying.

People who get a “free ride” on Metro-North are the transit equivalent of shoplifters. If you saw someone stealing from a store, wouldn’t you say something?

If I see a conductor miss a ticket, either because the conductor didn’t notice the new passenger or, more likely, the deadbeat passenger didn’t offer a ticket, I’ll say something to the conductor like “I think you missed this gentleman’s ticket…” and then smile at the conductor and the chagrined thief.

For repeat offenders, you can report the conductor on the MTA’s website (linked from the Commuter Council’s homepage) detailing the incident by train number, date, time and car location.

Metro-North assures the Commuter Council they’ll act swiftly on malfeasance. After one recent complaint, undercover inspectors were dispatched within days to ride the train and observe the conductors. When appropriate, disciplinary action is taken.

We’re about to spend over a billion dollars on new rail cars. And we’re always trying to postpone the next, albeit inevitable, fare increase. All of that money comes from us, as taxpayers and commuters. If we’re paying our fare share, shouldn’t we make sure others do as well?

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident, transit activist and Metro-North commuter for 15 years. You can reach him at or

1 comment:

William's Sims Adminstration said...

This has led to other problems than just the state getting money. People at my school have fallen asleep on the train and missed there Stamford destnation. They don't wake up untill the train in in GCT at which time it is a lot harder for them to get back to Stamford. Often times if the tickets are checked corectley the conducter will be able to stop the train at anither station to let the sleepy pasanger off to bord a East-bound train rather than them not knowing they fell asleep untill tey get to GCT. The person who fell asleep from my school to make matters worst ended up getting on the wrong trin leaving NYC too needing to come back to GCT again to catch the corect train.