How Many Times Per Ride Do the Cops Need To Check My Papers Just To Ride The Bus?

Seriously.  I feel like I’m trying to enter another country when I’m riding the new, supposedly improved SBS service.  If you’re not familiar with these SBS service buses, they’re supposedly a great new way to get around town that will be faster than a normal limited bus.  They also supposedly save the city money.  I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, that’s just bullshit.

These buses use their own, special bus stops.  In addition to these new bus stops needing to be built, new machines had to be installed outside, adjacent to these bus stops.  You see, even though these new buses are equipped with MetroCard readers, they want you to buy a ‘ticket’ before getting on the bus.  That means the city spent extra money on these ‘ticket’ machines as well.  It’s not really a ticket.  You just get a receipt showing your MetroCard has been debited for the fare required to ride the bus.  By the way, that’s more dead trees.  Was that really necessary?  How is it saving money to have to supply all of these ‘ticket’ machines with paper?  Shouldn’t we be moving towards being a paperless society, rather than finding new ways to deforest and kill our planet?  Not that I’m an eco-nut, but this just seems like a blatant waste of resources and money, which doesn’t make sense when everyone is screaming about budget cuts.  I wonder how many people’s jobs got cut so MTA could afford to print thousands, or tens of thousands, of paper tickets every day?

Now, in addition to the complete waste of resources these ticket machines cause, and the fact that instead of lining up to get on the bus you instead line up to get a ticket, there’s an additional problem.  This system creates another opportunity for you to be hassled by the man.  Today, I rode one of these SBS buses from 14th street up to 116th street and the bus was stopped twice and left idling while cops searched everyone on the bus for ‘tickets’.  Idling.  Isn’t that what the new system was supposed to prevent?

Why do they have to do this?  Well, the answer is easy.  They’re relying on a trust system, that people will pay before boarding, but … seriously?  Do they really think this is going to work?  What world are they living in?  Even on a bus system where people only board at the front, there are people who slip on and try to ride for free, and often pull it off.  If you set things up so that people can board at any door and you’re just supposed to trust that they have a ticket, there will always be people trying to sneak on.  People were pulled off and ticketed both times our bus was searched, and unless teams of police are set up to stop these buses and search them randomly, all day every day, it will continue.  These searches slow down the bus and they’re really not any faster than the regular limited buses they replaced in the first place.

You know what?  There’s an easier system than this, and it’s one I learned in Singapore.  For a first world country, we sure are doing things real stupid over here in the US.  We need to model our transit system off of Singapore’s.  Instead of having these flimsy, crap cards we use for our buses and trains, they have cards with chips in them that can be read like the Visa PayWave cards.  You don’t even have to take them out of your wallet or purse.  You just slide them over a scanner as you enter and exit the bus or train station.  That would save time.  Not having paper tickets would save time.  Not requiring the bus to be stopped and all the passengers to be checked like Nazis searching for Jews would be faster.

And, if you’re going to have cops constantly searching people on the bus, do it smart, not stupid.  I mean, really, you want to stop the whole bus and have us sitting there while everyone is checked for tickets?  Here’s a better idea.  Have cops get on the bus, have the doors close and the bus continue on its route while the cops check tickets.  Have the cops get off at the next stop and either get on the following bus, or cross the street and go back the way they came on the next bus.  That would allow them to continue writing tickets and providing the city government with this new revenue stream (because that’s what this is all about), and it wouldn’t increase people’s commute times.  And hey, since I mentioned Singapore’s system earlier, here’s another spot where it could come in handy.  They have people that randomly get on and ride with the bus.  These people carry handheld card readers that can read your card and show when you last scanned it.  Oh, and they don’t stop the whole bus while they do it.  That’s pretty easy, and it’s smart.  I wonder why they didn’t think of it?

This whole thing with the tickets was done to supposedly save money on the fuel the buses use while idling at bus stops, and to make things faster and more convenient for riders.  The MTA/SBS built a bunch of new bus stops, built new ‘ticket’ machines, are printing paper tickets that aren’t free to produce, and then have the buses idle for police checks, but somehow this is cheaper and faster than just running a normal limited bus.  I totally see the logic here.

Man Got Wedged Between Train and Platform at Union Square Station Last Night

Last night there was an accident in the Union Square train station that required an ambulance and firefighters to respond.

I first realized there was something going on when I was trying to board the train at a station further uptown on the same line.  An announcement was made in the station saying that the express trains would all be running on local tracks in the area around Union Square.  The express trains left on the usual track, but after leaving the station they switched over the local tracks, which seemed to make the trip take a lot longer.

When the express train pulled up to the local platform in Union Square I made sure to pay attention to where I was stepping.  Sure enough, there was an almost foot long gap between the side of the train car and the platform.  It seemed dangerous.

Emergency responders in Union Square station, where a man was wedged between the train and the platform.Right across from me there was a train sitting on the track in the center of Union Square station.  It was sectioned off from the rest of the station by yellow tape.  All but one of the stairs heading up to the next level were being sectioned off as well.  The area was also full of firefighters, medics, and, of course, spectators.

Emergency responders in Union Square station, where a man was wedged between the train and the platform.

I asked a couple that was standing there watching what had happened.  They told me that on the other side of the train from where we were, there’s a moving platform that closes the gap between the train car floor and the platform, for safety reasons.  It’s supposed to help prevent people from falling between the train and the platform.

Emergency responders in Union Square station, where a man was wedged between the train and the platform.

Well, somehow, a guy got ahead of himself and maybe didn’t wait for the platform to move, so he got himself wedged between the train and the platform.  He must have been stuck in there pretty good, too, because they couldn’t just retract the platform.  The firefighters I saw had hooks and crowbars to try to get him out.

After the guy had been freed from the train, emergency responders disappeared quickly.

I never saw the guy, but a few minutes after I got to the station, a firefighter told us the guy got out and he was ok.  He had remained conscious the entire time and had been talking to him.  So, everything ended well, but it was a really interesting scene, with the area packed tight with emergency responders and a whole train cordoned off.

Emergency vehicles outside Union Square station.

Emergency vehicles outside Union Square station.

New York City’s subway system is by no means new.  It’s falling apart in a lot of places and the whole thing could use a facelift.  I’m sure you could tell that from the photos.

Do You Have An Unlimited?

metrocard_skirt-435x326Twice now, on my way home, I’ve passed through the turn-styles at Union Square and had a guy ask me that question.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the same guy, though I could be wrong, since the last time this happened before tonight was about a week ago.

So, what’s it mean?  Well, when you ride the mass transit in New York City you have to use an MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) MetroCard, which is what the skirt in the photo is made out of.  People are creative aren’t they?  Anyway, you can get these things and add amounts to them and use them until they run out, or you can buy a weekly or monthly unlimited ride card, which saves you money if you travel frequently.  Unlimited cards are a lot more convenient too because you get them and then you just don’t have to worry about what your balance is, or when you need to add more cash to it.  You just use it until it expires and then you toss it and get a new one.

So, the problem with some guy asking people if they have an unlimited card is that he wants you to swipe it on the turn-style so he can get a free ride.  On the surface, this may not seem like a bad thing, especially if he’s had a bad day and lost his somewhere, and can’t afford his trip home.  It’s also possible that he’s scamming people and never buys a card and is trying to get a free ride all the time.  That’s bullshit.  We pay, so should he.  Or, another possibility is that he’s an undercover cop working with a partner that will write out tickets to people who let him use their card.  Any way you look at it, it’s not the best idea to let a person get a free ride on your card.  It’s just not worth the risk, or worth letting someone else be a cheapskate while you pay for what you get.

Funny story about this though.  I saw a whole family of about 6 people, obviously tourists, all use the same card to go through the turn-style.  They should be glad there weren’t any cops around.

(Photo credit: Subwayblogger via edstern on Flickr.)

New York City Express Train Gymnastics and Dancing

A night or two ago I was on the express train, either the 4 or 5 (they run the same track), heading to Union Square, and this guy announced that he was going to give us a performance.  He reached into a plastic bag on the floor and turned on his radio.  Then he did some gymnastics and dancing using the bars in the train that you’re meant to hold onto.  I was a bit worried that he might accidentally kick someone in the head, maybe me since I was sitting so close.  He pulled it off without incident though, and it was definitely entertaining after a long day, so when he asked for a handout afterwards, quite a few people gave him some change.  I gave him a dollar.

I never hand out money to beggars, because it annoys me and there are plenty of social programs to help them get a job, but I don’t mind handing out a little cash to someone that’s working for it, even if it’s just a minute long show on a subway train.

I Finally Met New York City Crazy And It Was Old And Wielded A Cane

Yesterday was Black Friday, a day notorious for being a retail hell, with people going crazy over sales.  The shops weren’t the only place that crazy was breaking through to the surface though.  After a long day at work, I was on my way home.  I had just gotten back downtown and was waiting at a bus stop to transfer onto a cross-town bus for the last part of my trip.  When the bus pulled up, a few people got off and then a woman went up the steps and started dropping change into the fare box, so I followed behind her, ready to dip my card into the machine.  When the woman ahead of me finished, I dipped my card and paid my fare and right as I did, a woman with a cane pushed past the first lady boarding the bus and started shouting, “Getting off the bus!  Getting off the bus!”

I stepped back as far as I could to give her room to get by.  Now, I assume this woman was nuts, because instead of stepping past and going down the stairs, she spread her arms out and pushed up against me, then hit me with her cane repeatedly, all the while shouting, “Getting off the bus!  Getting off the bus!”  She didn’t continue on.  She just stood there looking at me, whacking my legs with her cane.

Not being in the mood to be slowly bludgeoned to death by an old woman with a cane, I pushed her away from me and said, “Get off the fucking bus then.”  She started yelling at me and hit me in the arm with her cane.

Right away, the bus driver said, “Hey, why you messin’ with dat old woman?”

My first thought was, ‘Are you fucking serious?’ and I said to him, “Because the bitch hit me with her cane.”

The driver replied, “She’s trying to get off the bus.”

I told him, “That doesn’t give her an excuse to start hitting me with her cane.”

The driver said, “Well, you should have let her get off the bus before you came up.”

So I said, “I was already up here and paid.  I backed up and gave her plenty of space.  She had plenty of room to get down.”

He said, “Well, you could have gotten back down and waited for her to get off.”

At this point, I’d reached the end of my patience, with the driver being a moron and the woman still yelling at my back so I said, “Fuck no.  She had enough room.  She can go fuck herself and so can you.”

Then I walked back into the bus to find a seat.  As I was walking away, the woman yelled at me, “You asshole!”

So, I looked back over my shoulder and said, “Ya, fuck you!”  Then I sat down and waited.

It took quite a while for other people to start coming on the bus.  I guess the old woman was making a big show up there.  The buses are double length, with a swivel section in the middle, so I don’t know what, if anything, more was said.  Maybe she was being extra slow getting off the bus as her final act of retaliation for not putting up with her craziness.

The next guy to get on the bus came and sat down across the aisle from me and said, “Hey yo, I saw that whole shit go down.  That bitch was crazy.  Fuck that driver.  He made an issue out of that shit because of the color of your complexion and that old lady’s complexion, tryin’ to make that shit all racial.  That woman had no business hitting you with her cane.  I saw it all man.”

Then a lady sat in front of me and said that the old woman is lucky she did that to someone with an even temper, because if I had been a “bad” person, I might have done something nasty to her.  She said the woman must have a problem with her head.

It’s true.  You never know what kind of person you’re talking to or what they’re capable of, especially in New York City, where crazy people are so common.  I’m not going to beat up someone that’s obviously mentally imbalanced, but I’m not going to stand there and let them assault me and then just smile about it either.

To clarify what the guy that sat across from me was saying, the driver was black and so was the woman with the cane.  I don’t know if it was a racial issue, but it seems odd to me that the driver just automatically assumed I was at fault.  He didn’t seem to have a problem with the first woman who got on the bus, who was also black and in the old woman’s way.  It was just me.

So, I guess you could say this was a double dose of crazy, crazy crazy and crazy racism crazy.  Like I said to the guy that pointed it out to me, though, this is just another day in New York City.