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November 14, 2012 1:24 PM   Subscribe

When they take my shoelaces and belt, I realise that this is more serious than I had thought.
I am in a Manhattan precinct cell, early on a Sunday morning in August, having been stopped for making an illegal turn in my car. The officer who has stopped me takes my licence and (for complicated reasons involving my sister’s mother-in-law) Texas registration, goes back to his vehicle for a bit, and then returns to my car.

‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the car.’

I’ve watched television. They must be checking my sobriety.

‘Sir, are you aware that your licence has been suspended in the state of New York?’

I am not aware of that. That’s going to mean a hell of a fine.

Another police car pulls up behind his, lights flashing.

‘Sir, please turn and place your hands behind your back.’

I turn and prepare to recite the alphabet backwards while standing on one leg (as I’ve seen on television). Something clicks around my wrists. Handcuffs. I’ve never been in handcuffs before. I’ve always prided myself on my positive relationship with the police.
posted by Elementary Penguin (57 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Via the London Review of Books.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:25 PM on November 14, 2012


While not dealing with the overcrowding that the author saw my experience in jail was very similar. The only marked difference is that I ended up with a court date and they never removed the ankle and wrist cuffs.
posted by Loto at 1:32 PM on November 14, 2012


Move along, nothing to see here, avert your eyes and keep walking
posted by fullerine at 1:32 PM on November 14, 2012


I've read a few of these "look what happened to me in jail" accounts lately, all by white males who point out how the system robs them of humanity and erases time from their lives through useless bureaucracy. These are important stories to hear and we should be outraged about them. We should also note that people of color -- and in the US, black people in particular -- have been trying to tell stories like this and a whole lot worse for decades and have found it hard to get people to listen to them.
posted by cubby at 1:42 PM on November 14, 2012 [139 favorites]


A friend of mine was arrested a couple years back for a protest at Atlantic Yards, and he is still talking about what it was like. His booking/processing/etc. was a lot faster because it was Brooklyn, and the other people he was in with were milder (a few drunk & disorderly, a couple of kids caught in a shoplifting sting); and, his charge was just so....weird. (The exact charge was "using a drum to make noise.")

He said that the other people in the holding cell asked him what he was in for, and when he told them, they all looked at him funny and he was reminded of that line from "Alice's Restaurant". A lot of them hadn't even heard about the controversy with the project and so he tried winning them over, and gradually started realizing that his cellmates had very different things to worry about other than city land deals, so he quickly dropped it.

He's still a big protestor/rabblerouser, but I definitely think it was eye-opening for him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, if someone, hypothetically, never paid a speeding ticket they got on the Taconic State Parkway in 1995, what should one do about it now to avoid a night in the Tombs?
posted by Rock Steady at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2012


So, if someone, hypothetically, never paid a speeding ticket they got on the Taconic State Parkway in 1995, what should one do about it now to avoid a night in the Tombs?

Not perform an illegal turn in Manhattan, I'd imagine.
posted by SomaSoda at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


....Ironically, rock steady, my friend was confronted with exactly the same problem (a ticket on the Taconic that he thought got paid hadn't, and it bit him in the ass - but only with a license confiscation until he paid it). His advice would probably be.....pay it now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2012


His account sounds like a pretty typical jail experience. I'm not sure why this is noteworthy.
posted by sacrifix at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I got arrested for driving with a suspended license in NY. I had gotten a ticket a year earlier, forgotten to pay it, and no longer lived in NY but still had my license there. The notice that the license had been suspended came to my parents' place, but my mom forgot to tell me about it. We were all in Long Island, and I was speeding to the airport, and blew past a cop car.

I guess it was justice, East Hampton-style. Because though they arrested and cuffed me and put me in the back of the cruiser--wow, is that uncomfortable, the divider so far back you have no choice but to sit with your knees spread wide, immobilized, well-nigh a stress position; if they had wanted to punish me with tight cuffs, or if there had been another person there, it would have been excruciating--they did slow down so my parents and girlfriend could follow in the car behind when I asked them.

They booked me, but I never saw the inside of a holding cell. My parents were right there and paid for me to be released.

I realize how lucky I was, and I think the luck was (aside from the color of my skin) that it didn't happen in New York City. It was no effort for them to process me in East Hampton. A friend of mine (white) who was picked up in NYC one Friday night for smoking pot spent the weekend in the holding cells because they didn't process until Monday.
posted by oneironaut at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you ever go to Houston, boy, you better walk right. You'd better not gamble, and you'd better not fight. The sheriff he will get you, and his boys will drag you down. When the jury finds you guilty, buddy, you're prison bound.

Oh, how the issues run deep and purple. I guess you don't pay attention until it's your turn, but then it's too late to whine when the guy slams the door on you. You know, all them folksy songs, about, you know, people. So anyhow, this was about a speeding ticket that he let go to warrant. Imagine what it would have been like if he'd done something serious, like for example, be born poor or some color not white. They'd have to put up a revolving door just for him, I guess. But my heart goes out to him. He didn't realize that he was supposed to...well, never mind. He does now.

Big Brother says: They are LAWs not Suggestions. The jails and prisons are terribly overcrowded, but it's your fault for being such a goddam criminal all the time. But not to worry, because we will hire more guards and build a few more privatized cages for you goddam scum criminal druggies. The other guys can go to the country club institutions, where they get to garden and go on the internet. It's called the Justice System, but only out of habit.
posted by mule98J at 2:08 PM on November 14, 2012 [21 favorites]


Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. And someone else got banged up for selling a Metrocard swipe? Un.be.fucking.lievable.

Land of the free, my rosy British arse.
posted by Decani at 2:09 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


And someone else got banged up for selling a Metrocard swipe?

I hear you, but what exactly are they supposed to do to people selling Metrocard swipes? It's clearly illegal (signs everywhere) for whatever reason, and I have a feeling that individuals in the business of selling Metrocard swipes don't really care if they're issued a ticket since they won't pay it anyway.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2012


To be fair to the cops on this one--he was driving with a license that had been suspended for 5 years. That's pretty sketchy-looking.

Selling Metrocard swipes is illegal, and posters informing people as such are displayed prominently in most subway stations. I think it is a reasonable deterrent to people mugging folks for Metrocards.

In other okay parts of that story, the misdemeanor offenders are kept apart from the felons, and "esourceful sister says that the city’s surprisingly efficient hotline has kept her informed of my whereabouts, and that she was told that I should be out tonight."

Big city criminal processing system is dirty, disorganized, and unpleasant. Film at 11. New York City has always been this way, and its probably a lot better than it used to be.
posted by oneironaut at 2:18 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


That metrocard swipe thing is bullshit. It is really a law against homeless people hanging out in the stations swiping people through for cash. I guarantee if a cop saw me swipe someone through and take money they wouldn't bat an eye.

For awhile it seemed it was possible to get unlimited swipes by bending the cards in some specific way. But is it also simple enough to find tons of cards with a fractions of a far and consolidate them. If you get an unlimited you can swipe someone through evey X minutes, clearly violating some bullshit TOS you never knew existed.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:19 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


And, Rock Steady? I'd get in touch with New York State and inquire about that ticket. I would want to know if it is still active, and what I can do to get rid of it. You will get a much better deal than if you are negotiating in a courtroom.
posted by oneironaut at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2012


Bent metrocards are forgery. No idea if they fixed it yet.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem, I'm curious--I've long wondered why selling swipes is illegal. No doubt there are plenty of innocuous situations as you describe--homeless person finds a Metrocard that has a swipe on it, or is given a Metrocard in lieu of cash. There are plenty of homeless on the subway, so it's not a deterrent to them actually entering the system. Given that, aside from senior cards, Metrocards are not personally identified--in DC, if I lose my SmarTrip card or someone steals it, I can have it deactivated--there is a high incentive for abuse and theft if you can just turn them in for cash. While it does impinge on one entrepeneurial avenue for folks, I think, on balance, the deterrent effect is worth it.
posted by oneironaut at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2012


This is a much better reminder than all of the Post-its I've wasted that I need to deal with that traffic ticket by the end of the month.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2012


I think, on balance, the deterrent effect is worth it.

I just think that like many laws in New York it is unevenly applied. Sure,mugging people for cards should be prevented. But mugging people is already a crime. Bending cards is problematic, but that is probably already fraud. Selling my own swipes or swipes from discarded cards shouldn't be illegal. In practice, people do it all the time, swipe people though and take a couple bucks instead of waiting for your friend to get a new card.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:37 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me vaguely of the Harlan Ellison essay "The Tombs", which was his factual account of being sent through the New York system under the Sullivan Act for concealed weapons charges after the cops searched his apartment. It's amazing to read, in my opinion, and elucidates the system quite clearly. What is even more amazing is how little it has changed in the intervening decades.
posted by daq at 2:40 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


A buddy of mine got picked up for DUI in college. I was also good friends with his girlfriend, and she went to pick him up the next day. She tells a story about how he was describing that it was scary, that he was lonely, and since he was drunk he knew he wasn't in the best frame of mind, and it was cold, and all he wanted to do was sleep to get through it... and that they wouldn't give him a blanket or a pillow. His girlfriend stops the car, looks him straight in the face and says, "You spent the night in jail. It isn't the Hilton. Nobody asks to go to jail."
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:41 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've long wondered why selling swipes is illegal. No doubt there are plenty of innocuous situations as you describe--homeless person finds a Metrocard that has a swipe on it, or is given a Metrocard in lieu of cash.

Because you can buy a Weekly/Monthly unlimited ride Metrocard and sell a new swipe every 18 minutes. It would rob the MTA of millions of dollars.
posted by nevercalm at 2:42 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sure,mugging people for cards should be prevented. But mugging people is already a crime.

I take your point. But on the other hand, not everyone carries cash, but there are plenty of people who don't carry cash who carry a Metrocard. Not every thief has the facility to sell a credit card, or buy enough saleable goods, before it is blocked by the victim. But if you can sell the swipes from a stolen, untraceable Metrocard, then you can monetize that at your leisure. Otherwise, all you can do is use it to ride the subway. Wheeeee.

Then again, if someone is going to steal a wallet, they are going to steal a wallet. Not being able to monetize a Metrocard reduces the reward.

And the difference between that and your friend reimbursing you is, well, that person is your friend. You have some control over that relationship.
posted by oneironaut at 2:42 PM on November 14, 2012


Or what nevercalm said. Unless you're all about "Screw the MTA!", that is the best argument so far.
posted by oneironaut at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2012


In 1969 or so, only a year after the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where being kind and compassionate to young folks had yet to be reestablished, I was invited to be the best man at a friends wedding in the windy city. I was in the Army at the time, stationed in San Antonio, so I had to fly up to Chicago to participate.

My friend, Phil, was getting married to his long time girl friend, Carol. I had met her a few times, but didn’t know much about her family. I arrived, and with a couple of other friends from our hometown, was were sleeping on the floor at Phil’s house for the few days we would be in town. I met Carol’s parents the night before the wedding, at the rehearsal, big Catholic Church, and a dinner back at their house...lots of homemade Italian food, red wine, and whiskey.

I learned that Carol’s father owned, evidently, the largest meat packing plant in Chicago. The history of that industry was speckled with more than one reference to the Mob. But, Carol’s Dad was a friendly guy, treated us nicely, and let us know if we needed anything, to let him know.

The wedding was a pretty flashy affair, for some reason known only to Phil and Carol, they had decided that the formal wear for the men in the wedding party would be purple velvet jackets and pants with light purple shirts with a frill up the front. In other words, we looked like cheap pimps. The reception was on the second floor of a private club downtown Chicago. I asked Phil about the limo he and Carol rode in, he stated that the limo, and the driver, were Daley’s, as in Richard J. .

As the evening wore on, the three of us from Jackson decided that, hell, we were in Chicago, we were wearing Purple Velvet Jackets and shirts with frilly fronts, and we weren’t leaving until we found the Playboy Club. We all piled into Doug’s car, a 60’s era VW Bug, found a phone booth, looked up the address for the Club and started cruising downtown Chicago at 2 am trying to find it.

We’re all looking for an address, and Doug, as he’s searching the facades of buildings looking for an address, manages to run a red light, going about 5 miles an hour. A block later he was pulled over by Chicago’s finest.

It seems that, in those days at least, if you were from out of state (Doug was from Michigan), and you received a moving violation, you had to post bond before you were released.

We were taken to the nearest precinct house, all three of us, in our Purple Velvet Jackets with Ruffled Front Shirts, and told to wait in a dark, damp, basement corridor that I sincerely believe was carved out of the bedrock under Chicago. And we waited, and those also waiting in the cave were fascinated by our Jackets, and Pants, and Ruffled Shirts, there was some joking, a few outright insults, and looks that did not indicate friendship and commonality. We were treated with much amusement and disdain by the Officers that passed by as well.

About 3:30 PM we were told that the bond would be $100. Together we had about $25 in our pockets and this was pretty much a pre credit/debit card era for young poor people, with no cash, Doug wasn’t going anywhere, and, without Doug, neither were the other two of us. There was nothing my wife could do, she was in Texas, and none of our parents were going to drive from Jackson Michigan to Chicago to post a bond for idiots.

About that time, we decided our only hope was to call Carol’s father, at 3:30 am, the morning after his daughter’s wedding, to ask to borrow some money. I made the call, evidently waking up Carol’s father, and explained the situation. He just said “All right.” and hung up.

Five minutes later a Sargent came to find us, apologized profusely for any inconvenience that we might have endured, escorted us outside where they had brought around Doug’s VW Bug, opened the doors for us, gave us directions to get back to Phil’s house, and told Doug not to worry about the bond, or the ticket.

We never found the Playboy Club, we had to return the Purple Jackets and Pants and frilly shirts.... and left Chicago with a newfound respect for the power and speed of influence and/or organized crime.
posted by HuronBob at 2:46 PM on November 14, 2012 [85 favorites]


After they took his shoelaces and his belt, so that there wouldn't be any hangins', did they take twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and the paragraph on the back of each one?
posted by delfin at 3:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Or what nevercalm said. Unless you're all about "Screw the MTA!", that is the best argument so far.

Sure, I already mentioned that it was possible to do that. I have a minor problem with them dictating how I use the swipes I paid for, If I pay for one swipe every X minutes I should be able to do what I want with them. Like I said, there is some unknown TOS somewhere that says I can't tranfser them. I guess I can accept that.

If I buy $10 card, or even piece together $10 off cards I found in the trash, the MTA isn't losing money if I sell the swipes.

I just can't help but think the real crime is being poor.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, that's enough to make me really fucking glad I never got pulled over when my license was suspended for failing to pay a ticket.
posted by maryr at 3:20 PM on November 14, 2012


I've been threatened by thugs selling swipes in the NYC subway ...in one case I think they bribed the worker in the token booth to not do anything.

Last summer I was pulled over in MI near traverse city for passing in a median lane and had to either give the cop $50 or give him my license. I had only $47 in bills and he refused the difference in coins, but allowed me to keep my license. How is this not a de facto bribe?
posted by brujita at 3:44 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've long wondered why selling swipes is illegal. No doubt there are plenty of innocuous situations as you describe--homeless person finds a Metrocard that has a swipe on it, or is given a Metrocard in lieu of cash.
Because you can buy a Weekly/Monthly unlimited ride Metrocard and sell a new swipe every 18 minutes. It would rob the MTA of millions of dollars.
If this is such a problem for them, then perhaps they should change their system so they can't lose millions of dollars in that way. It beats passing laws and throwing people in jail for something that's arbitrarily and stupidly illegal.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:44 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I got pulled over for blowing a stop sign in Ohio. My license was suspended for an unpaid fine. This makes me realize just how lucky I was. I got the fine paid immediately by a colleague and they didn't even cuff me on my way to the police station.

The embarrassment, however, was acute. (I was teaching at the time, this was in front of some of my students. They, and the principle, were remarkable relaxed about the entire thing.)
posted by Hactar at 3:45 PM on November 14, 2012


I know the guy who wrote this article. He wrote and sang a very clever song at the wedding of some friends of mine.

Obviously the people most impacted by jail conditions are not getting published in the LRB, but I think it's good that he took advantage of the opportunity to shed light on the situation. Realistically, there are a lot of people that are going to identify with his story. After all, if it happens to a Harvard grad who writes Broadway plays then it could happen to anyone.
posted by snofoam at 3:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


If this is such a problem for them, then perhaps they should change their system so they can't lose millions of dollars in that way. It beats passing laws and throwing people in jail for something that's arbitrarily and stupidly illegal.

They could switch to a system where you have to have the card on you to get out of the subway, like they do in some places, but I think it would be more trouble than it is worth and cause congestion. What they should do is just fine people and not jail them. If it is impractical to fine the homeless person selling swipes, just set up a fine for anyone buying swipes and make sure it's clearly posted.
posted by snofoam at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2012


Last summer I was pulled over in MI near traverse city for passing in a median lane and had to either give the cop $50 or give him my license. I had only $47 in bills and he refused the difference in coins, but allowed me to keep my license. How is this not a de facto bribe?

I got a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania on my way home to NY. Luckily, I didn't have to pay on the spot but when I received the ticket, it directed me to pay it by making out the check in the name of the judge, rather than the DMV or the state (this was in the 80s). This always seemed to me to be ripe for fraud, just cash the check and destroy the ticket. Computerization likely put an end to that system, but you have to wonder.
posted by tommasz at 4:00 PM on November 14, 2012


Hactar: “I got the fine paid immediately by a colleague and they didn't even cuff me on my way to the police station.”

It should be noted that (a) this is exactly how it should work and (b) this is almost never how it works – at least as far as I've experienced, as a middle-class white guy who's been arrested for similar bench warrants on three separate occasions. Every single time, the whole thing took 20 hours or more. I missed taking medication, it was horribly shameful, but more than that it lost me at least one job and helped destroy a marriage. On one of those occasions, three cops in black riot gear were waiting for me to come home in the dark behind my house. This was over an unpaid ticket for going 40 in a 30 MPH construction zone. I guess the Jefferson County police were clearing old bench warrants that night.

The point, I think, is that it really shouldn't work this way. There should be laws about how long it takes to bail somebody out; seriously, the fact that this can take ten to twenty hours is insane in this day and age. And we really need to get rid of the bail bond industry; it's exploitative and prejudicial against those who are poorer.

If it can be as awful as it was for me, a privileged guy who's just a bit ADD, then I can only imagine how it is for minorities. Heck, I heard some stories in the few hours I was there every time. This is something that needs to change, but unfortunately there is no one to put political pressure on the right people. I'm glad this article was published.
posted by koeselitz at 4:30 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


A fella I know got picked up last week erroneously for a warrant that he didn't know he had, stemming from a ticket that he had proof he'd paid in full. Happened on Friday night in an outlying suburb, and because of the locale and time he spent the weekend waiting to be transferred to the county jail for proper processing. No one would look up his shit, which came up as very clearly paid on the county's public website. The biggest problem as far as my friend was concerned was that he's on methadone maintenance, taking somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 mgs of the stuff daily legally and by doctor's prescription, and the local cops couldn't have given two shits that he started puking sometime during his second day as a guest of the government. He got progressively sicker, all the while asking if his girlfriend could bring his meds and all the while being ignored (at best) or getting lectured by ignorant suburban cops as to why drugs are a very bad thing and that he wouldn't be suffering if he wasn't a junkie (nevermind that thanks to the methadone it's been more than a half decade since he's used anything remotely resembling an illicit drug). So he sweated and trembled and puked and shit bucketloads and the police tsk-tsked and shook their heads and offered such super-useful advice as "you should think about getting some treatment" and he told me that it was hard to hear them because of how much they towered over him on their high horses.

Within an hour of getting transferred to the Dallas jail, he was free. He never even entered a cell there - they saw the shape he was in and immediately began preparations to ship him to the hospital when he insisted that someone check his records. They did, saw the error, and set him loose in downtown Dallas, roughly 30 miles from where he was pulled over. For some reason, the officer that'd originally arrested him had taken his license out and left his wallet - along with his phone - sitting on the seat of his car. Successfully asking strangers on the street outside the jail complex if you can borrow their phone is, according to my friend, a task worthy of Olympic medal placement.
posted by item at 6:06 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Loto: they never removed the ankle and wrist cuffs

wait what how are you typing this
posted by webmutant at 7:15 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


I spent a few days in a Federale prison in Mexico. That was fun. in retrospect
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2012


Some buddies of mine and I were tossing around a football in their yard (in a college town) on a late summer day, when a cruiser pulls up and some cops get out. Apparently, some friendly neighbors had reported some drunk young men were throwing rocks. Even though the cops could obviously see that nothing illegal was transpiring, he insisted that he run all of our names through the system. One of my buddies had a warrant for some unpaid ticket and got taken in. We had to call someone else to drive us to the county jail to pick him up since we'd all been drinking...my friend still gets nervous when we throw a football around.
posted by schyler523 at 9:04 PM on November 14, 2012


nevercalm writes "
Because you can buy a Weekly/Monthly unlimited ride Metrocard and sell a new swipe every 18 minutes. It would rob the MTA of millions of dollars.
"

Is it OK to swipe people in for free?
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 PM on November 14, 2012


They could switch to a system where you have to have the card on you to get out of the subway, like they do in some places, but I think it would be more trouble than it is worth and cause congestion.

Might I introduce you to Japan? You need to have your ticket when you go out. It doesn't cause any sort of congestion (most people use electronic train passes anyway, you just touch them to the sensor and never even break stride). Pretty sure Hong Kong and South Korea use the same style, and trains are much, much more heavily used here.

If you want to stop people from taking advantage of your poorly laid out system, remove the weaknesses in the system. Making it illegal to take advantage of your stupidity is probably the shittiest way to go about it.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:10 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Might I introduce you to Japan? You need to have your ticket when you go out. It doesn't cause any sort of congestion (most people use electronic train passes anyway, you just touch them to the sensor and never even break stride). Pretty sure Hong Kong and South Korea use the same style, and trains are much, much more heavily used here.

BART in the bay area has the same thing. Just touch your clipper card to the sensor on your way in/out. The MTA system has never made sense to me.
posted by special-k at 10:22 PM on November 14, 2012


Pretty sure Hong Kong and South Korea use the same style, and trains are much, much more heavily used here.

On the rare occasions I get up to Seoul and have to use the subway, I just wave a credit card over the cattle-chute scanplate thingy on entry and exit and it works. I have no idea why or how, but it does. I believe it to be a manifestation of ancient Korean shamanistic transit magic.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:50 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess that is one of the things that us foreigners find weird about America. Why would you create a new law that is actually enforced by the police because you have a broken payments system for your subway?

London has the largest and oldest subway system in the world. You swipe in and out. If someone mugs you for your wallet / phone / tube pass then that's already a crime.

It's this casual attitude that most problems can be, and indeed should be, farmed off to the criminal justice system. That's a really weird attitude.
posted by aychedee at 1:15 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


In NYC, the tradition is one fare to get anywhere in the system. If you set it up to swipe on exit, you make it ready to charge different rates for different distances. That is why it is politically dangerous to implement scan-on-exit in NYC.
posted by Goofyy at 2:54 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've only been a visitor to various detention centers and facilities and that pretty much sucks - even a small town jail in the middle of Delaware is depressing when you're there to bail someone out.

The person I was visiting would say: Never ever eat the sandwiches. Don't eat anything prepared in the kitchen when the kitchen is manned by other prisoners. There's a reason why some folks end up in jail and once you've seen what some of those people do to the food before it is served . . . you will never want to eat again.

If you ever do end up with a relative or friend serving time, donating to their commissary account is a small way to help - even if you think they deserve to be there.
posted by jaimystery at 3:28 AM on November 15, 2012


London has the largest and oldest subway system in the world.

Paris has the second-oldest. Swipe in and out there too. Heck, I've used 12-year-old tickets (previously unused, naturally) that still do fine.

Here in Nice you only swipe on your way in, but there are regular ticket checks and if you didn't swipe (they can tell with their chip readers), you have to either pay the fine immediately, whether by credit/debit card or smartphone (yep we have that here too), or they make it nearly twice its amount in "filing fees". The choice between 48 euros and 85 isn't too difficult for most people. The contrôleurs aren't cops, either. They have a direct line to them, though, and cop cars can drive on the tram line, so they generally arrive in a minute or two. I've only ever seen the cops called in cases of physical altercations.

It's also just now occurring to me that in the 15 years I've spent in Europe, 13 in France, I don't know a single person here who's ever been to jail, and that includes my mentally ill neighbor who's physically assaulted people on the street and threatened to kill neighbors' animals. (No worries, my kittehs are safe and fine, I was quite proactive in reporting her nonsense along with a couple other neighbors.) She was quietened down with fines and court orders. That said, the next step would have been jail time. On the other hand, I worked with at least a dozen people who'd spent time in jail in the three years I was in the work force in Oregon (USA).
posted by fraula at 3:41 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Might I introduce you to Japan? You need to have your ticket when you go out.

Yes, I've been to Japan. They use that system so they can charge different fares to different destinations. Different subway systems may be optimized differently. Having a system that is more efficient for the vast majority of users that uses the threat of a fine to reduce fraud to a reasonable rate makes a lot of sense to me. The ability for, say, a couple visiting New York to buy a $20 metrocard to share during their visit is very consumer-friendly. Optimizing a system for anti-fraud rather than normal use isn't really ideal.
posted by snofoam at 4:23 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I'm not sure what's so horribly wrong with sliding scale for fares. When you have a system that's seamlessly integrated, it's really the only option. With the magnetic passes used here, you can pretty much go anywhere in eastern Japan on a single card. While there is technically a separate subway system from the different commuter lines going in, out, and through Tokyo, it doesn't remotely feel like the change between, say, Metra and the El in Chicago. If, on your single pass, you can get on a train an hour or more away and commute to work, or on your day off, but a single ticket (from a vending machine) to a spot three hours away, a flat rate is impossible financially.

Flat rates would only work for totally isolated systems that have no interest in becoming a functional part of a wider transportation network. I don't know of a single form of transportation in the Tokyo area that can't be accessed by the Suica or Passmo systems, bus, train, or subway.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:42 AM on November 15, 2012


I had a similar experience when a couple officers came to my house in the middle of the night and arrested me for unpaid dog-off-leash tickets that went to warrant.

I got out late the next morning, when a roommate came with the fine money. One of the uncomfortable things was the stern talking-to I got from the judge, who had been my mom's lawyer at one time.
posted by Danf at 8:29 AM on November 15, 2012


Having a system that...uses the threat of a fine to reduce fraud to a reasonable rate makes a lot of sense to me.

It's not a threat of a fine, it's the threat of arrest and jail. We started talking about this because the author of the article met people who were "selling swipes" in his holding cell.

The ability for, say, a couple visiting New York to buy a $20 metrocard to share during their visit is very consumer-friendly. Optimizing a system for anti-fraud rather than normal use isn't really ideal.

You can make a system fraud-resistant and still have it be consumer friendly. For instance, they could use exit readers solely to limit the number of active swipes per card to 5 or 10 at any given time. Heck, even just requiring a recently-used card to exit would probably greatly reduce any fraud that's occurring without inconveniencing anyone who's using the system legitimately (no one will try to save a buck at the entrance if they'll be stuck at the exit). These solutions are probably cheaper than using police (and jailors, and public defenders, and judges), without the criminal side-effects.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:44 AM on November 15, 2012


> London has the largest and oldest subway system in the world. You swipe in and out.

Is the London system as congested as NYC's? I used to commute by subway to midtown Manhattan at rush hour and just trying to get out of the damn station could be a nightmare -- and that's with people holding open the gates and skipping the turnstiles.

On the other hand, the MTA survived the switch from tokens to Metrocards, which was a huge change.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:02 AM on November 15, 2012


NYC carries more passengers (5.3mn/weekday v 3.6mn), but has more stations (468 v 270) - so hard to tell which is actually more congested. I've visited NYC a couple of times, and the Subway never felt as crowded as the Tube, but I don't think I ever rode the Subway during rush hour. London's certainly very crowded though.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:15 AM on November 15, 2012


Not at all a remarkable or interesting jail experience. I was left wondering what I'd missed..
posted by agregoli at 1:50 PM on November 16, 2012


The corpse in the library: "Is the London system as congested as NYC's? "

Yes, perhaps even moreso (with a few exceptions)

However, the "ticketing halls" in the Underground are all vastly larger than the entry areas of the NYC subways, which often consist of little more than a turnstile at the bottom of a flight of stairs. There's barely enough room for the entry gates.

Sure, you could do it. It wouldn't be the end of the world, and most of the newer entry kiosks seem to have been designed with this eventuality in mind. However, it'd make some stations seriously cramped.

This is even an issue on the DC Metro, where the stations were indeed designed for validation-on-exit, but still encounter significant exit congestion at rush hour.
posted by schmod at 7:20 PM on November 18, 2012


snofoam: "If this is such a problem for them, then perhaps they should change their system so they can't lose millions of dollars in that way. It beats passing laws and throwing people in jail for something that's arbitrarily and stupidly illegal.

They could switch to a system where you have to have the card on you to get out of the subway, like they do in some places, but I think it would be more trouble than it is worth and cause congestion.
"

Considering this is actually the model in Tokyo, which probably shuttles through a comparable number of people, it is definitely doable for regular commuters. I also think there's a similar system in place in London, maybe? I know you certainly have to swipe your Oyster card when you're leaving.

The real problem is tourists. It's hard enough as a tourist to figure out how to get the right kind of fare or which train to get on. But to remember to hold on to your ticket the whole time -- no way. New York gets more tourists than almost anywhere else, so in terms of people inconvenienced, inconveniencing thousands of tourists a little bit is probably seen as worse than "inconveniencing" a couple dozen homeless people a lot.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:29 PM on November 18, 2012


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