GW Expat: Stingy riders risk skipping metro fares

VIENNA, Austria

If one day you entered the Foggy Bottom station and you were not required to swipe your Metro fare card, would you still purchase one?

The city of Vienna works on what I would call an honor system. People are able to enter and exit public transportation with ease, not having to constantly scan or even show their fare card.

Ticket machines are located at the entrances of UBahn stations in Vienna. It is here that commuters can purchase fare cards from a one-way trip to a monthly or seasonal pass. These fare cards apply to all methods of public transportation: UBahn, streetcars and buses.

Once you purchase your card, it must be validated. This involves receiving a stamp of the current date on the fare card by one of the small machines located in train stations, on buses and on streetcars.

Unlike D.C., where you must scan your card to enter or exit a Metro station, in Vienna you simply jump on and off public transportation without having to do anything at all. Once a card is validated, it is not necessary to ever scan the pass again. When a card expires, it is expected that passengers will make it their business to purchase another.

There is of course some level of security, however. It is important to make sure you have your pass on you at all times as the police perform random checks.

After learning of the Viennese transportation policy, I thought it to be crazy that the city of Vienna actually trusts people to do what they are supposed to with minimal security. They believe passengers will abide by the law knowing that they could be asked to present their fare card at any moment.

Now, being a poor college student constantly searching to save a buck, I must admit my mind immediately slipped into “cheap mode” after hearing about these rather lax policies.

“So perhaps I don’t need a pass,” I thought.

My idea was immediately countered by one of my program advisers. He explained that if you get caught you are ticketed and it just is not worth the risk. While I obviously abide by the law, it would be so wonderful to not have to spend 50 euro a month to ride the train to and from school each day.

There are of course certain times of the year that passes are checked more frequently. Currently, we are “in season.” While I have yet to be checked, I have witnessed others being asked to present their passes quite often over the past week.

Obviously, this trust that exists between the Vienna transportation system and its passengers only goes so far. However, it is likely that natives know exactly what time of year police are prone to check for fare cards.

Is it possible that the Viennese do abuse the system?

Clearly, it is possible, but at orientation we were informed that it is actually not customary for the Viennese to ride public transportation without the appropriate pass. In fact, it is more common for tourists to attempt to beat the system and get away with saving a few euros to blow on some Viennese pastries (yum).

It is not solely in Vienna that this honor system exists. I have encountered it in several Austrian cities as well as in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany.

I can say that I fulfilled the tourist stereotype in both Munich and Graz, Austria as I, the tourist that I am, decided to quickly jump on and off a few subways and streetcars without purchasing a fare card.

If this “honor system” were to be applied in Washington would it be as successful as it is in Vienna? Allowing people to get on and off the Metro without having to constantly scan their passes would, I’m sure, be welcomed by most commuters, but would Americans be more likely to take advantage of the system than Europeans seem to be?

This system appears to work efficiently throughout Europe, therefore there needs to be some reason American cities such Washington and New York do not apply such a trusting policy.

I fear that many Americans would do all they could to save a little cash here and there. I cannot make the generalization that Americans are simply not as honest or moral as Europeans, but my own actions speak rather loudly. While natives stood on the streetcar validating their newly purchased passes, I stood silently yet confidently without a pass of my own. I was in foreign countries where I did not speak the language, I believe may have had a bearing on my actions. If this system were to be applied in D.C., I cannot say I would try to beat the system. As a regular commuter I would purchase the appropriate passes, just as I do while studying in Vienna.

This leads me to conclude that being a native verses a tourist makes a difference as to whether or not a person will be inclined to take part in such illegal activity.

-Megan Marinos is a junior majoring in communications

and international affairs.

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