Day 52 of 98 – A Tale of Two Cities: The Underground Underground

8 Nov

Another difference between FR and DE is their philosophy for how passengers pay for the subway. Germany (and the Netherlands) have the honour system – there are no physical barriers preventing one from using it without paying. They have random inspections to verify you have the correct ticket. In France (and London) there are automated gates set up where people have to submit proof of payment before getting access.

I would love to know which is more effective. The cost to install and maintain all those gates at every single station, mien Gott! You could pay a lot of ticket inspectors. The Germans also benefit from a law that requires people in the country to carry identification. The I-forgot-my-wallet-at-home excuse will not work here as often as it does elsewhere. The on-the-spot fines are reasonable (I think 40 Euros for a first offense). If I had to guess I would say that the German/Dutch one is better. It definitely allows for the passengers to have a more pleasant experience using the system. Especially if one has to run to catch a train. With a walker. Or luggage. Or a stroller loaded with babies.

So these gates work like this: you insert your single-use ticket and as you step forward you collect your ticket and these two glass panels slide open, you step through, and they quickly close behind you. If you are carrying bulky baggage (i.e. a couple of toilets) you need to go through this special gate. I’m not sure how the special gates are supposed to function. It seems like they are ripe for abuse as they are open longer to accommodate people who are slowed down by hockey equipment and wheeled luggage.

When I got to Paris North Gare I had to take the Metro to Lyon Gare Paris. So I’m in line to buy my ticket and I’m standing right next to the automated gates. I swear it was as if Just For Laughs had set up some cruel gag where the passengers who are in a hurry to make a connection are prevented from getting to the subway.

So this one bulky baggage gate is not working and there are passengers who are late to catch their trains. They insert their tickets. And the gate doesn’t open. They try again. No effect. These people are desperate and understandably so. The high-speed French trains *require* you to have a reservation. If you miss your train you have to sleep outside under a bridge like a common troll.

Now during this time, the other gates are working fine – the regular people are passing through effortlessly on their way to their operas and coffee dates and wine tasting contests. The desperate people can see this and several of them try to get through the regular gates with varying degrees of success. Here are the most common techniques executed, as told from the point of view of the condemned:

  • me first, then luggage. Result: gate closed on arm or bag
  • me rushing with luggage clutched to chest. Result: smashing into gate – gate does not open as hands not free to retrieve ticket
  • me with luggage balanced on head. Result: luggage falls to the side, clobbers passenger in the adjacent gate
  • me first, then you throw me the baby. Result: Child Services called
  • me go through, leave the luggage behind. Result: bomb squad called because of a suspicious package

I had almost two hours to make my connection so I simply bought a snack and watched the chaos for about fifteen minutes. I kept expecting some French Canadian guy to walk up to these poor people and tap them on the shoulder and point towards some hidden cameraman who’s been filming the whole thing.

It never came to pass.

2 Responses to “Day 52 of 98 – A Tale of Two Cities: The Underground Underground”

  1. Julchen November 10, 2011 at 12:45 #

    “So this one bulky baggage gate is not working and there are passengers who are late to catch their trains. ”

    –> That system makes it hard to transport complete toilet kits… 😉

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