"Well, because the slightly absurd idea that it’s bad to punish people for violating rules has been bouncing around progressive circles for the past decade and was supercharged by George Floyd’s death."

These progressives would be horrified if their own children didn't obey rules in schools. I think we have a little 'soft bigotry of low expectations' going on here.

Expand full comment

I think this is my first time wading into the comments section on any piece of writing in the last 10 years, but I finally have a boring point that I disagree with Matt about.

I live in Berlin, Germany, where we objectively have a very good metro system, but we have a very large percentage of people who ride without a ticket (including myself past a certain hour at night, when I know I can get away with it) because we have a proof-of-payment system.

All of the policy nerd friends I have in Berlin pine for the BVG (the local metro authorities) to install turnstiles in U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, and I agree with them. We want this because:

- Because it's so easy to evade fares currently, we suspect a proof-of-payment system would lead to increased revenue (and therefore improved service).

- There are many homeless individuals who (understandably) sleep on the platforms during the colder parts of the year. Less understandably, many of these individuals also do intravenous drugs on the platforms, accost passengers, and occasionally commit other crimes, which make it an extremely unpleasant riding experience in certain parts of the city and at night.

- The current fare checkers are mostly contractors with poor training who not infrequently use discriminatory judgement when it comes to enforcement. Even as someone living in a quite wealthy area of the city, I have personally seen fare checkers drag riders of color off of trains and physically assault them. It is shocking and disturbing to witness — and the idea of these kind of acts being filmed in American and posted all over social media makes me very worried about the backlash.

I completely agree with your assessment that metro systems should better enforce purchasing fares, but I strongly disagree about moving towards a proof-of-payment system.

Expand full comment

Yes, in fact, we should bring back accountability into the culture. Things we should enforce with much bigger fines, and if violations are repeated enough, incarceration:

- fare evasion

- reckless driving

- road rage

- tax evasion

- littering

I picked a set of things on purpose that are pretty equal opportunity across race and even gender lines.

Society has rules. Those rules should be enforced. Not sure why the concept need be controversial

Expand full comment

I want to superlike(tm) this post. It’s astonishing to me that so many self-proclaimed urbanists advocate for free fares (and various types of non-enforcement). As I’ve described in various comment threads, I love city living, but there’s a point of chaos beyond which even I will decide to leave. If I had kids I’d probably be gone. If you want to set cities back to a 1970s situation, this is the best strategy. There should be rules, they should apply to everyone, and they should be enforced.

In NYC the total lack of traffic enforcement, public drug use (not talking about smoking weed, which is legal, but I don’t love that you can get a contact high just by being outside), large population of aggressive homeless people, and general trashiness is really discouraging. I would feel somewhat less bad about it if I had any confidence in the local government, but I have none.

I’m a city planner but I sidled into the profession and did my master’s program less than a decade ago. I was shocked even then at the degree to which my much younger classmates romanticized the “gritty and authentic” city of the 70s. Unlike them, I was alive then, and many of my friends’ parents wouldn’t set foot in Detroit. There are worse things for cities than chain stores, clean streets, and uncool tourists.

Expand full comment

I've been transit-dependent (albeit with the disposable income and flexibility to avoid it in certain circumstances) for about 15 years in a medium-sized Midwestern city (Minneapolis) with a reasonably useful transit system. This is really one of those situations where "what is going on out there" wildly diverges from what people on the computer think is going on. I continued taking transit occasionally throughout the pandemic, but went back to (night) school this fall, taking the train back from St. Paul at night, and there's pretty regularly some kind of scene*.

The situation on the trains started to deteriorate, pre-pandemic, when the usual suspects (Twitter users with cartoon avatars) started complaining about fare enforcement on the trains maybe six or seven years ago? People did not smoke crack on the trains in the middle of the day ten years ago. People are currently smoking crack in the middle of the day on the trains.

This isn't rocket science. We don't need to hire teams of consultants with master's degrees to get to the bottom of why people are smoking on the trains. People are behaving antisocially on the train because there are no consequences for behaving antisocially on the train. Tossing the people who aren't paying fares off of the trains would be a very straightforward way of improving conditions on the trains and making them usable. The trend in some circles towards ruining the few usable, high-quality public services we have in this country in order to make a point about the lack of other, different public services does not make the case activists think it does.


*Why don't I just ignore it? It's not bothering me personally, is it? Putting aside the easy joke that the same people who were losing their minds about microaggressions six years ago are now asking people to ignore considerably more macro aggressions, it's repeatedly been the case that when someone is blasted and laying on the floor yelling obscenities at people, someone less enlightened than me (i.e. also blasted) takes matters into their own hands and escalates the situation into a fight.

Expand full comment

> recent fad against enforcement of any kind of rules

I believe this is a result of a substantial antiestablishment, possibly even antisocial, mindset among some of the loudest “leftish” figures. For a particularly disgusting recent example that Yglesias highlighted see, https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1587078093147185159

I’d normally quote the text here so people don’t need to visit the tweet, but it’s too vile.

Note it’s a Chapo so they’re not representative of any actual professional activists.

Yet I think it is just an extreme example of the mindset. The Chapos and similar personalities popularized the “dirtbag left” worldview. This attracted a lot of people with this personality disposition to the left.

And much of this vision gets sanewashed into a social justice message where the enforcement of any rules is seen as having a negative impact on marginalized groups. But I believe antiestablishment is the starting point, not any sort of rational analysis of policies.

Expand full comment
Nov 2, 2022·edited Nov 2, 2022

Only skimmed this because I find it absurd that a whole piece must be written to justify what I consider a total non brainer. I do have an observation though: ignoring fare skipping in the system as it is now is essentially a “might makes right” mentality. It privileges the physical superiority of fit able bodied young people who can jump over the turnslides or what have you, at the expense of the elderly , disabled etc who need the public transit system most , must pay and thus pick up the bill and pay more as fares inevitably rise. This is very similar to the idea of non enforcement at the border, which privileges the same kinds of people , and means e.g. Mexicans waiting to come legally based on sponsorship now have a waiting list of about 20 years- essentially they are being shoved to the back of the line by brute force. I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the values of the left than supporting this kind of raw unfairness.

Expand full comment

As a DC resident I am 100% behind this sentiment. Every time is see someone jump the turnstile I feel a bit of resentment. I don't think we should get rid of the turnstiles though and switch to a pure random inspection bit. A hybrid approach is better.

Expand full comment

I want to love anything with the intensity and purity with which Matt loves metro transit systems.

Expand full comment

Laws and rules are meaningless without enforcement. Laws and rules with selective enforcement invite corruption. When people don't respect laws and rules, or decide they should decide for themselves whether or not to comply without any consequence, society breaks down.

Last night I took BART for the first time in a while. Despite numerous signs telling people not to bring bicycles on the escalators (you should use the elevator), two young men dragged their bikes up the escalator.

Exiting, a young man in front of me vaulted over the fare gate rather than pay. He did this 5 feet away from not one but TWO station agents, one of whom was outside the booth. Neither of them batted an eye or otherwise acknowledged the fare evader.

It made me wonder what we pay those two people for, why I bother to pay for BART, and why we have rules or laws at all anymore.

Transit systems cannot and should not be free. "What is free has no value". And "free" just means everyone else is paying for it.

Expand full comment

I've been fare-checked in Europe a few times -- I think Paris and Prague -- and recall the checkers being armed. As much as I like the idea of non-armed civilian enforcement, we are sadly a gun society with more guns than people.

Expand full comment

I support lax enforcement of some minor offenses, and reduced sentences overall, but agree there are minor offenses that should be targeted. They do not have to always be *criminal* -- they can be civil offenses or just a good talking to or talking to parents/family. Two categories, arguably versions of one, that I came up with where there should be some enforcement are offenses that make others:

1. feel like chumps

2. feel bad about their safety/surroundings

Fare evaders are in #1 and to a lesser extent #2: people see fare evaders and feel like chumps for paying. Public urination is #2, or blatant littering. The littering is the kind of thing that also leads to more of the same -- this is the *real* broken windows metaphor.

I would suggest that drinking a beer after dark in a public park (as Matt says he was caught doing and had to go to court for) would not be included and is more of an offense where you dump the beer and get a talking-to and if young enough, the parents are notified. Ignore selling loosies, or subtly drinking from a paper bag (see the great speech in Season 3 of The Wire about this), or other out-of-view minor offenses.

Expand full comment

It's been really bananas in DC watching fare evasion go from being an occasional thing concentrated among young men to a common event among people of all genders and ages and (I'm guessing) employment statuses. Also, it is going to be Metro Police enforcing this, at least to start with, and that seems like a good thing -- one can think that other metro workers should be willing to put themselves in potentially violent confrontations, or not, but many of them simply are not going to, and I do not think WMATA is going to make them.

Expand full comment

I have always felt one should pay something - even nomimal - to remind yourself "this service has value" And yes I want to pay becayse I want *more* service - like a DC metro that runs more than once every 30 minutes (or whatever the very slow train arriving service is but it is too damned long)

The real culprit is Slow Boring - they have failed to do a leveraged buyout of a mass transit system and fix it up.

Expand full comment

How do you pay to take the train in DC? In Stockholm, I just tap my credit card against the panel. It’s all one zone. Paying is far easier than cheating.

If I had to navigate some gross looking machine with a confusing ux (after standing in line to use it) like I did in Vancouver many years ago, I would take cabs a lot more often.

Making it seamless and easy to do the right thing is an under-rated tool for achieving high rates of compliance.

Expand full comment

The core question is how many man-years of incarceration is a given increase in “order” worth. Commenters rarely confront that question. Is avoiding one murder worth 50 additional years of prison? 100? 500? How many years of human caging would you tolerate to reduce retail theft by $100,000?

Smart people often use their intelligence to evade the fact that incarceration is awful. Saying “enforcing rules is good” is an evasion. It implies that the consequences visited upon the rule breaker somehow don’t matter because rules are good and the criminal “deserves it.” This is basically magical thinking. No deontological moral theory will tell you whether the penalty for fare evasion should be jail or community service. Sensible thinking means weighing consequences.

No matter how vile the criminal act, incarceration degrades inmate and jailer alike. Prison guards have low life expectancies, sky high morbidity rates and staggering levels of stress. Jails and prisons are factories of human misery, and I want fewer of them.

So, gentle reader tell me this. How many years of prison time for illegal gun possession would you tolerate to prevent one murder? How many years to collect an extra $100,000 in fares?

Expand full comment