Let’s clear up one thing first: I am the ultimate law-abider. You know, the kid who never used the markers if the teacher said not to even though her seatmate totally did use the markers and get away with it. The teenager who never smoked or shoplifted. I am a rule-follower. Mostly because I believe in rules that are logical and clearly there for the protection of society…and partly because it seems to be in my nature, which contains a heavy dose of Fear of Confrontation.
But every now and then, even I, the ultimately compliant citizen, will bend the rules just slightly. In the past this has generally meant drinking when I wasn’t quite 21 yet (hey, I grew up on the Canadian border, where 18 worked just fine, thank you), and the occasional speeding ticket. But lately I’ve taken to a new method of civil disobedience.
I’ve been riding on the Light Rail at the discount fare. Yeah. For real.
The Light Rail is the commuter train in the Denver area. I don’t live in Denver, and I try to take the Light Rail into the city whenever I can. You know—save the environment. Not to mention the avoidance of parking fees and difficulties. But here’s the thing about the Light Rail. It’s four dollars a ride. ONE WAY. As in almost twice the price of the subway in New York City.
Listen, I’m not made of money here. And I really do try to support public transportation whenever possible, but FOUR DOLLARS A RIDE? It’s highway robbery.
Plus, I still have my student ID from grad school, which I’ll occasionally use to grab cheaper movie tickets or clothing discounts. So, I figured, why not do the same with the Light Rail?
Since it opened almost a year ago, I’ve been unapologetically buying the discount ticket to ride the Light Rail. And until Friday, the dudes who check the tickets really didn’t seem to care. One guy, ONCE, mentioned that I should start buying the full-fare ticket, because my age actually made me inelilibigle for the discount. Other than that? No one cared. I had a ticket, I wasn’t freeloading, and I’m quiet on a train. Everyone’s happy, you know?
So. There I am, listening to Pandora, minding my business on the way to a Very Important Meeting of some kind. Fare Checking Dude stops by, and I’m all yup, got my ticket right here, guy.
Only he gives me the stink eye and asks me for my discount ID.
Which is so no big deal, because I carry my exhausted (and expired) grad school ID with me at all times. So I flash that at him.
And he starts lecturing me.
I figure he’ll check the ID, confirm that I am the person on the grad school ID, ask me to get off the train at the next stop and buy the correct fare, and then go about his business. Only NO. He takes my poor ID away and moves down the crowded train car.
At which point I start to realize I am actually in Some Kind of Trouble here.
“Um,” I call out, “I have the extra two bucks. Sorry I bought the wrong ticket. I can just, you know, give you the two bucks.”
The train stops, people get off, and he comes back over. “Don’t do this again, ma’am. Next time it will be a fine of $106.” And then he holds up the little electronic thing he carries around and it FLASHES A SMALL LIGHT IN MY FACE.
“Um, excuse me. Did you just take my picture? Did you just take my picture?” Never mind that I’m having a pretty solid hair day, here—when did this become legal? When did it become legal—never mind polite—to give the mainly-law-abiding citizen no notice whatsoever before you basically subject her to a mugshot?
“I did. Here’s you’re warning. Remember to buy the correct fare from now on.” He hands me a ticket and hops off the train. Probably avoiding the scene that I was definitely about to start, if I could manage to quiet my Inner Person Who Hates Confrontation long enough to do so.
And there I was: me and my headphones, along with a ticket that said NO PROOF OF FARE.
Okay, so several things are bothering me about this encounter. One, the general lack of compassion and fairness of this guy. He could have let me hop off the train and buy a new ticket. He could have warned me that he was about to take my photo and explained why. (Which I still do not know, by the way.) Instead, he was a general a-hole about the whole thing. And I get that Light Rail Cop is probably not the most enjoyable job on planet Earth. But really? Is this how we’re encouraging people in Denver to use public transit these days? Please excuse me while I buy another vehicle.
Then there’s the fact that my ticket says NO PROOF OF FARE. For some bizarre reason, this is greatly bothering the Law Abider within me. Dude, I totally had a fare. It was the wrong fare—but it was a fare.
But what is possibly bothering me most of all is that I seriously don’t know that I can continue to ride the Light Rail after this encounter. Not just because this officer was a total dick, but also because $8 a ride is a lot. And CO isn’t great on public transit, so financially I have to support ownership of a car every month. I believe the world and our environment need more public transit, and I want to use public transit whenever it’s truly viable for me to do so—but $8 a ride on top of covering my car repairs and insurance ain’t all that viable. I mean, parking in Denver is less than $8 a day.
The lesson here, kids, is simple: if you’re going to buy the discount fare when you ride the Denver Light Rail, be prepared to possibly have your picture taken with neither your permission nor a smiling face. And if you’d rather not be subjected to a surprise mug shot, plan to spend $8 to go a grand total of nine miles.
Denver, your reputation for being environmentally-friendly? Way to stick a giant hole it in.