On a recent weekday evening, returning to Hoboken from a nice visit with my grandmother in Fort Lee, I suffered a humiliating experience on the Light Rail. As I disembarked the train at the Hoboken station, a transit cop on the platform held up his hand and hollered: "Let me see your ticket!" with a shrill, accusatory tone of voice. It felt like showdown at the OK Corral.
Because I forgot to validate my ticket, a simple mistake that's easy to make, I was hit with a 74 dollar fine. A bit excessive, don't you think, considering that I did indeed purchase a ticket, but simply forgot to insert it in the "validator" machine: a maneuver that stamps the date onto the ticket. Then I got to thinking. Hmmmm, why is it that the Light Rail - a supposed advancement in our public transportation system - is the only mode of transit where you need to execute two separate actions before boarding? When you ride the bus, subway, Path Train, or Ferry, it's all very simple: buy a ticket and you're on.
So I called New Jersey Transit, and inquired as to why boarding a Light Rail requires this more complex, two-tiered process. His response was that people often buy multiple tickets in advance, and validate them one at a time as they use the train. After pondering this explanation for a while, I came up with a better idea. Why not simply have the original machine, where you buy your ticket, stamp it with the date as well; while offering an option to purchase weekly or monthly tickets, also pre-stamped with the date? This would be similar to the monthly passes NJ Transit already uses on their busses, or the multi-dollar metro cards you can easily buy for the NYC subway.
I assume that, technologically speaking, using the same machine that prints the ticket to also stamp it with the date would be relatively simple. Considering the fact that we can put a man on the moon, this ought to be a cinch. And think of all the money it would save, on unnecessary validator machines, paying transit cops to hunt down "validator criminals," and the needless fines people pay for making a simple mistake.
The Light Rail is a remarkable innovation - clean, quiet, non-polluting - and usually a joy to ride. What detracts from the riding experience is the foul way the transit police approach their job of checking tickets: in an arrogant, gestapo-like manner. They make you feel guilty just for riding the train. By eliminating the unnecessary validator requirement, this will reduce the chance of an ordinary citizen making an innocent mistake that turns a lovely train ride into a trip back to Soviet Russia.
The Department of the NJ Public Advocate, an office newly-minted by Governor Corzine, ought to investigate whether these validator machines are really needed.
If you've suffered a similar degrading (and expensive) experience on the Light Rail, and would like to add your name to a petition for the Governor to look into this matter, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your time.