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Fare Game

December 21, 1986|DANIEL BERN | Daniel Bern is a Los Angeles musician and writer who often comes downtown by car.

The Southern California Rapid Transit District has decided to use barrier-free ticketing, the so-called honor system, for the first leg of Metro Rail. Some of us who've been faithful supporters of rapid transit are beginning to wonder. Where is SCRTD coming from? South Carolina?

Close. It turns out that the planners did their research on barrier-free transportation systems in such cities as Buffalo, Edmonton and Vancouver, and in Europe. The RTD concluded that, compared with the heavy gates, encoded tickets and continual maintenance of traditional stations, a barrier-free system would save $6 million in initial costs and another half-million annually.

Even with the benefits, though, it's hard to make sense of the RTD's decision. The barrier-free system may work fine in Europe and Canada where the archaic notions of "civilization" and "honor" are still esteemed. But our forefathers came to this country precisely to escape from "civilization," and when they got to the Wild West, they redefined "honor." In modern American society, "honor" ranks right up there with the Divine Right of Kings. Where is there room for honor when we've evolved to the stage where you must produce three witnesses to your birth in order to cash a check?

Our nation's great achievement is our lack of faith: We leave nothing to chance. Run a stop sign, and the police have a computer printout of your life history before you can say, "What'd I do?" Your friendly service-station owner will give you his definition of honor: "Please pay before pumping." It's difficult to believe that the RTD would want to slow the march of progress, but after this decision becomes reality, expect jousting on the Metro Rail platforms.

Still, the honor system may be attractive to commuters. Already, the drooling has begun. "The others can pay," go the whispers, "not me." However, when examined more carefully, the "honor system" is that in name only. It's not unlike highway speed limits--there's no gadget in your car to keep you under 55 m.p.h.; you're on your "honor" to stay within the posted limit. Should you go back on your word, you will soon be acquainted with citations, traffic school, insurance rate hikes, maybe even jail. Like the highway patrol, Metro Rail will have its inspectors.

The proposed fine for a less-than-honorable rider will be 20 times the amount of the fare ticket. That's for the first offense. We shudder to think what the RTD might dream up for repeat violators. Can you imagine the horrors of "Metro Rail Rider School?" Or being sentenced to ride only during rush hour? More serious ticket cheats might find their mugs posted on station walls--"Have You Seen This Commuter . . . ?

No, the RTD had better reconsider the honor system. Drug tests for all passengers is more the way to go. Metal detectors, perhaps, and possibly some type of genetic screening as well. The people of Los Angeles deserve nothing less than the most up-to-the-minute rail transit system in the world.

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