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Navigating the Real World

November 01, 1995

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

Today's question: "A recent report estimated $2.2 million is lost annually on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses because of passengers boarding without paying the fare. The scofflaw tactics include jamming the fare box, showing counterfeit passes, intimidating drivers or slipping through the back door. "If bus drivers aren't making them pay, that's wonderful," said one social activist who sided with poor riders and said the losses were minuscule compared to cost overruns in the rail system. Is extensive activity of this type ethically defensible?"

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The Rev. Warner R. Traynham

Rector, St. John's Episcopal Church, Los Angeles.

"My experience is that the real majority of people--poor or middle class--are basically honest. The methods cited reflect deliberate and calculated dishonesty. That is never ethically defensible. If it costs $1.35 to ride the bus, that is what it costs. There will always be people who sometimes don't have the fare. But no society can countenance theft, which is what this is, and hold together. The presumption of honesty makes it possible for thieves to succeed, but it is also essential to the maintenance of society."

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R. Patricia Walsh

Professor of Psychology, Loyola Marymount University.

"It does seem unjust to spend millions on trains that are little used by the middle class while the poor struggle to find money for any means of transportation. However, scofflaw tactics are used by people who may or may not be poor. Moreover, these tactics obviously hurt the poor the most because the resulting increases in fares are a larger burden for them than for the middle class. It seems that a just solution would be to improve official mechanisms to aid the poor with subsidized bus fares for all of their transportation needs rather than reward those who violate the law."

The Rev. Ignacio Castuera

Pastor, Hollywood United Methodist Church

"The ethical question that needs to be answered in this case is, 'Who gets hurt by these actions?' The answer is not as obvious as some defenders of the scofflaw activities think. The MTA seems to be the real loser, but the reality is that in our economy large agencies and corporations pass on losses to the consumer. In this case, and in many similar ones, all of society loses, but the most directly hurt are those who depend on the MTA for transportation to school, work, family activities and even emergencies. Scofflaw actions are understandable in a shrinking economy, but they must not be condoned and certainly not praised."

Compiled by JOHN DART, Times staff writer

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