A failure of society

Monday I was trapped on a bus for a good 15 minutes. I think the story was fairly simple: Some little old lady didn’t pay her fare. The bus stopped at the Bellevue Highway station, a little bus stop on the highway, about a city block’s walk from a park+ride. A bunch of people got on, and slipping between people was this little old chinese lady. Now, I’m fairly certain she didn’t pay the fare: I was somewhat looking up, and I did see her slip past. I don’t think she even noticed the fare collector, though.

She wanders to the back of the bus, everyone sits down or finds a handhold, and prepares to move. The bus driver shuts the doors. And doesn’t move. Just sits there. After a little bit, people started to notice that we weren’t moving, but nobody did anything (Including I). Finally, the driver got out of the bus, and a police officer got on. He walked back, talked briefly to the woman, and then escorted her off the bus.

Now, all in all, this was not a horrible result. No violence, no angry yelling. But, at the same time, there was no human interaction. There was only a sort of cold machine-logic to it. The busdriver didn’t even attempt to explain the issue to either the cause or any of the rest of the passengers. And, probably, he couldn’t, by law or union rules.

Now think of it this way: This bus was filled with business commuters. I was the least dressed person on the bus, and was wearing a nice leather jacket and a collared shirt. Most everyone else was in a business suit. Further, it was a double-long bus. Every seat was filled, and there were multiple people standing.  Every one of these people was 15 minutes later to work that morning. Over a $2.25 bus fare, and probably a misunderstanding of one at that! Society has built safety buffers so that there are not “incidents”, but at the cost of far more than the incidents could ever be. If this were downtown LA, maybe the caution would be warranted. But this was Bellevue, Washington, and the “criminal” was a little old asian lady to boot.

A very wise webcomic author once described a risk/reward chart for crime: The amount you gain from the crime, the chance of succeeding, the fines/jail time if you get caught. It’s important to balance it so that the risk*failure chance is slightly greater than the gain*chance of not getting caught. The chance for not getting caught sneaking onto the bus is relatively high, but the gain is so low it’s barely worth bothering with.

There are two courses of action that are fairly obvious, and produce better results: Either A) The driver went on with the trip, calling a metrocop to meet us at the next station or b) The driver said something, casing her to either Pay the Fare, get off, or worst case, I woulda just paid it for her! It’s $2.25. It’s simply not worth the bother.

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