Yesterday, when I was coming back home from Switzerland, I witnessed something at Schiphol airport. Four NS conductors were fining a young Asian girl. Well, in fact, they were fining more people, but her case took my attention.
First, the facts. It seems that she was traveling with an OV-Chipkaart, a card you can use to travel with tram,metro, bus and train all over the country. It is very similar to the Oyster card, used in London for public transport, but here also for the train. She checked the card in, but she had not enough money on it. You need at least 20€, so if you don’t check out, this amount will be charged instead of the normal fare. Because she had not enough money, her ticket was not correctly validated, and the NS conductors “had to” fine her with 38.50€ plus the fare.
Until now, I’ve never used this OV-Chipkaart. For tram and bus, I still pay with a strippenkaart. You have 15 or 45 strippen on it, and you mechanically stamp date, time and zone on one of them, using as many strippen as zones you travel plus one. I think the OV card it’s a brilliant idea to travel with metro, bus and tram, because you pay for what you really travel and it is easier to carry, but for the train, I prefer a normal printed ticket. It is very easy to forget to check out if you are in a rush, and 20€ is quite a lot considering an average of 5€ per train fare. In addition, electronic systems can fail.
Now, my opinion about the facts. I think that people shouldn’t be fined if they make an involuntary mistake, but only if they act with malice. Fine of 50% should be more than enough in those cases. An amount of 38.50€ may represent a dinner for some people, but for others can be a lot, and if you don’t “break the rules” on purpose, if can be very frustrating. That girl was not at all amused, and it took her a long time to pay and continue her trip. I think it was unfair, but I was unable to do anything to help her. Maybe I should have stepped in and try to persuade the NS guys to pardon her and forget about the fine, but at that moment it seemed quite impossible to me. Now it seems like I lost an opportunity to help others. I always say that “changing the world” is possible if we want to, and then I don’t act when I should… 😦
I hope that writing about this may help a little bit to make people more “compassionate”.