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As I sit here on the train typing out an article, three fare inspectors walked onto the train and asked me to show my ticket. It’s about 8 o’clock at night, and there’s only 10 people on the whole train. The train itself is only about 2-3 feet by 30-40 feet, consisting of approximately 65 seats. As I pulled out my ticket to show the fare inspector, I couldn’t help but think back to my first few months in San Jose.
At that time, there were no fare inspectors on the trains at all. I’d gone to and from work every day for two months without seeing a single person checking my ticket. I’d found it very odd at the time, and had stopped buying a ticket each time as I felt the cost of a ticket outweighs the expected value of getting a citation ($200ish x almost no chance). What’s the point of getting a ticket if there’s no one to check it?
Apparently, I was not the only one to have thought of this “brilliant” idea! Before long, I could hear whispers on the trains of people saying how their ticket is never checked, and musing why they should pay for the ride. Hey, I guess nobody likes paying for things if they don’t have to!
Then, one day, the fare inspection started. I’d been sitting on the train, and a fare inspector wearing a blue jacket stepped on board. “Tickets and passes everyone”, I heard him say. Coincidentally, the train stopped at the next stop before the fare inspector got to me. I made a mental note to buy a ticket from now on (incidentally, I did get a citation eventually, but that was because my monthly pass expired and I forgot to renew it!).
Over the next few months, I saw a huge number of people getting citations. Some of the excuses were pretty funny.
“I didn’t know we needed a ticket!”
“I um… can’t find it! But I bought one! I swear!”
*Holds up something that’s obviously not a ticket “Here you go sir!”
Even so, I didn’t see a fare inspector on every train. “That’s really smart”, I’d thought. Since the citation is so much greater than the ticket price, there’s no reason to check the ticket all of the time. They only need to check a person 1 in 114 times (200/1.75) in order to break even on a person that never buys a ticket. Besides, not checking so much probably encourages people to not buy tickets, hence increasing the number of citations (and profits) for the government.
This held true for about 6 months – 1 year, but the number of fare inspectors have been increasing recently. Perhaps some local government official noticed that the trains are making more money off of citations than tickets and increased the number of fare inspectors to get more citations. Of course, there are much less people now who forget to buy a ticket, so it doesn’t quite work that way!
This is the first time I have seen 3 fare inspectors on the same train near the night time!
This situation reminded me of how people can not pay attention to things and then overreact, where a more constant dedicated attention would be of greater benefit. It’s like the person who studies a little bit every day in college vs. the person who crams everything in at the end.
Whether it’s exercise or business, doing a little bit every day can bring much greater returns than bursts of work. It’s like having one inspector every few days vs. 3 fare inspectors sometimes and 0 fare inspectors at other times. The first option probably requires less effort – and yields greater rewards!
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