Saturday, January 15, 2005

I am still a fare evader! Dammit! On my way to Nerdy Blog Night last night, I was thinking idly, "Ha, how funny would it be if I got busted by Met inspectors right now?"

Unfortunately, I got busted by Met inspectors.

What makes me mad is that I squandered my opportunity to say my triumphant line, "Because I'm a fare evader" when asked why I don't have a ticket. You see, I thought I did have a ticket. I bought one on New Year's Eve before discovering public transport was free that night. But when I tried to produce this ticket, I couldn't find it anywhere, and it occurred to me that, duh, it was in my other bag. Crap!

So I was totally reduced to scrounging through my bag looking for this ticket while the Met inspectors and the other passengers all stared at me, and being made to feel humiliated and disempowered, when instead I could have exulted in the role of "fare evader" and thus handled the incident with agency and dignity.

You know, what I really can't stand about Met inspectors is their inability to be straight with you. They ask you these rhetorical questions, the purpose of which is to make you incriminate yourself. Like, they'll say "Did you validate that ticket when you boarded the tram?" when it's obvious to everyone that the ticket has not been validated. Providing evidence to be used against you if the matter should come to court is only the secondary purpose of this exchange. The primary purpose is to interpellate you as a criminal subject; to make you name yourself as a wrong-doer. I like to circumvent this despicable practice by naming myself as a fare evader.

And though both you and they know a fine is winging your way as soon as they ask for your name and address, they deflect questions like "So, am I going to get fined?" with bullshit about "reporting the incident", when they might as well just swipe your ATM card then and there. Disguising the economic nature of the exchange with bureaucratic rhetoric is intended to make you feel both falsely hopeful and powerless: hopeful because your fate 'may' be decided by someone else in an office somewhere; powerless because this process will take place entirely independent to you.

Now I tried to play their game once, before I became a hardline fare evader. You see, the previous night I'd had my handbag on the front seat of my car and braked suddenly, spilling its contents over the floor. I picked them up in the dark, and then next day when the Met inspector asked for my ticket, I couldn't find it anywhere and was reduced to humiliating bag-searching. When I got home, I found the ticket on the floor of my car.

I was so mad that I went to the police station and did a statutory declaration explaining all this, and sent it off to the Met enclosing a photocopy of my ticket. It was a monthly ticket that expired in two weeks or so, so it's hardly as though I could have bought it after the incident.

But of course, this is an entirely false bureaucracy. They are only interested in your money; and they make the rules to suit themselves. You know how trams "running on time" is defined as "one minute early and five minutes late"? Pretty shonky when some trams are scheduled four minutes apart. And they're even allowed to fail to meet these self-serving guidelines 20% of the time before you're entitled to compensation. And then only people with monthly and yearly tickets are entitled to compensation. Kinda reminds me of the Howard government's definition of "employed": "working one hour a week".

So pretty much, my efforts to prove my good intentions were completely irrelevant. I had to pay the fine anyway that time. This is because the infinite variations and circumstances of everyday life have as little to do with the revenue-raising imperative of the Melbourne transit system as the ethical, communal responsibilities implied by the term "public transport". The pseudo-privatisation of public transport has completely muddied these waters, because it legitimises the pursuit of revenue while cloaking it in customer-service rhetoric. Meanwhile, Melburnians' right to an affordable means of transport that respects their citizenship and common dignity get completely overrun.

Kinda reminds me of the un-mutual nature of the Howard government's "mutual obligation". Let me just paste in a paragraph from my thesis here:
Under government and media scrutiny, the neo-liberal state turns all social transactions into capitalist systems of exchange. The Howard government has done its best to stamp out trade unionism and its troublesome collective bargaining; and has introduced the notion of ‘mutual obligation’ into the public sphere. As Ghassan Hage argues, neo-liberal mutual obligation is not mutual at all. The state becomes a mere service provider; but its services require ethical reciprocation. While it gives its citizens material benefits, “that is enough to ask us to give back not only equally quantifiable labour and productivity but also faithfulness and gratitude” (Hage, “Ethics” 34). The role of the [fare evasion] discourse in this context is to transform neo-liberal capitalist exchanges into such moral and ethical exchanges. The figure of the [fare evader] becomes twofold, because it refuses both the [economic] and the ethical obligations that the neo-liberal state foists upon its citizens.
And do you know what else? They were in a big intimidating gang, as usual, and one chick tried to escape them by getting off the tram. I distinctly heard one Met inspector say, "Let's get her!"
I turned to the one who was busting me and said disgustedly, "Did I just hear someone say 'Let's get her!'?"
His female companion said, "No, they said 'Let's get off'."
Yeah, whatever. "Well, I wouldn't like to think you guys were hunting people down," I said, very deliberately.

As long-time readers of this blog would know, I was busted for fare evasion on September 6, and I thought I was pretty damn clever at the time because I hadn't got round to putting my change of address label on my driver's license, so the notice would've been sent to my old address. The manslave assured me that if their infringement notices get returned to sender enough times, they write the fine off, but then I was informed last night that instead of this, it just goes to a higher and higher authority, with more costs being added every time. So now, not only do they have my current address so they can sting me for that, but I get fined more because it's a second offence.

I am really going to cry when the bill comes in the midst of my Comedy Festival poverty, but no way am I going to submit to their stupid regime of buying tickets on public transport. I am a fare evader - and proud of it!

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