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Favouring fare discretion over zero-tolerance

The annual round of budget head-cracking at city hall and the latesttales of waste and mismanagement from Ottawa auditor general AlainLalonde may have put some of us in a penny-pinching frame of mind.

The annual round of budget head-cracking at city hall and the latest tales of waste and mismanagement from Ottawa auditor general Alain Lalonde may have put some of us in a penny-pinching frame of mind.

Financially troubled OC Transpo regularly talks about getting tough on fare evasion, which it claims costs $3.7 million a year.

I’ve seen two incidents in recent weeks in which a passenger didn’t pay the full fare. A young guy, maybe 13 or 14, boards with only one ticket instead of the required two. He’s subjected to a short lecture by the driver and let on. A woman in her 30s gets on and explains she only has a dollar in change, but really needs to get downtown. The driver waves her on, insists she take a transfer, and doesn’t even collect the buck. She’s clearly a little embarrassed as she gets on and avoids eye contact with other passengers.

In both cases, the rules were bent and OC Transpo didn’t get paid the full freight, and what of it?

I wouldn’t want to see drivers lose their discretion to offer these small, vital acts of kindness in the name of some zero-tolerance crackdown on fare cheats.

Neither of these passengers struck me as hardened criminals or habitual freeloaders. They were people of modest means who needed to get somewhere, and recognized as such by the drivers.

Courtesy is, as the ads on the bus say, “a two-way street,” and it’s contagious. The other passengers didn’t react with any visible resentment that they had paid the full fare while these new arrivals had not. There were even some welcoming smiles on offer.

There’s a difference between courtesy, like spotting some kid a bus ticket, and larceny. A little goodwill goes a long way.

 
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