By James Bird
‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, goes the saying: The ‘validate-as-you-go’ system introduced in 2014 by Tper, has not only not impacted on fare dodging, it has demolished one of the very few conveniences for the paying passenger.
Under the old system, you validated your ticket one time only, and then kept it safely unless requested to show it to an official ticket inspector. The queue boarding the bus was generally fluid, even at peak times; the monthly/annual ticket holders made their way quickly to the empty spaces. Indeed, a real benefit of paying in advance for monthly/annual ticket holders was that you had the opportunity to immediately grab an empty seat.
So what changed?
There being no space to extract additional revenue from a passenger travelling on a valid ticket, a new system was phased in whereby the passenger must validate every single bus journey – whatever the type of ticket.
That means if you take three buses to get from a back street in Borgo Panigale to the far side of San Lazzaro, you have to validate three times, one for each bus. If you fail to so, the sanction is six Euros. This also applies to single tickets and city passes. A lot of people don’t know that. Curiously, the information is not stated on the tickets nor on the regulations displayed on the buses.
“If everyone has to stamp their ticket, then fare evasion will be eradicated”, Tper declared in press releases at the time.
Er, perhaps in an ideal world. The only way to do this is by having more ticket inspectors.
In 2016, Tper has trumpeted increased tickets sales as well as a significant intensification of ticket inspectors on buses.
As it happens, TPER ticket inspection work is outsourced to the Modena based company Holacheck Srl. Tper pays Holacheck a fixed sum plus a variable extra fee calculated on the amount of fines paid on board or within 60 days of the fine emission.
In 2014 the Corriere di Bologna reported that similar payment terms are imposed by Holacheck on its inspectors. The variable extra fee is dependent on fines actually paid (not merely issued).
Let’s face it, fare dodgers with no documents is, for the inspector, generally a lost cause. The Corriere di Bologna previously reported that economic incentives to inspectors were as little as 10 cents per fine paid, or slightly higher if the fine is paid on the spot. Holacheck’s website advertises inspector positions on temporary contracts, which demonstrates the esteem it has for its foot soldiers.
So what’s the problem with validate-as-you-go?
You only need to catch a bus in Bologna to see that the current system has created a bottleneck of passengers constantly delving into handbags, manbags and pockets for tickets to validate. Each person must stop and validate; bear in mind that it can take three of four swipes over the validation device to ‘read’ the ticket.
All this brouhaha creates queues of boarding passengers, which flow back from the validation machines out of the front and rear entrance doors like raw meat being stuffed into a grinder. Don’t mention the dismayed knot of unsuccessful travellers left on the pavement as the bus slaps its doors shut and rattles off. Being jammed in the closing doors has become a common travel hazard.
But Tper has to make money to cover costs and improvements…
Of course it does. But it is not just a money-making machine. Tper’s two biggest shareholders are Emilia Romagna Region (46.13%) and Bologna Council (30.11%) both committed to reducing traffic congestion and, fundamentally, smog caused by engine emissions in accordance with EU law. The success of the public bus service directly impacts on our health: People using buses are not using cars.
If Emilia Romagna Region and Bologna Council are serious in tackling the emissions time-bomb, then they must recognize that systems based on a lazy premise of easy revenue procurement is alienating core clients. Many Bolognese tell me they are shifting back to cars and scooters.