The Great Stupid And Seattle Transit

In Michael Crichton’s”The Lost World,” a “Jurassic Park” follow-up not to be confused with the “Jurassic Park” film sequel of the same name and not one of the writer’s best, there is an interesting discussion of how some species of dinosaurs may have caused their own eventual extinction by developing toxic habits, like not caring for their young. It was the first thing I thought of when I read about the ridiculous transit system crisis in Seattle.


It shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose, that the city that encouraged woke support for the destructive George Floyd riots in 2020 has adopted other unethical policies that make the Left’s anointed feel good even though the policies can’t possible work and constitute irresponsible leaps onto ruinous slippery slopes. 

The Seattle light rail public transit system has no turnstiles: passengers are supposed to  buy a ticket or tap their pre-paid card. It’s an honor system, but in woke Seattle, the ideal purpose of government is to for almost everything, so 70%—Seventy per cent!!—of the riders are freeloaders. This means that fares cover just 5% of the system’s operating costs. 40% was the minimum Sound Transit set as a requirement.

All public transit systems lose money (though they are approved after estimates that routinely overstate likely ridership), but they will help us avoid death by climate change, see, so they are essential and wonderful per se. However, if a city just lets riders cheat, such systems cause wider problems in the social contract.

(Do we really have to keep explaining this?)

Seattle’s Sound Transit stopped even minimal enforcement of fare requirements after a study revealed that blacks were disproportionately getting fined. Ah HA! The system was racist then! How far a jump is it to apply the same logic to other laws? It is how San Francisco. ended up legalizing shop-lifting.

I’m sorry: my tone is snarkier than usual this morning. But this is all so infuriating. And unethical. And stupid.At a recent Sound Transit Board meeting, the outgoing CEO said, “Our fare collection system relies overwhelmingly on an honor system and our increasingly acute problem is that our riders aren’t honoring the system.” Next up for Seattle: an “honor system” in grocery stores and gas stations. I wouldn’t bet against it; I bet AOC would favor it, and the NY Communist rep has fans on the King County Council. Honor systems work when the culture values ethics and honor, and, I should add, know what the hell they are. Seattle endorsed chaos and flaunting the law for months to signal its disapproval of a single police officer accidentally killing an over-dosing perp in another state. Ethics? What’s that?

Back to that racist enforcement thingy…There are other transit systems that rely on the honor system, including those in Portland (of course), Denver (woke)  and Dallas (getting woker by the hour). But they all issue serious fines to fare evaders the first time they are caught. This is called “a deterrent,” like the tough penalties for violating the honor codes at the military academies are deterrents.  Honor systems don’t work without enforcement.

Hold on to your heads: Seattle’s system now relies on what they call “fare ambassadors” and there are only a small number of them so free-riders seldom have to deal with them. The estimate is that 2% of all riders encounter the “ambassadors.” They politely ask passengers if they have paid their fares. (This is reminiscent of the pre-9/11 trick questions passengers were asked at airports, like, “Did anyone hand you anything that’s in your luggage?” “Are you a terrorist?” was too direct.) Most have not, and if they say, “yes, I’ve paid,” there is no way to prove otherwise. If they are not willing to lie (though willing to steal rides) and answer, “No, ya got me!,” a fare evader still won’t be removed from the from the train. That would be mean and probably racist. No, fare ambassadors then ask a series of questions starting with a request for identification. Most of the scofflaws refuse to produce valid ID, so they can’t even get an official “warning.” Otherwise, Sound Transit will issue two warnings to a cheater before a fine is issued—the odds of a cheater being caught twice in the 2% the ambassadors question are much worse than the odds of drawing to an inside straight in poker. You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that there is also lax enforcement of the fines when they are issued. Mostly, the “fare ambassadors” collect data on the race and gender of the cheaters, just to make sure its the “right” demographic.

No, I am not making this up.

King County Council member Reagan Dunn has figured it out, telling Fox News,

“What we’re seeing here in Seattle is the systemic decriminalization of everything, all the way from fare box recovery to failure to register as a sex offender, and using the guise of equity and social justice so that there isn’t any enforcement of laws. And what you get is higher crime and more evasion.”

Ya think? But we all know that Seattle’s residents will vote overwhelmingly for Democrats locally and state wide. So will the dinosaurs there, presumably.

Sound Transit Board members Claudia Balducci is more typical of the residents of “The Lost City,” explaining, “People are feeling more welcome on our system and less afraid to use it because there’s less of a fear of fare enforcement.”

Meanwhile, the system has cost over $168 billion. Sound Transit collects money from most taxpayers in Pierce, Snohomish and King counties, and everyone pays an additional 1.4% on their sales tax to fund the light rail.

Is this a great country or what? The Seattle strain of The Great Stupid, which can be counted upon to spread if voters don’t start paying attention, is likely to make the answer in the very near term, “It’s what.”


29 thoughts on “The Great Stupid And Seattle Transit

  1. I’ve no doubt that the Fare Ambassadors have been instructed to avoid asking African-American riders if they have paid their fares. As for asking for valid ID, isn’t that racist?

  2. So if one race disproportionately breaks a law, then that law is racist, and we need to stop enforcing the law or enforce it much less? Are human beings capable of being this stupid?

    • That’s the argument that’s been made for five decades or more to justify doing away with the death penalty. So yeah.

      • It would make much more sense to look at the reason why one race disproportionately does action X. If there is a cultural issue or something going on, that would need to be addressed. We cant just allow lawlessness because we don’t like the outcome of enforcing the law.

  3. Back in probably 2005, I flew to Germany to visit Mrs. OB on assignment there for IBM on a Duetsche Telecom computer security audit. Slightly recovered from my jet lag, I walked toward Frankfurt from one of its suburbs where we were holed up and eventually found myself at a tram stop. There was a machine that appeared to disburse tickets, but I had no idea how to work it. There was no one anywhere around selling tickets, that’s for sure. Zo, as they say in The Fatherland, I hopped onto a tram assuming I could buy a ticket from a conductor or someone at some point. There was no one conducting the tram and I’m not even sure there was a driver. There may have been, but I had hopped on toward the rear. The next stop was evidently a high school. Tons of teenaged kids flooded onto the tram, nearly over filling it. The kids were all wearing hoodies and backpacks. After the doors closed and the tram pulled away, a number of the “students” started asking passengers for proof of having paid their fare. They were wearing hoodies and backpacks, but they were built like football players and were in their twenties and thirties. They also wore heavy duty shoes, not Doc Martins and wore their hair short. The “students” were actually fare police and made up an entire team. When one of them got to me and asked me (I assume, insofar as he was speaking German) for proof I’d paid my fare, I turned my hands up and explained I hadn’t been able to buy a ticket but was willing to, etc. His eyes lit up as if he’d just hooked a two-hundred-pound marlin while game fishing off a charter boat in the Gulf Stream. He excitedly waved over one of his colleagues who could speak English while pointing up at a sign above the windows which read, essentially: “80 Euro fine for not having a ticket,” adding, hysterically and literally (remember, this is in Germany), “Unfortunately, there is no excuse.” Upon being told I needed to fork over the 80 Euros on the double, I explained I didn’t have any Euros on me. Which was not a problem. I was ushered off the tram at the next stop and driven, in a cop car, back to our hotel where I somehow managed to pull the 80 Euros together and send the boys gleefully on their way. Later in the trip, when we were renting a car in the Frankfurt main train station and were requested to provide both our drivers’ licenses and our passports due to a federal requirement, the girl at the counter commented, somewhat apologetically, “Here in Germany, things are different.”

    • The last time I was in France I bought all my train tickets from vending machines, which, thankfully could be set to English. In the UK I bought a Britrail pass and an Oyster card so I could go anywhere.

    • I too have had difficulty with a tram-ticket machine in Germany, but luckily one of the alcoholics sitting in the shelter there managed to show me how to buy a ticket by gestures and very simple German, so I avoided a run-in with the Polizei.
      Ethics question: should I have given him some money as a ‘thank-you’?

      • When I lived in Germany most Germans considered tipping highly insulting. Waiters would have an apoplectic fit if you tried to tip them. Probably best that you didn’t offer any money.

    • In Italy, using train tickets can be needlessly complex (Italy-big surprise) in ways not necessarily obvious to non-residents..
      One time, we had our tickets, were running close on time and barely caught our train. A conductor came through checking, and (with the help of some other passengers acting as translators) informed us that we would have to pay because our tickets were of a type that needed to be stamped by a machine just prior to boarding. He wouldn’t validate them himself, or let us hop off and stamp them at another stop. Again, it being Italy, some of the other passengers jumped into the argument on our side, but to no avail. We had to buy new, higher priced tickets from him (It wasn’t a long trip, so not as bad as it might have been, certainly not 80 euros). He did say there was a way to get some sort of partial refund on the original tickets, but again, complicated, and probably not worth our time/effort.

      Buses in Rome seem to be sort of an honor system…I’ve never seen anyone working through a bus checking, but from what I have noticed, most all the passengers tap in with their card/ticket, so appear to be honestly using the system.

      • In two and a half years riding trams and subways (we had no car the whole time — delightful) in Amsterdam, I only remember seeing some guys sneak on through a back door once. We had chip-based tram cards that debited our bank account, as did all the other locals. Plus, there were drivers at the front door so sneaking on without using a card was not too likely. But generally, the system seemed to work because the populous seemed to find the fares reasonable, plus the Dutch tend to be obedient and well behaved, except when they don’t feel like it. So, I think you need a compliant culture and a fair fare structure, plus a good, secure monitoring system. Obviously, Seattle is 0 for all those.

  4. What a coincidence; I happen to be waiting at a stop on the Green Line to go meet Mrs. Gory for lunch.

    Of course, here in Minnesota, light rail is also on the honor system (I paid my $2.00). Have not ridden the light rail in more than one year, I bet.

    Of course, as Garrison Keillor would probably observe, we assume everyone pays, it would be impolite to ask.

    Seriously, there is some enforcement, but probably not much. The one exception: the light rail terminates at Target Field. In order to leave the platform to attend a game, you have to show your fare ticket.


      • Was it the, “Panera Cares café”? They had a pay-what-you-can system that failed. It looks like they had several around the country in some major cities (Portland, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Dearborn …?)

        This started around 2010 and the last one closed around 2019??.

      • If you’re thinking of the One World Cafe in Salt Lake City, it apparently managed to stay open for nine years, until the owner decided to transition into a non-profit foundation to spread the idea of similar “community cafes” in other places, some of which are still operating.

        I suspect the honor system is a more feasible model for a restaurant than it is for a transit system. A transit system is anonymous, faceless, and run by a government entity – all factors that contribute to people feeling okay in “stealing” from it.

        A restaurant has people you must interact with on a fairly intimate level (humans are wired to regard food as something special – there is a reason that virtually all celebrations involve sharing food), you’re surrounded by other diners, and there’s the owner of the place standing right there – maybe even serving your food to you. A much smaller subset of people are going to feel comfortable walking out without paying anything, and some diners will pay more than they should because they want to support the concept. Even the most conscientious train rider isn’t going to pay more than their ticket cost as a donation to the transit system…

  5. I live in the suburbs of Seattle. The Seattle office of my employer is in downtown (and moving out soon). About 70-80% of us don’t show up in-person most of the time because of lax enforcement of everything near their location. When I go there, it’s better than even odds that I get harassed by some random person. At least I’m male and relatively large, but women or less intimidating men have no way to deal with this.

    • In other words, turnstile jumpers are the least of Seattle’s problems. And isn’t Sound Transit a hilarious misnomer? Shouldn’t it be something like UnSound Transit?

      • You could question the “transit” part too. In the past decade I’ve gone from two all-day routes within walking distance of my place, to one, to peak-times-only to none.

        • In Amsterdam, they were in the process of reducing tram stops by about half, from every two blocks to every four blocks. Which was supposed to improve efficiency, but it’s very hard on the elderly riders who depend upon trams.

          • “…it’s very hard on the elderly riders who depend upon trams.”
            At least it’s pretty much flat, safe and with good sidewalks. …And every few blocks you can get a mushroom or something to distract from the fatigue.

      • I was going to comment something similar to this exact point. I grew up in Portland, and was a regular visitor to Seattle and San Francisco. All three are to be avoided at all costs.
        Coincidentally, I am in India right now. I’ve been coming here for work for the better part of a decade. I’ve watched as India has improved and those three west coast cities have back slid. Anymore the only reason I go to Portland is to go straight to the airport and get out of there. It provides the opportunity to have the direct comparison between the two.
        India has direct and immediate corporal punishment. (We can argue the ethics, but I’ll say not the results.) Dumping garbage in this city will get you beat with a stick on the spot. The government here has provided toilet facilities to every urban citizen of the country. Pooping in the street will get also get you beat with a stick.
        Meantime, neither those activities result in ANYTHING happening to you in Portland. Human crap, garbage, run down cars with dwellers, run down / broken down RVs, and tent cities abound in Portland.
        So fare jumping is way down the list of concerns.

  6. How come no one has pointed out that city rates disproportionally disadvantage minorities and the poor, and demanded an honour system for paying Rates?

    Scott Adams rightly suggests that the best way to deal with wokeism is to adopt it to the nth degree! Everyone in Seattle should demand that the city, literally, ‘go for broke’! If the city doesn’t do so they should be called out, loud and long, as hypocrites who are deliberately, by their own admission, ripping off poor and minorities!

    • Mrs. OB’s strategy as well. Let our kids have to pay for all these give aways, etc. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working. Our forty-something kids are still very violently in on Government as pinata. They think the country would be heaven on earth as soon as all Republicans are vaporized. As a result, I’m less sanguine about the idea of letting everything go to hell. But it may be the only end game out there, either by accident or intent.

  7. With all those demanding equity in the form of getting their fair share of output, when are we going to demand equity in contributions to their fair share of inputs?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.