Why Asia should have more random fines

This week I am in Europe, and was quickly reminded of a transit fare system I recall seeing far more here than in Asia or America for some reason. On the continent, many trams and buses do not check tickets of every passenger when they board, but rather leave them on their honor most of the time, and occasionally have random checks where anyone caught without a validated ticket would pay a fine of 25-100x the normal fare.

Very few passengers would ever bother trying to calculate whether the expected fine over hundreds of rides would average out to more or less than buying a ticket every time (in Germany in the 80’s I recall checks less than once a year, and the 40 mark fine would have been far cheaper than the 1 mark many of us did pay each ride), and the end result is simply a system of trust where a large percentage of passengers honestly buy their tickets and save everyone the cost of checking every time. Anyone who has ever ridden a New York City bus knows how much far collection slows them down, and even though there are more efficient ones in Hong Kong (touch Octopus cards), China and Russia (pay the collector on board after the bus starts moving), none seem as seamless as the random fine system.

In a place like Asia, the large populations would probably benefit from a simpler system of random fine enforcement. I gather the reason we don’t see more of it is the difficulty of tracking and collecting from violators who don’t have the cash on hand there – that is probably a greater measure of how organized and developed each country is.

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