One of the things I strongly believe in, when it comes to frugality, is being fair to others. In other words, I’m all about saving money, but it can’t be at the direct expense of someone else in a way that directly takes advantage of others. Do unto others as you have them do to you.
That said, there are some situations that aren’t black and white, but in shades of gray instead.
This 9th edition of Squirreling Gone Wild covers a recent situation where this gray area came into play. Some of the most popular installments of this series focused on prior coworkers or old buddies, but this time it’s me who’s at the center of the story.
So here’s the deal: I now commute to work by train, from the suburbs to into downtown. As a part of the commute to this new position, I have to have a ticket for the train every day. It costs $5 for a one-way ticket if I buy it on the train going downtown, and $8 if I buy it on the train going outbound. I just discovered this $3 premium while on the train the other day, so that motivated me to search for other ways to save while buying tickets ahead of time. As it turns out, one option is buying a monthly pass, but I’m not ready to commit to that as I will do some driving as well. The option that caught my eye was a 10-ride ticket for $40. This way, I spend $8 for one day of commuting vs $13. Clearly, that can add up, so needless to say I was happy with that discovery.
So how do you use these? Typically, the conductor walks by, and looks at each person to see if they have their ticket/10-ride card/monthly pass. If the passenger has the ticket or monthly pass, the conductor nods and moves on. If the passenger has the 10-ride card, the conductor hole-punches it for that ride. If the passenger has no ticket, the conductor sells it on the spot.
So, the other day, I board train and within a few minutes hear the conductor walk into our train car. These conductors, by the way, look the part – full uniform, conductor hat, etc. Anyway, the conductor proceeded to say the customary line in the customary booming voice: “Tickets, Please!”
At that point, all the other passengers, including myself, brought out our respective fare denomination, whether ticket, 10-ride card, or monthly pass. We dutifully waited for the conductor to come by, as per usual.
As the conductor made his way down the train car, checking fares, he stopped at the person next to me and chatted him up loudly and with laughter. It was clear this person was a regular passenger. I was reading something at the time, so I just held my card up and figured the conductor would grab it when done chatting, while I continue my reading.
As it turns out, the conductor was so engrossed in his chat with this person across the aisle, that he moved on while continuing to look back and finish his conversation. In his state of being preoccupied with his conversation, he walked right by me and never checked my ticket. I didn’t fully realize this until he was a bit further down the aisle.
At that point, I the first thought that came to my mind was – I just got this ride for free. YES!!!
Then, my mind started doing the calculations: a free ride meant 11 rides for $40, which meant my rides were now $3.64 each instead of $4.00 each, for this 10-ride ticket. Then, I started thinking about the possibility that this actually happens once in a while, where the conductor misses you at no fault of your own, and you aren’t pretending to be asleep or something of the like:) Maybe the savings could really add up!
Let’s go back to my opening paragraph – Do unto others as you have them do to you. This is what entered my mind next. Should I feel guilty? Should I have gotten up out of my seat, approached the conductor, and told him that he passed me? Would that have been the right thing to do? Or, since it was his mistake and I was not paying attention as he walked past me, should my conscience be clear? Or, is this just a part of the disjointed commuter train experience, where you get the occasional “gift” to balance your frequent inconveniences – like delays, crowding, and the like?
I go back to the sleep well at night theory. Not that this is a tragedy or anything, but if the same type of situation arises again, I would feel better about tracking the conductor down and paying up. I suspect I might be idealistic here.
What do you think?