Live Free Or Die Trying

I am a wanted man.

I am a fugitive from Sacramento County. Lock your doors and keep your children close. There is a warrant out for my arrest. Clearly, I am a threat to the community.

No, I’m not making this up.

I truly love this city, and have been looking forward to blogging here about all the wonderful things Sacto has to offer. Then $#!+ like this happens, and all I want to do is move back to Paris and live out my days as an itinerant street musician…

On January 27 of this year, I had an appointment in East Sacramento. Not Fab 40s East; waaaay out there. I had to take the light rail. On my way back, I discovered I hadn’t counted my change correctly. I was 5 cents short for the return ticket. It was getting late, and my only option for getting home was the light rail.

Long story short: I hopped the next train. Three stops later an RT cop got on and asked to see my (non-existant) ticket. I showed him the $2.45 in change in my pocket and explained it was an honest mistake. He gave me a citation that looked like a parking ticket.

I support public transit wholeheartedly, and wish Sacramento had a better system. To be fair, the light rail trains really do run on time — impressively so. But the stops must have been planned by someone who’s never actually visited Sacramento, let alone lived here. No station in Old Sac and no viable option to the airport?!! The next politician who complains about Sacramento not being a WCC (i.e. “World Class City”) better don their hardhat and get their butt out there digging ditches and laying track…

You don’t get an arrest warrant for failing to pay a parking ticket. Or even five. Sure, your car will probably get booted, but habeas corpus doesn’t come into play. I had planned on going to court to contest the fine — ahem, excuse me, my “bail.” But both of my daughters had spring break that week, as did my wife, who’s a teacher, and we went out of town. I simply forgot about it.

Okay, so I blew my chance to contest a ridiculously high fine — $167 v. a $2.50 light rail ticket?!! I expected the fine would go up when I realized I’d missed court. But from $167 to $384?! AND the threat of arrest?!!

I recognize and sympathize with Sacramento’s dire financial straits, and realize that they’re trying every avenue of revenue recovery (um…say it with me: “Interceptor”?) But the whole idea of public transit is to provide an affordable, economic, and ecologically-friendly way for urban residents to get around, which in turn provides economic strength to the community, and the state. These sorts of fines and penalties are not punitive or even onerous; they’re draconian. Threatening someone with physical arrest for riding the light rail without a ticket is pure thuggery.

So I decided to do a bit of research: I grew up in and around Boston, and enjoyed their excellent public transit system — subway as well as buses. I called and spoke to an MBTA police officer, who said that the fine for hopping a turnstile was $15 first offense, $100 second, and $200 third. I inquired about additional penalties, such as arrest or Sheriff’s work programs. His verbatim response: “What are you talking about?!” He was incredulous that I’d even asked such a question.

Here, for the record, is the first sentence of the letter I received yesterday:

A WARRANT HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR YOUR IMMEDIATE ARREST.  ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA MAY ARREST YOU ANYWHERE, INCLUDING YOUR HOME OR PLACE OF BUSINESS.

So if you see me, turn your head. Do not associate with me in any way, lest you be targeted through guilt by association. I am a pariah…an outcast…a wanderer, doomed to walk the lonely streets of Sacramento, watching each light rail train pass me by.

And by.

And by…

P.S. But if we all clap our hands Tinkerbell-style, the K Street Mall will come back to life! 🙂

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21 thoughts on “Live Free Or Die Trying”

  1. Thank you for supporting the city. No ATM near your first station, or over the next stop, or the next one, or the other one after that before you got caught?

    If you think the $384 is expensive, just wait ’till you get picked up on a Friday afternoon, and have to lanughush in jail for 3 days, get a bail bondsman, and hire an attorney to try to sort it out.

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  2. Why didn’t you just scurry off of the light rail when you saw the transit cops get on, like the rest of the freeloaders do? Clearly you were too busy counting change.

    Though I do agree with you – the LR system is efficiently inconvenient. Why they haven’t installed ticket machines that accept debit cards is another wonderfully stupid oversight.

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  3. Hi Scooter,

    Thanks for the comment but no, I wasn’t busy counting change. I actually needed to get home and couldn’t wait for the next train. I knew I was going to get cited, but would have taken your advice, frankly, and bolted if I knew how steep the fines/consequences are. But I took the ticket, thinking the fine would either be nominal, or I could contest it.

    And yes, given how important the light rail system has become to many people in this lousy economy, Sacramento needs to step up and make it easier for people to “get on board.” The current machines are not reliable, and there should be some sort of option for buying a ticket on the train.

    Oh, and while I’m writing: thank you Turdy Squirt for being the first commenter on my very first post at Sac Rag! Quite an honor! You’re like the bottle of champagne broken over the bow of a newly Christened ship: a bunch of broken shards and bubbles that no one wants to clean up or drink.

    Top o’ the mornin’ to ya!!!

    J.

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  4. It’s easy to grin
    When your ship comes in
    And you’ve got the stock market beat
    But the man worthwhile,
    Is the man who can smile,
    When his shorts are too tight in the seat.

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  5. And people wonder why RT is charging fare-paying customers more, and reducing services? Nice. You got caught. Pay the fine. Move on with your life. Or does “society” owe you a new house and car for free too? Maybe some beer as well?

    As for “Sacramento needs to step up and make it easier for people to “get on board,” it sounds like you “got on board” just fine. Except for the “having to pay for it” detail.

    You acknowledge that another train was available later (during which time you could obtain 5 cents), but you “had to get home”? Sounds a little self-absorbed. You had the opportunity to resolve the matter (caused by your original mistake, and compounded by your refusal to go to an ATM) for $167, but you were again too self-absorbed (“I simply forgot about it.”– what- you couldn’t mail it in?) to deal with it. Now you expect someone to feel sorry for you? Start a collection? I only hope you get nabbed on a long weekend, have to sit in jail for 3-4 days, and then have to pay the jail fees as well.

    With a warrant out, say goodbye to tax refunds (if you even pay taxex- I mean, why pay your “share”?). Goodbye to renewing your DL (if you even have one- I mean, these are only for saps who want to get “insurance.”).

    And name calling is a really classy intellectual debate technique, Jacob. You learn that one last year in second grade? Or maybe you were just late to the “commentator orientation/netequette” class, because you “had stuff to do.”

    Yeah- great post. Really insightfull and heart wrenching bit of well written Sacramento snark. Is Sac Rag offering unpaid internships?

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  6. Regarding the ATM comments. ATM’s only give $20 bills, LR ticket machines do not accept $20 bills. It’s quite a conundrum, especially since a lot of LR stations are not close to any businesses. You often really have no choice but to ride without paying.

    Clearly if you knew you would be riding LR and didn’t get the proper change together, that is your fault, but there are times you are suddenly forced to take LR and with $20 in your pocket you can’t even get a ticket. Stupid.

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  7. Squirty Turd – I know some “dumb asses who moved to America without speaking English” who would like to engage in a discussion with you about your anti-name calling argument.

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  8. Turty

    Sacramento light rail is giant money sucking sinkhole. Jacob was a little flaky in getting the correct change to dump into the sinkhole, and later in paying his ticket, but he does make a good point.

    RT receives under 20% of its funding from ridership. The main reason to charge at all is to keep homeless people from using the train as a moving hotel. The fare is just a filtering mechanism, like poll taxes in the segregated South. The rest of America is paying for the majority of Jacob’s light rail ride whether he pays his share or not, so an arrest warrant does seem a bit draconian.

    I am an upstanding citizen (I think), but I was just in a taxi in a foreign country earlier this week and realized at my destination I didn’t have enough for the fare. Luckily the driver begrudgingly accepted some greenbacks to cover the difference, but things like this do happen you know.

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  9. So having to pay for a light rail ticket is racist and too complicated? Accepting $20, or debit at the LR station would be great. And so would free houses, cars, and beer. And unicorns.

    “Dumb asses who moved to America without speaking English” would, by definition, be unable to engage in a discussion with me, Chet.

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  10. Turty,

    You are right. I am wrong.

    You are an upstanding American citizen. I am a leech.

    Freud would agree with you: I unconsciously — but deliberately — grabbed $4.95 in change instead of $5.00 before leaving the house so that I would have an excuse to Stick It To The Man when I had to buy my return ticket. Or maybe I really did have $5 in my pocket…but I threw a nickel at a cute puppy. Because it was too far away for me to kick it. For that, I am sorry.

    I am so, so sorry.

    I wish I could give you that unicorn you so want. But I can’t, and I’m sorry for that too. I hope your find your unicorn, and lots of rainbows too. Or at least lots of rainbow stickers. They’re out there: like Journey says, “Don’t Stop Believing”! (TM)

    Chase that dream. You deserve it, kiddo!

    Yours truly,
    J.

    P.S. It’s April 16th and I just got my tax return! Used it to buy a new house, a new car — and beer!!! Thanks for working so hard while I just rode the light rail for free! I promise I’ll have you over for a cookout one of these days!

    P.P.S. Damn, I love Sacramento.

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  11. In playing my usual role as the voice of reason in public policy discussions, today I will be portraying an urban planner.

    The reason why Light Rail does not go to the airport is because there is a complex formula to decide how transit dollars are distributed from the feds. This formula is basically dependent upon population densities along the proposed route.

    In order to build what is dubbed the DNA line (Downtown-Natomas-Airport), we need to have people living along the route. Instead, we have farmland. Stupid, useless farmland. Who needs to eat when we could be cruising along in comfort on our highspeed airport limo? If we were to continue our past planning model of urban sprawl northward and keep building in our floodplains, we would eventually qualify for a giant chunk of the money that is needed to build send the train there. Without the necessary population densities up there, Sacramento would have to foot the bill for the train ourselves.

    The solution to this problem is a plan to extend the LRT in increments. It has been a while since I have read the transit studies for this area, but I believe we have approval to extend LRT from the Sac Valley station across the river and up to Richards Blvd. This is step on in a 5 or 7 stage process to eventually get a train to SMF.

    The real question, in my mind, is why don’t we have a damn BUS that goes to the airport? Yolo bus will deliver you from a few stops downtown along L Street, but that’s it.

    Ridiculous.

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  12. Waaaaahhhhhh… you big baby. You screwed up so balls up, boy! Pay the fine, stop complaining, and next time bring enough money to ride or ask someone for a nickel if you come up 5¢ short.

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  13. Amazing. Turty Squip has never made a mistake. Folks, we’ve found the perfect human being, one who can cast stones at all the rest of us. Hallelujiah

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  14. Jacob, I can relate somewhat, as I have often have risked getting a $35 parking ticket for lack of a quarter or two at the meter. Sometimes it’s worked, especially on Furlough Fridays when there’s nobody downtown anyway.

    But given the cuts RT has made on many routes, especially at night and on weekends and especially in my underserved neck of the woods, I don’t understand why they would go through such lengths to penalize one passenger who just happened to lack 5 cents for a one-way pass. They should have just given you the ticket and let it go, unless you refused to sign the ticket, which wasn’t the case here.

    I realize we have the reputation of being a cow town, but the way laws are enforced here are beyond cow. It’s more like Godzilla.

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  15. “They should have just given you the ticket and let it go, unless you refused to sign the ticket, which wasn’t the case here.”

    “They” did. Jacob ignored it. So it doubled and a warrant was issued.

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  16. TS, let me get this straight – you’re equating a debit/credit option on a light rail ticket machine with free houses, cars & beer? And unicorns? In case you ever accidentally end up on public transportation in your world travels, you’ll notice that this type of option is pretty common. A cash only, exact-change-only system only discourages ridership.

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  17. Why should unicorns have free houses?

    tl;dr – Seriously… This seems like a horrible policy. Not an effective deterrent (frequent riders can attest to this) and it is excessively punitive when an otherwise good citizen gets caught.

    I doubt that any of the frequent offenders pay these fines. They get cited, ignore the citation just like Jacob, then ignore the warrant (if they didn’t give an alias when they got the citation in the first place). When they are eventually arrested on an unrelated charge, the judge throws out the Light Rail charges and they get out of jail in a week on early release due to budget cuts.

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  18. Yes: A debit/credit option on a light rail ticket machine is the same socialism as free houses, cars & beer. CUBA, much, anyone? And I *have* accidentally end up on public transportation in my world travels. India would snicker and then cane you for trying to use an ATM. China too, after the beating and re-education camp. Or are you calling 2.5 billion people backward, you [potential] elitist pig?!? A cash only, exact-change-only system, caning-when-you disobey, only encourages utter submission and compliance. Black and white: You play the game or don’t, and if you don’t, you are on a special list. Jacob is now on that list.

    Great policy. Low frequency checks (saving on inspection costs) with high impact penalty (maximizing revenue). Keep ’em scared (high penalty), and keep the costs down (low cost). Make the penalty reasonable, but have some teeth (double if you ignore it). Sounds fair to me! Costs the same as an off-leash dog violation (which you don’t hear me kvetching about). Good luck Jacob.

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  19. Kinda sounds like much of this could have been avoided–most notably by reading/responding to the citation. Yeah, the cost is steep, but take some responsibility for the outcome!

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