paris metro insurance fare fine

Paris Metro's cheaters say Ö
have-nots solidarity free rider

Solidarity is the Ticket

People can cooperate enough to join together and create a common benefit, based on a consideration of some part of reality as a commons. A clearer understanding of common property might, however, shy away from products of labor and capital and hone in on land, what nobody made and everybody needs. This 2010 article is from the Los Angeles Times, Jun 22.

by Henry Chu

Once more to the barricades! And over them, too.

The fare dodgers who jump the turnstiles or sneak in through exit barriers on the Paris Metro are practically as much a fixture of the city as the subway itself.

Those who get caught without a proper ticket, though, face fines of up to $60. So what's a poor freeloader to do?

The answer, here in the land that gave the world the motto "All for one, one for all," is typically French: band together to set up what are, essentially, scofflaw insurance funds.

For about $8.50 a month, those who join one of these mutuelles des fraudeurs can rest easy knowing that, if they get busted for refusing to pay to use public transit, the fund will cough up the money for the fine.

It provides a little peace of mind, however ethically dubious, in a time of economic uncertainty.

Without a $74 monthly pass, it costs $2 for a single journey, with the price set to rise July 1 by about 12 cents.

But for many of these fraudeurs, cheating the system and forming a co-op isn't just about saving money; it's about striking a blow against a capitalist state that favors the haves over the have-nots. Fare dodgers of the world, unite!

"It's a way to resist together," declared Gildas, 30 (declined to give his last name or other personal details), a leader of the mutuelle movement. "We can make solidarity."

Gildas draws a straight line from the French Revolutionís cause of "liberte, egalite, fraternite" more than two centuries ago to idealism of today.

"There are things in France which are supposed to be free -- schools, health. So why not transportation?" he said. "It's not a question of money.... It's a political question."

Nevertheless, it costs about $9 billion a year to maintain and operate the public transit system in the greater Paris region, including trains, subway, trams, and buses.

If the fraudeurs want free travel, they'll have to come up with the $3.9 billion of the budget generated by ticket sales.

The fare cheats counter by saying that simply jettisoning everything related to ticket sales and enforcement, the government would save a bundle. Higher taxes for the rich are, of course, a no-brainer.

Back in 2001 or so, Gildas and a group of fellow travelers formed the Network for the Abolition of Paid Transport. The group's initials in French mimic those of the agency that runs the Metro and buses, and to the agency's logo, which looks like the outline of a face, abolitionists added a raised fist. About a dozen adherents to set up the first mutual insurance fund a few years ago.

Now at least six or seven such funds exist around Paris, some based at universities, others organized by arrondissement, or district.

The original group boasts about 20 to 30 members, people mostly between the ages of 20 and 40, including students, workers and some who are jobless, Gildas said. They meet once a month, most recently in a building on a street named for Voltaire, the philosopher whose writings influenced the revolution, near a bookshop featuring anti-fascist badges and anarchist magazines.

Feeling strength in numbers, some members not only break the law but are bold enough to deliver a political diatribe when caught.

Dues are collectable each month. Members who get nailed by Metro ticket inspectors are strongly encouraged to pay their fines on the spot if they can, to avoid incurring higher charges. To be reimbursed, a member must appear in person at the group's monthly meeting.

The mutuelle pays out for two to four fines a month, on average. At each get-together, the fund's ledger is open for all to see.

Now that the mutuelle seems firmly established, Gildas talks about taking fare-dodging to another level and rating stations for ease of dodging, to recruit more members.

Official efforts to stamp out fare evasion, which costs the Metro and bus system an estimated $100 million a year, have proved fruitless. Several dutiful ticket buyers interviewed at a Metro stop in eastern Paris mostly offered a Gallic shrug at the mention of freeloaders' activities, or even expressions of support.

JJS: While there is some justification for seeing infrastructure as part of the commons -- in hotels, we donít pay for elevator rides but pay the cost in our room charges -- one could also make a case for covering operation costs with fares, raising the fare during congestion and lowering it during light use. If people did not feel poor, perhaps then they would not jump the turnstile. And residents would not feel poor if they received a fair share the most fundamental commons, the worth of Mother Earth.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Those French know how to live

Recession fires worldwide May Day rallies

French Workers Return to Streets in Protest

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