A Fare Dodger’s Experiences

Fridary, February 9th, 2007

The subway station Westpark, which is the closest one to my home and which I use frequently because of this, is probably the last one in Munich’s subway network where there is neither a kiosk nor a vending machine capable of selling montly tickets. Thus it happens sometimes that I have no valid ticket on my first subway trip in a new month. This was the case again last Friday: I wanted to be at my preferred refectory for lunch before it closed at 1:55 pm, so I took line 6 on 1:19 pm (ETA at Giselastraße 1:34 pm).

The train was already quite loaded when I got onto the last car, but this is rather normal on Fridays. At the next-but-one station (Harras) a man was a bit late and slow getting on the train, so that a bit of his yellowish jacket was jammed between the wings of the closing door. The crush protection sensors built into most Munich subway cars didn’t react to this, so that the train could just go on. At the next station (Implerstraße, visible on the picture to the right) he was easily able to free himself after opening the door again.

It was not all that simple though: After an extended waiting period (due to the train ahead being a bit late) the signal switched to green, the doors closed, but the train wouldn’t take off. The conductor told to open all doors again and closed them for a second try. He tried again twice or so, then gave up and apparently talked to the headquarters. The signal went back to red again in order to give way to another train which had arrived on the track in the meanwhile. The conductor came to the back of the train, inspected the situation, and finally closed the door manually and locked it up. He returned to to his cab, and a bit later the train went on.

Those of you who are familiar with the Munich subway might already guess what happened now. The last cars on northbound U 6 always tend to be a bottleneck because the two most important hub stations on this line (Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz) are centered around the southern end of the U 6 platform. People who want to change there often take the last car so that they can change quickly, and people changing from other lines mostly stay at the southern end because they are too lazy (or because the train is already there and they fear that it might go away before they reach another door). Thus it was relatively difficult for the people in the “blocked” of the car to get off, and the man who had initially triggered the disaster got into a “door struggle” again when he left (but at least he didn’t break it again this time). In the meanwhile I managed to get pen and paper from two other passengers in order to stick a notice to the door telling the people outside that trying to open that door was pointless.

The same thing happened at every station from there: People didn’t want to wait for the next train, so there was always two or three of them struggling with the closing doors to get in. At the station Universität, it happened that this was a small Turkish schoolboy who got in just after a tall young Turk (I’ll call the small one Ahmed and the tall one Bülent). In fact they might as well have been from another country near Turkey, but this wouldn’t be important for the rest of this story. A man standing nearby, let’s call him Christian, noticed that the doors didn’t close as smoothly as they should, and then he saw that there was a foreigner, daring to be good-humoured for all that (he only saw Bülent because Ahmed was so small). Now he started railing against Bülent and asking why he had to slow down everything and whether he thought this to be fun. Bülent, in turn, didn’t like this comment and told that it wasn’t him but Ahmed who had blocked the door. As Ahmed was still too small to be seen by Christian, this one went on disputing with Bülent as a proxy, who reacted like many young people would react in a situation like this.

Sooner or later I suggested to Christian that his railings were quite silly and that a scuffle (which started seeming like a possible outcome of the dispute) wasn’t exactly what anyone needed in this situation. After all, I wanted to get out at the next station without being injured. At this point a housewife—who was sitting with her back to the two Turks and thus had only noticed the discussions—felt that the time had come for her to stand up for her beliefs and started arguing that those young people would soon consider blocking subway doors to be normal, if nobody told them otherwise. Because I wanted to get off at the next station, I didn’t start explaining the whole story to her but instead just told her that the situation was slightly more complicated than she thought.

I wonder how Christian would have commented the yellow man’s boarding if he had watched it. Probably he wouldn’t have said anything.

Anyway: After having my lunch (ten minutes later than planned), the first thing I bought was a new monthly ticket.