It was pouring rain as only a dreary Monday in New York City can. I was struggling to transport a huge cooler with a cake inside, a giant gift bag with presents inside, a duffle bag, and my usual purse from Astoria to Washington Heights. The bus was the most direct route.
The bus and I, we’ve had our disagreements in the past. Mostly, they have to do with me wishing it would show up and it preferring to take its own sweet time meandering through traffic in Manhattan and Queens. But yesterday, less than 2 minutes after I pulled my ticket slip out of the machine–another point of contention between the bus and me that I’ll elaborate upon in a minute–a bus came. Without even trying (and believe me, I’ve tried to time my arrival to the stop using the MTA bus time site with varying degrees of success), I’d made it with perfect timing.
I climbed on and settled in, balancing the obscene amount of stuff on my lap with, well, not grace but as close to it as one can come when attempting to carry an overseas suitcase worth of things across town. The hard part was over, I thought with relief.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority had another thought in mind.
As the bus approached the stop where I would get off and transfer to the subway uptown, a voice called out, “Get your tickets ready.”
Yes, every person on the bus during that sloppy journey over the East River had to show the ticket slip they’d received from the machine before boarding.
A necessary side note on Select Bus Service, which is the program in which customers feed their transit pass into a machine before getting on certain buses so they don’t have to swipe their card when boarding the bus. This program was introduced in order to make the buses more efficient. I believe it probably does do that. Instead of having to wait for a line of passengers to swipe their MetroCards, the bus driver can just pull up at a stop, let people on and off, and be on its way.
Except that’s hardly ever how it happens. Many times the driver will still hold the bus at a stop–sometimes to let passengers get their tickets at the machine, sometimes to futilely attempt to even out the “schedule” that allows for 5 buses to be backed up going in one direction on the route while the other has one bus every 20 minutes, and sometimes to announce how to get the ticket from the machine to a frustrated passenger outside and then wait while someone on the bus gets off to show her how to do it. I’m not complaining about random acts of kindness from MTA employees; they happen infrequently enough.
The inconsistency is obnoxious, however. One day a driver will wait for a minute as people run up to get their tickets, but the next, they will speed away even as a few people make it to the machine just as the bus is arriving. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a bus I would have caught if only it would have waited 5 extra seconds for the maddening ticket machine to spit out the stub.
And the way they threaten riders with having to show their tickets if the MTA police happens to show up is also annoying. In the 5 or so years since the Select Bus Service was introduced, I’ve ridden the bus a fair amount, and only once has anyone ever asked to see the ticket. Sure, you can attribute that to mere chance, but if you’re going to do that, then you should also recognize that if someone wanted to cheat the system to get out of paying their bus fare, they’d have pretty good odds of being able to do it for years without getting caught.
Side note over, I reached into my purse for my ticket slip, while understanding I had no idea if it was in there. I thought I threw it in while maneuvering all of my bags, but I wasn’t sure it was in my purse and not one of the other bags I was carrying.
When it became clear I wasn’t going to find the ticket stub anytime soon, the police officer told me to get off the bus and step over the giant puddle waiting for me at the bottom of the steps. He ushered me over to an awning of a storefront that hey, maybe really was doing something to protect someone from the sheets of cold water pelting down on us, but if it was, my umbrella and cake and presents couldn’t tell.
I tried to balance the cooler on a ledge because I was holding 3 other bags and my umbrella, but it kept slipping off, causing the container to get more soaked and the cake inside to–probably–keep tipping over. I dug through my purse with my one free hand that wasn’t gripping a bag of presents and pulled out a ticket slip.
“Is this the right date?” I asked, showing the officer because I couldn’t both try to keep all of my things under the umbrella and uncrumple the piece of paper.
“No,” he said.
Repeat 4 times while I continued to find receipts from previous bus trips.
At this point you might think a reasonable person would see me standing there in the storm with all of my belonging sopping wet, rummaging through my bag that was clearly full of bus tickets, and give me the benefit of the doubt.
The MTA Transit Police is not, apparently, made up of reasonable people. Instead, the man continued to stand there staring at me while I sobbed at the thought of this cake that took a total of 5 hours to prepare being ruined. He stood there saying nothing but “no” as I found more receipts. He finally told me to give him my ID and MetroCard because he had to write me up.
Allegedly, I can call in 5 days to get the MTA to check my card’s record to prove I actually got the ticket slip that day. Though with all of the malfunctions I’ve experienced with MetroCards and ticket machines over the years, you’ll forgive me for being skeptical it will truly show that I did have a ticket that day.
I’m not one to suggest that one absolutely awful, humiliating, frustrating experience during a downpour is a good reason to denounce an entire city. But if I were, I’d be seriously considering getting out of here.
Oh, right, the fondant. It didn’t turn out too well but did survive the traumatic trip.
And guess what I found in my purse this morning.
(I don’t really have to tell you, do I?)
(I’m afraid you may not get it because I can’t hear your answer, so I will just tell you.)
The bus receipt from last night.