16 February, 2009


Playing by the rules in the Multiculture (2)

In my previous post on fare evasion, the three freeriders I described were all members of our more vibrant communities. I was merely reporting what I saw on that day, but to redress the balance for those who are likely to be upset by simple truth and insist on proportionality, here's a case of an indigenous freerider getting thwarted.

A bit of context is required. At Woolwich Arsenal (National Rail) station, the platforms are below street level and are reached from the ticket hall via stairs. This leaves the problem of access for prams and wheelchairs. On the up platform this has heretofore been via a gate which leads from the platform directly into the adjacent car park and the outside world. The gate is provided with an intercom and camera to allow station staff to check tickets and unlock the gate remotely but either this kit doesn't work properly or the staff can't be arsed to use it and the gate is in practice left open permanently.

This leads to the mild pastime I call Spot the Toerag. As the up train enters Woolwich Arsenal, look at the passengers waiting to get off (just those abled-bodied types who are unencumbered by buggies, etc, and might be expected to be able to handle stairs) and try to guess who will turn right towards the ticket hall, where the ticket barrier awaits, and those who will turn left towards the car park and unaudited freedom. You get quite good at it.

A young White lad made to get off the train. Thin pasty face, hoodie up, bouncing up and down to the music of his MP3 player, cigarette between lips ready to light (full marks for waiting till he got off to light up, to give him his due). No ticket, definitely going left, I thought. I was changing at Woolwich myself and, on a whim, I decided to stop and watch his progress from the vantage point of the DLR footbridge.

At this point a bit more context is called for. With the opening of Woolwich Arsenal (DLR), the standard DLR step-free facilities have been provided, in this case lifts between all platforms on both stations and the DLR ticket hall and gateline, allowing the wheel-bound to reach the street without needing to negotiate steps and rendering the car park exit largely redundant. (Let the car drivers walk round, the exercise'll be good for the buggers!)

Our fine specimen of Chavus domesticus ambled along the platform until he was in a position to see the car park gate. He stopped, taken aback by an unexpected sight. Contemplated a while. Approached the now locked gate and tried it. As I moved on to catch my DLR connection, my last sight of him was as he was shuffling disconsolately along the platform, either to take his chances at the gateline or to cross to the down platform and back whence he came.

D'you think it was cruel of me to laugh out loud?

Finally, here is another anecdote to unredress the balance again. At Abbey Wood (National Rail) station, where the tracks are at street level, the up platform is connected to the outside world via the ticket hall and an intermittently staffed gateline. On the down platform there is a simple unstaffed gate. As at Woolwich, this is equipped with an intercom and remote-controlled lock. The theory is that passengers needing step-free access to or from the down platform should buzz to have the gate released. In real life the gate is left open permanently.

This leads to a two-tier system. Passengers from the south (Abbey Wood village) side of the station who have tickets enter and exit via the up-platform ticket hall. Passengers without tickets enter and exit via the down-platform and the unsupervised gate, crossing to and from the village side via the nearby flyover. Stand at Abbey Wood for any length of time and you can watch the process in action.

One fine day, one of Abbey Wood's many Nigerian residents approached the gateline and, even though she had no ticket, demanded to be allowed out. She was unlucky that day. The station staff at Abbey Wood are a representative cross section of our vibrant diversity, and she had come up against an Indian station assistant. There is no love lost between Brown and Black, in my experience, and a stand-off ensued, she demanding her "rights" and he rather obviously enjoying thwarting her. He actually suggested that she make her way back to the internal footbridge and leave via the open gate on the down platform. I'm not sure what attitude to take to that response from a railway official. She seemed to think the suggestion beneath her dignity. I left them to it.

On the broader subject of ethnicity and fare evasion, I can't say I've formed a firm view on proportional criminality between the different "communities" from my purely anecdotal observations of the activity. It seems particularly popular among young Blacks, but then again it's practically a way of life among the White underclass. I will offer one observation. It seems to me that White freeriders know they are in the wrong but try it on anyway, whereas with People of the Vibrancy, particularly those of the Black Section, it seems from their typical reaction when challenged that they regard free travel as an entitlement, maybe as some kind of post-colonial reparation.

Strange world.

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