Sunday, 2 December 2007

Passing Osóbki

Somewhere between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki, a Warsaw-bound EN-57 EMU passes one bound for Radom (right). Note the contrast between exterior cleanliness. At least neither train is disfigured by graffiti.

Polish State Railways (PKP) pays a high cost for social mistrust. Travelling by train in England with my son last year, I marvelled at the contrast between how ticket collectors work in Poland and the UK. The British guard asked politely me to show my tickets, and seeing that I had two, thanked me and moved on. He did not inspect them close-up as they do in Poland. He did not ask to see any proof of my son's educational status or age. His bosses work on the assumption that if someone's got a ticket, there's a 99% likelihood that the correct fare has been paid. Ticket inspection is about protecting revenues. The guard's after people travelling without a ticket. In Poland... Prosze o bilet! The ticket is inspected thoroughly. Any legitimacja entitling a traveller to discounted fares is checked thoroughly. When travelling with my son and I'm asked for his school legitimacja, my response is: "There is compulsory education in Poland [obowiazek szkolny]. Parents who do not send their children to school are imprisoned. The fact that I'm here and not behind bars rather suggests that my son does go to school. So why the bit of paper to prove the obvious?" The upshot of over-zealous ticket checking on PKP is that ticket inspectors do not focus on revenue protection.

Our line out of Warsaw, run by Koleje Mazowieckie, is an excellent example. At all the unmanned stations between Warszawa Zachodnia and Piaseczno, passengers are requested to board the train at the first compartment of the first carriage to buy their ticket. The guard writes tickets out manually. Our regular ticket - "One adult, two children, three bicycles, from Warszawa Jeziorki to Czachowek Poludniowy, return, coming back today". The guard needs to check the number of kilometres between the two stations (18), check my children's legitimacje, work out the tariff (family discount, excursion discount), tot it all up and write out the ticket longhand. The ticket will cost something like 13.67 PLN, and he's always short of change, so he's fumbling through his pocket for tiny coins worth a fraction of a penny. By the time he's written out the ticket, the train has passed two intermediate stations. From the back of the train (which is also packed rigid), where passengers can travel safe in the knowledge that no guard will ever have time to control, scores of people hop on and hop off, knowing there's little chance they'll ever be asked to pay.

Because revenues are not collected, management thinks no one's using the trains, services are cut back to save money, trains are cut from eight carriages to four, recently to three. And all because the most elemental thought process has not been carried out. Why are tickets checked? To ensure that passengers have paid their fares. Not to control society. It's a social mistrust thing. Over-checking costs. Management distrusts its ticket inspectors, controllers control controllers, the cost of revenue protection is out of all proportion to the revenues actually collected.


Neighbour said...

There's one more to this: quite often the fare ends up in the guard's pocket. Any time I have catched the train on Rakowiec to ride home, I saw people giving 2-3 PLN to the guard, who just passed by collecting his "revenue".

All the best,

Andriy said...

I just got read this post now, in the end of 2011. It seems like EVERYTHING the author was describing about PKP 4 years ago is so applicable to UkrZaliznytsia in Ukraine! The same rotten philosophy of canceling trains, shortening from 10 to 8 or even 6 cars, and doing everything to make the passengers' task of purchasing tickets almost impossible. Then the lack of tickets sold is blamed on when performing more train cuts. A bright example: one monthly pass is ONLY written out by hand, and then the fare has to be cut out using scissors (!). Selling one pass costs 3 minutes in time. The steps include: the Cashier entering the departure and arrival stations into computer, printing out the receipt, writing this information in TWO COPIES on a special form, then cutting out the passenger's copy and cutting out the figures that correspond to the amount paid, then stamping the whole darn thing with the station's stamp. Viva UkrZaliznytsia, Viva Euro 2012!