Transportation Honor System

January 18, 2011

As I begin to write today’s entry, my mind has gone back twenty-five or thirty years. I’m trying to remember how the public transit system in Vienna worked during my first visit.

I recall buying my ticket in a vending machine. Then I walked down steps to the train platform. There were no turnstiles, just steps. I boarded the train and, several stops later, I got off. I walked up the steps to the street and continued on my way.

Thus, the “Honor System” has been in use for many years in Vienna.

This same system was in use in Munich, and is probably available in many transportation systems throughout Europe.

As I continue to search my memories, I’m pretty sure it was true in Paris. We bought passes that were good for a specified period of time. When riding a bus, we simply showed the passes to the driver. When riding the Metro, we simply got on and off without much ado.

Paris Metro

In London – the foreign  city where I’ve spent the most time – my mind is foggy. For one thing, during my ten-week stay, most of my traveling was on shank’s mare.  When we did ride the public transit, it was for a specific purpose with a specific destination.

The London Tube - Mind the Gap!

On further reflection, on one of our trips to London we did buy a multiple-day pass. So, they must also have the honor system.

One-way and round-trip tickets could be purchased in every one of the cities I’ve named. But the real bargains were with the multiple day passes.

In Munich, we purchased the City Tour Card. It was good for three days travel for up to five people. It also provided discounts at many of the tourist attractions. The cost was forty-eight Euros.

Munich S-Bahn station

On the surface, that sounds expensive. That’s approximately $65. However, to put it in perspective, it cost eight Euros to get from the airport to the main train station in Munich. So, for my bride and I, that would have been thirty-two Euros for the round trip. Then, every time we rode public transit within Munich, it would have cost each of us another two and a half Euros.

We knew in advance that we would be taking one round trip on a tram. That would have been ten Euros added to the thirty-two to get back and forth from the airport. Figuring we would take additional rides just to get a “lay of the land”, the forty-eight Euros was a bargain. It would’ve been an even bigger bargain had our friends been able to join us.

By the way, those people in Atlanta who think the MARTA fare is too high should be happy; $3.50 per ride is almost double what they are currently paying.

If it wasn’t for tax dollar subsidies, MARTA would be out of business unless they raised their fares dramatically. I have no idea if the Munich and Vienna transit systems would operate in the red without tax payers’ support. I do, however, believe that they save a lot of money using the honor system.

For one thing, they have no turnstiles to install and maintain. Next, they don’t have to fuss with tokens. And the operators of the various means of transportation don’t have to deal with selling or collecting tickets.

Tickets are purchased from vending machines or small shops close to the stations. In Munich, we used a vending machine at the airport. In Vienna, we bought our tickets in a small tobacco shop.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is also their biggest selling point. Getting on and off a bus, tram, or train is much faster when no one is trying to pay. With no turnstiles, it is much faster to pass through a transit station.

All of these advantages encourage people to use public transit. That’s something MARTA definitely needs to do.

I have ridden MARTA from North Springs to the airport during the morning rush hour and have had no problem finding a seat. By the time the train is nearing downtown Atlanta, there may be a few people standing, but very few. People don’t ride the trains; they’d rather sit in traffic.

That brings another thought to mind. I don’t recall seeing a single parking lot in downtown Munich… nor in downtown Vienna. The only parking was on the street, and most of those spaces were taken.

In Atlanta, there are too many reasonably priced parking lots. If the City Council really wants to make MARTA a success, they need to place heavy taxes on those parking lots and discourage people from driving into downtown.

Combine that move with installing the honor system, and they can expand MARTA and quit using tax dollars to keep it afloat.

By the way, there is one major factor that helps insure the honor system works.

Security personnel spend their days getting on and off transit vehicles. Their sole purpose in life is to ensure that all riders have valid tickets. Being caught on a tram, bus, or train in Munich without the proper ticket results in a forty Euro (about $55.00) fine.

In all four of the cities I’ve mentioned, their mass transit systems are far superior to most I’ve seen in the states. The only one that comes close is New York City. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the Big Apple, but as I recall, the cleanliness of their trains left quite a bit to be desired.

So, in summary, I think that, next to the real German and Austrian food, the most important European item that we should import is the honor system for our public transportation.

I invite your thoughts.


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 3)

December 30, 2010

On Saturday morning, December 18th, we checked out of our hotel and headed for the train station. In our previous wanderings we’d learned that we didn’t have to traverse the entire distance above ground. There was an entrance to the central train station less than half a block from the hotel. That path allowed us to avoid walking – and in Lu’s case, pulling a wheeled piece of luggage – through the slush that covered all the sidewalks and pedestrian areas of Munich. In all fairness, the city employees and business owners tried to keep the walkways clear, but the snow kept falling.

We stopped at a pastry shop in the underground mall area of the train station and had more delicious pastries for breakfast.

I don’t know if it’s true for the majority of the U-Bahn (subway) stations in Munich, but most of the ones we visited included underground malls complete with department stores, convenience stores, cafes, and all sorts of other retail outlets. That’s something else the folks at MARTA might consider as a way of reducing dependence on tax payer dollars.

S-Bahn station beneath the streets of Munich

We took the S-8 back to the Munich airport in order to catch up with the Gate 1 tour guide and be transported to the cruise ship docked somewhere near Nuremberg. We met Monika at the entrance to the Cafe Leysieffer. She was rather surprised to see us as she’d been told to expect us later… rather than sooner. There were two buses scheduled to take us to the ship; one departed at noon, the other at 3:00 PM. We’d decided to get to the airport in time to get the early bus. Gate 1, knowing we had spent extra time in Munich, had assumed we’d arrive back at the airport later.

As it turned out, some of the folks who were supposed to be on the early bus were on flights that were delayed; so there was plenty of room for us on the early bus. However, when I say we arrived early, we arrived early. We had about two hours to kill.

So, we ate a second breakfast at the café, which was really an early lunch; we’d be on the bus from noon until two or two-thirty, and had no idea when the cruise ship was planning to feed us.

We wandered around the airport terminal to see what retail outlets were available there.

The sign maker did not make a mistake

I had to take a picture of this place because it reminded me of a time, years ago, when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a running back out of Penn State University. We thought he was of Irish decent – Frank O’Harris. Obviously, some Germans believe that the early Italian explorer was actually Irish.

In truth, I did a bit of research and discovered that Marc O’Polo is a company that was founded in Sweden by three men: Gote Huss, Rolf Lind, and (this might be part of the answer) Jerry O’Sheets. I could find no explanation for the name of their company. We can only surmise Jerry had something to do with it.

By the way, for the uninformed, that Penn State football player was really named Franco Harris.

After spending a relative fortune (almost 20 Euros) on a book for Lu and a puzzle magazine for me, we boarded the bus and headed off to Nuremberg.

I was totally surprised to see thousands of acres of open land. A good friend from England had told me that wide open spaces were rarely seen in Europe. Perhaps his opinion was based on spending time in large cities. However, there was one thing that truly intrigued me.

Strange netting over farmers' fields

We saw netting like that shown in the picture almost everywhere. It appeared to be some way to keep birds away from the crops, but it made us wonder what sort of crops were grown beneath the netting – and how would the farmer get a tractor in there to till the ground? Perhaps one of our German friends can supply an answer.

The only other photo I took while on this bus was one showing the electric wires for the high-speed train that ran between Munich and Nuremberg.

A train runs alongside the highway

Considering the cost of that train ride was almost 300 Euros per person, I was content to ride the bus that had cost us 95 Euros apiece.

Just before 2:00 PM (the driver had a heavy foot), we arrived at our destination.

The Amadeus Diamond awaiting us

We were able to get ourselves and our luggage on board, but our cabins were not yet ready. Thus, we were forced to spend some time in the lounge and imbibe in alcoholic beverages.

Lu saved our place in line

In the above photo, the white tablecloths were a clear indication that some sort of finger food was about to be served. We wanted to be first in line because it had been awhile since our second breakfast/early lunch.

The time between our arrival and our first snack gave us time to meet some of our fellow travelers. When we saw how many folks were traveling with friends, we realized once again how much we missed the folks who had been scheduled to go with us.

As we killed time, I couldn’t help noticing the ice on the water.

Would we need an ice-breaker?

What first caught my attention is the fact that the ice would occasionally change directions. One time I’d look out the window to see the ice flowing left to right. The next time, right to left.

Lots of ice and the temperature was dropping!

It was then I remembered that we were in a canal. I correctly surmised that the flow of the water changed whenever a ship passed through a lock. It wasn’t until we set sail the next day that I discovered how close we were to that first lock.

The remainder of this day was nothing more than time to relax. We were served a light meal of small open-faced sandwiches and pastries, along with tea and coffee. Later, we would be served a champagne welcoming cocktail. That was soon followed by a wonderful cruise-ship dinner.

Every dinner on board the ship began with some sort of salad or appetizer. That course was followed by soup – always a choice between a clear broth based and a cream based soup. Then came the main course followed by a luscious dessert. The wine, being complimentary, flowed freely throughout. (I would’ve preferred beer, but the choice was simple – almost 4 Euro per glass, or free.)

After dinner, we sat around and got to know some of our shipmates, and then retired rather early. Many of the folks joining us for the cruise had flown in from the States that day. They were exhausted.

Breakfast would be served at 7:00 AM the next day and the bus tour of Nuremberg was scheduled to leave at 8:00. So, we called it a day as well. We’d be well rested by morning.

Before I bring this chapter to a close, let me say a bit about the planning that went into this trip.

December 18th is the day we would have landed in Munich had we just gone with the package offered by Gate 1 Travel. I had received an email telling me that the price of the cruise had been slashed from $899 per person to $499 per person. The cruise included six nights lodging/cruising and three meals a day (for December 19th through the 23rd.) It also included dinner on the 18th and breakfast on the 24th. AND complimentary wine at all dinners. Such an unbelievable price did not go unnoticed.

The kicker was the airfare. Leaving on Friday, December 17th and returning on Friday, the 24th meant we’d be flying on some of the airlines’ busiest days. By tweaking that schedule and leaving on a Wednesday and returning on Christmas Day, we reduced the airfare by over $300 per person. That gave us $600 to cover two night’s hotel in Munich, one in Vienna, and something left over for meals and transportation in those cities.

So, my advice to fellow travelers is to always look at ways to reduce the airfare. In most cases, you can probably save enough cash to cover the extra days at your final destination. The added bonus for us was that it gave us time to adjust to the six hour time differential.


Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.