On a Rail Runner ride last week, I happily banged out several emails and—reveling in the wonders of modern technology—got a fair amount of research done. Then, in a cruel twist of techno-fate, I had to buy my ticket twice.
Computer-savvy Rail Runners know that buying a ticket online saves a buck. There’s a straightforward process, much like buying a plane ticket online, that allows one to purchase and print a ticket in advance (although doing so does not, as the Rail Runner website emphatically states, guarantee a seat).
However, seeing as New Mexico has yet to fully adopt commuter train travel, one really doesn’t have to worry about whether or not a seat will be free. I had four to myself.
The thing is, I wasn’t home when I bought my ticket so I had no access to a printer—no problem, I figured. I queued up my geek-chic iPad, went through the motions and kept the print screen open. The screen shows an exact digital copy of what would have been printed on my ticket, including the all-important bar code that ostensibly provides evidence of my legitimate purchase.
No dice, the ticket taker aboard the train claimed. When I pointed out she could just as easily scan the barcode on my screen as she could on a piece of paper, she claimed that crooks and swindlers had been doctoring up digital documents and purloining passage with fake tickets on their digital devices. Thus, all online tickets have to be printed in hardcopy.
I know a lot of shady characters, but I have a hard time imagining digital desperadoes with the time, equipment and motivation to PhotoChop train fare. I wasn’t able to get confirmation of these nefarious deeds by press time from the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which operates the Rail Runner, but I kind of think the polite ticket taker who politely made me purchase a second ticket was politely lying to me.
For starters, what’s the point of the ticket bar code if it can’t validate and inventory genuine sales? And then there’s the simple application of logic: If the bar code scanner can be duped by a basic forgery, ne’er-do-wells can simply print their dubious documents and still ride for free.
The ticket agent claimed tickets need to be printed in hardcopy to prevent forgery, but her argument doesn’t hold ink. Alas, bureaucratic logic is a lot like military intelligence and one cannot argue—even politely, even rightly—with a lady who has a bar code scanner.
On the one hand, the situation is no more than a pet peeve (which comes with an $8 surcharge) but, on the other hand, it involves annoyingly backward thinking. With the increasing ubiquity of smartphones and the onslaught of new tablet devices, it seems like a no-brainer to accommodate the future on a fancy, internet-equipped train. Of course, the fact that the Rail Runner website thinks you’re trying to print a ticket for 2007 unless you tell it otherwise may indicate that schedules and logistics take precedence over technological adoption at the head office.
Finally, the Rail Runner is about as eco-friendly as a giant motorized contraption can be. The train uses biodiesel fuel and the stations are solar-powered. MRCOG is extremely proud of the millions of miles worth of auto emissions it has already spared the planet. You’d think it might be willing to save a tree or two.
In other pointless paper news, the City of Santa Fe Parking Division has appointed a “Railyard Parking and Security Ambassador.” Apparently, some happy dude in a golf cart is going to zip around the Railyard to try and make people feel good about the parking situation and offer rides to people who can’t walk to their cars.
Most people are unhappy with the parking situation in the Railyard because they have to pay. Period. A few people are unhappy because the centralized machines are a bit sparsely spaced and, from some parking spots, it takes so long to walk over and get a parking receipt that you may well have a ticket by the time you return to your car to put proof of payment on your dashboard.
I don’t mind paying and I don’t mind walking, but it does bother me that I need to be issued a little piece of paper every time. How about entering my license plate into the machine and having that data uploaded to parking cops along with how much time I’ve purchased?
Parking Division Director Bill Hon is a smart guy, but his hope that a parking ambassador is going to placate people enough to avoid putting old-fashioned parking meters in the Railyard is about as likely as an uncontentious school board meeting.
All he’s doing right now is generating more paperwork.
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