Digital Confusion

New World Technology Seems to Have a Crippling Effect on Old-Europe Civil Servants in the U-Bahn

On The Town | Konstantin Borolev | November 2006

Technology is great. I mean it. I love all types of little electronic gadgets and try to use all the little features no matter how useless.

So there I was, walking up the escalator to the U1 station at Kaisermühlen. My friend has been busted without a ticket that same day, and was spending his weekend funds paying the bill. So I decided not to share his mistake and went to get a ticket. Trouble was, I had no change to feed the machine.

Then I got the idea: I would use the new feature offered by A1 cellular service:  the electronic Fahrschein. I just had to log on to the WAP services of A1 and order the Fahrschein, pay over my phone bill, and get the ticket by SMS. So there I was, happy to use my smart phone for something besides calling and sending messages. The SMS came promptly with a string of code. So I felt safe.

At U1 Donauinsel stop, I saw a familiar face. Some guy I met at some party got on, so we started talking. While we were small talking about DJs and parties, we didn’t notice the band of three grumpy men with large pockets getting on.

And suddenly we heard the dreaded phrase: "Fahrscheine, bitte." I looked at the guy next to me, who casually pulled out his monthly pass out, and asked myself if I was in trouble. So I decided to show off my electronic ticket, got my phone out and showed him how to use it. Then one of the checkers reached us, and I showed him the SMS.

The checker gave me a grumpy stare with his one good eye and rummaged through his fanny pack, hidden under his beer gut, and pulled out another smart phone.     "Good", I thought, "I have a better model than he does". He casually compared the code to his and gave me a manic smile, reminiscent of a hunter locking on to an innocent deer.

"You ordered the ticket after you saw me," he said, "I saw you holding your phone in your hand while I was walking up to you." I objected instantly.

He kept on talking: "See when I enter a train, I send a message to the HQ and get back a code and a time signature. My time signature is earlier than yours and that’s how I know that you are lying to me." I asked him where he got on. "Alte Donau," he replied.

Apparently he got on the back of the train and it took him the few minutes to work his way to the front where I was staying. God bless the new trains. No separate cars.

So there I was arguing with him and trying to convince him not to make me pay the fine since I had a ticket. I explained to him in detail how the time difference happened, but since the electronic ticket does not tell you what station I got on, I didn’t have the final proof.

Eventually we reached Schwedenplatz, and I had to get off. He followed me out, preaching to me how he knows all the tricks and that nobody can fool such a hardened ticket checker like him. I felt as if I was listening to war stories told by a veteran of a dozen wars.

In the end he let me go after I suggested taking this to the Wiener Linien Head Quarters. Next time I don’t have change, I'll go to the nearest Bankomat, get money and buy a real ticket.

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