|David Brown runs Word Of Mouth Ltd, a language consultancy working with politicians and the media. He also works as a journalist, recently covering stories in Azerbaijan and Georgia. He has lived in Finland for seven years.
PASSENGERS appealing against fines issued by travel inspectors seem to have no rights at all. Back in December, I made the mistake of letting my bus ticket expire. It seemed a good idea at the time – I hardly use the buses over Christmas, so I’d decided to load 20 euros onto my card at Pasila and save myself the monthly fee.
I GOT on my train, went to put my absurdly heavy daypack down on a seat, and made my way back to the vestibule to use the ticket scanner. “You’re too late,” I was told by a ticket inspector, who was coming in the other direction. This seemed a bit rich to me, given I had been on the train for all of 30 seconds, and that I had my card in my hand and was approaching the ticket scanner when she first saw me.
SHE told me she could not know that I had not got on the train back at the central railway station, thus she intended to issue a ticket. I explained that not only did I have a receipt from Pasila, but that she could also check that I had loaded money on to my card some ten minutes earlier. But, no dice.
I decided to accept the ticket without making a fuss, and then appeal the decision as soon as I got home. This, after all, is super-efficient Finland.
BUT whereas a great many services in Finland operate with impressive efficiency and utilise systems that are sensible and transparent, the transport system is one Kafka would surely admire. Appealing against a ticket violation is to enter a bleak steppe of Stone Age bureaucracy, the clear intention being to wear the defendant down in a bitter war of attrition.
THE authority themselves admit that the “handling of appeals about public transport penalty fares take approximately 8.4 months according to the latest calculations.” In an initial statement concerning my case, the authorities rejected my case because I was not seated in a ticket-selling compartment. As I am sure everyone reading this column knows, if you are using a valid transport card you don’t need to buy a ticket, hence you have no reason to be in a ticket selling compartment.
MY appeal is still mired somewhere in bureaucratic hyperspace, and will not even be looked at until “around September.” Despite sending me a small forest’s worth of paperwork, including photocopied train timetables, at no point have I ever received anything resembling a clear review of my case. In effect, passengers appealing a fine seem to have no rights at all – queries are answered with stock standard replies, and then buried in paperwork for 8.4 months before being rejected. I don’t know what percentage of appeals are accepted, but I’m guessing that at least as far as foreigners are concerned, it is close to zero.
IN an era when public transport needs all the passengers it can get, I think the city would do well to abandon its 19th century customer service approach and implement a ticket fine system which is fair, transparent and not based upon the idea that all passengers are potential cheats and thieves. On the other hand, there has never been a better time to start saving for a car.