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Europe by train, hobo style?

Last summer we bought train tickets for our family trip in France before we left the USA. 2 legs, about $450 worth. Everything went smoothly, except no one ever even glanced at our tickets. The trains were only about 1/2 full.

So it got me wondering...how hard would it be for, say, a thrifty college student to sort of hop on and hop off from place to place without ever buying a ticket? Anybody ever try it or hear of it being done?

I'm not going to. I'm a middle age family guy. But I was just curious...

Posted by
1315 posts

I don't know about France, but in Italy there are conductors checking tickets and you get a nice fine, payable on the spot, if it isn't validated. I would assume that fine applies if you don't have one to boot.

We also ran into metro police in Rome at Termini train station who were checking for tickets as people changed from the A line to the B line.

Posted by
11454 posts

The only time I can remember my ticket not being checked was between Amsterdam Centraal and the airport.

Not only can you be fined, you will be forced to buy a ticket on the spot for the highest cost imaginable--and from the originating station even if you got on afterwards. No money for the ticket. If the conductor is in a good mood you'll be put off the train at the next station. If he's in a bad mood, you'll be put off the train at the next station and have to deal with the local police.

Posted by
425 posts

Would you steal a car if you knew you wouldn't get caught? I guess you really don't have to answer that. From the cop in the group, I say wrong is wrong no matter what country you are in.

Posted by
12040 posts

Sometimes they don't check going from Leuven to Brussels, but always from Brussels to Leuven. And of course, they don't check going between the 3 Brussels stations.

Posted by
1525 posts

Hey Rob,

Chill. I'm not going to do it. I'm not even going to be traveling alone any time in the forseeable future. I was just curious if it was a common thought among those who traveled when they were young, poor, and daring. I wasn't daring.

However morally questionable it may be, it is not analogous to stealing a car. A car stolen is no longer in the owners' posession. The train is going to run whether the hicher is on it or not. Nothing tangible is lost except the perception of an "orderly society" (which is no small thing, I'll grant you, but not the same thing).

Posted by
8997 posts

So you're saying it's a victimless crime Randy? Using that logic it's okay for me to break into my neighbors house, and help myself as long as nobody's home:)

Posted by
1525 posts

Breaking something....consuming something.

Riding something.

Yes. It's the same.

C'mon folks. Morally wrong, yes Yes, YEs, YES, YES!!!!!!! I know! But there are degrees, are there not? Why must you insist on making invalid comparisons? Franky, doing so implies that a valid comparison would be unconvincing. But that isn't even the point. I don't need convincing. It's morally wrong, yes Yes, YEs, YES, YES!!!!!!! I know! I get it.

I was simply curious about anecdotes from others. Is THAT a crime?

Posted by
11973 posts

There was a thread not long ago about a drunk German who was put off a train because he didn't have a ticket and declined to buy one from the conductor. Apparently he chose to show his displeasure by mooning the conductor after he was off the train, got caught on the train, dragged awhile, then ended up in the hospital. I don't recall whether the article mentioned if he was also in trouble with the police.

I guess that's the worst case scenario.

Posted by
9110 posts

Randy, Have at it. Get your hobo stick, tie your goods up in a hanky (a lace one for you of course) and go ride the rails. You'll have to practice up on cooking in a sterno can and drinking the juice afterwards, but it sounds like an absolutely smashing idea. Keep us posted. No internet, probably we can rig a long string with a couple of tin cas from my house to where ever you are and I'll post if for you. Maybe we can even get a PBS Special out of it..... "On the Road with Randy". The possibilities are endless.

Posted by
1525 posts

"Europe Through The Basement Window" ?? :P

Posted by
12040 posts

To be a real authentic (people love that word on this website) hobo ride, you'd have to hitch a ride in a boxcar anyway. Learn a good recipe for Mulligan stew. It would probably also help to bring a harmonica or a banjo and learn the words to "The Big Rock Candy Mountain";)

Posted by
430 posts

Anecdotally only... not endorsing it... but...

I do have a friend who does exactly this when he goes over. He is nearly 40 now, never married, and still acts like a college student.

He simply artfully dodges the conductors, claims a lost ticket if busted, and only once has ended up having to actually buy a ticket. I beleive he has traveled the equivalent of about 20 weeks by train this way.

Posted by
425 posts

Randy, I am well aware that hitching a ride and stealing a car aren't "really" the same thing to most people. I won't get into the victimless crime discussion, as it would take too long. I will, however, answer your question. It wouldn't be hard to do at all. When I lived in Germany I rode the train all the time and often never had my ticket validated. I have heard of many people riding for free. I have a hard time calling a criminal "thrifty". I was in Europe at college age and still knew what a crime was. And no, the thought of doing it myself NEVER crossed my mind. I wasn't raised that way.

Posted by
1357 posts

I'd be too much of a nervous wreck to do that. Plus, traveling with kids now, that'd be a hard one to explain. But, actually, we did ride a train once and thought our ticket was valid, but we were traveling outside of the zone we had paid for. We explained our mistake to the conductor and were asked to simply pay the difference. We were lucky they recognized a stupid American mistake when they saw it.

Posted by
1525 posts

Maureen,

Given the complex fare structures and variety of regional specials available, I suspect that it is a very common occurance. I wouldn't call it stupid at all. In fact I'm sure those who check tickets have an unofficial (or maybe even official) set of proceedures for each kind of tourist "oops" they encounter.

Posted by
365 posts

Roger Miller approves of this thread.

Posted by
2349 posts

"...and every lock that ain't locked when no one's around."

Unless a conducter is feeling mean, he's unlikely to check the tickets of dad, grandma and kids. A 20 yr old scrubby kid with a backpack is another matter. The more likely you are to do this type of thing the more likely you are to get checked. Age-profiling.

Posted by
934 posts

Jim Im sorry but your friend is a thief.I guess since Im older I look at things different.

Posted by
850 posts

Neil, Roger Miller also popped into my mind immediately when I saw this subject. "Third boxcar, midnight train, Destination.........Bangor, Maine. Wait..that line won't work in Europe.

Posted by
6025 posts

I think the problem is that you do not know when you will be checked, and the fine is enough deterrent to not risk it. In my experience and many miles, my ticket has nearly always been checked on any longer journey. Shorter journeys vary wildly, I do not think I have ever seen a conductor on the trains from Haarlem to Amsterdam, or Schipol to Amsterdam, but within only a few trip on Romes Buses, Trains, and Metro, you will be checked. So that said, a hobo type travel scheme is only guaranteed to get you in hot water.

Posted by
446 posts

Last month my ticket was checked on the way back from Delft to Amsterdam, and that is only about an hour's trip. So, you never know.

The conductor spoke English, was very friendly, and asked me if this was my first trip to the Netherlands.

Here in San Francisco, our local Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) loses lots of money every year from people who don't pay -- mostly young black kids who get on the buses and trains at the back door (illegal) or every brazenly just walk past the driver without showing a valid ticket. They seem to think they have a right to ride for free while others have to pay. Most of the time, the drivers don't even challenge them -- they don't want to get into an argument -- especially if it's a bus route that goes through the projects where there are a lot of gang members.

The other day, a kid got on my bus and flashed a transfer to the driver, then walked to the back of the bus. The driver yelled at him several times that the transfer was expired. No reaction. Finally, the kid held up a monthly pass for the driver to see, but I don't think it was his pass. He had same friends with him in the back of the bus, and I'm pretty sure one of them slipped him his pass for the driver to see.

There is a $75 fine if you get caught, but few get caught, although I've noticed that SFMTA is increasing its number of fare inspectors, who randomly board the buses and check everyone's ticket.

Compare this to the honor system in Amsterdam and other cities. There is a general culture of honesty there that we just don't have in the U.S. A shame.

Posted by
1525 posts

There may be some truth to the idea that Europeans are more honest than the US.

But I suspect the bigger picture is more complex than that. One ingredient is that I don't don't think Europeans worship money as much as the US. They will spend it freely when it is for something they value (like a fancy meal), but will be happy living more simply than most Americans would tolerate. I'm tempted to call us greedy, but that would be overly simplistic, too.

This reminds me of our arrival in Paris this past summer; Just as we arrived at the RER B platform at the airport to get into the city, all power went off - no way to buy or sell tickets! After about 10 minutes of general confusion, we heard an announcement in French, saw many people start heading for the waiting train, and were told (by someone speaking English) that we were instructed to get onto the train without a ticket. So we got a free trip into Paris, saving us about $50 for the family. Something tells me that if this had been in the US, we would have been waiting hours for a union electrician to come out and fix the power before anyone would have been allowed to get on that train.

Posted by
13011 posts

Your points are well taken, Randy and Tyler. To reduce it to the lowest common denominator, it all has to do with a different type of socialisation over there in contrast to here. There is also very likely in my opinion the chance for violence on the bus or street car between those riders without having paid and the driver.

Over the numerous trips to Europe in the past decades, and especially in Germany, I have had occasion to see the controllers get on, check tickets/passes and saw also some culprits caught...in Germany usually three controllers at a time escorting the culprit off the street car, who was doing "schwarzfahren," ie, riding without a valid ticket. Never saw that done by Americans.

And, you think: if such a scene had taken place in, say Calif. (I can only speak for Calif), would the whole incident have gone off without violence or the threat of it. I always saw the culprit comply with the controllers once he was caught; what if he refused to get off the street car? Basically daring the controllers to do something? What then?

I have to confess that I did ride twice(schwarzfahren) in my younger days...that was on the S-Bahn in Hamburg. It was in my second trip to Europe (in the summer amidst the crowds), and I was flat, flat broke...knew I was breaking the law and the penalty then (60DM ?).

After the second time I stopped it. There were many reasons for that decision. BUT, it was not because I was caught.

Posted by
1005 posts

Okay, I'll give a shot at a better analogy since Randy doesn't think that the arguments hold water.

Say your friend is on some non-serious prescription and then loses his job and health insurance. You happened to have also taken this Rx in the past and you know that all you have to do is call your Dr. for a refill, your insurance will cover it and you will only have a $10 co-pay. Your friend cannot afford the regular $300 charge for the Rx. Your friend asks you to do it. Is this wrong?

The answer is yes. It's called insurance fraud. A victimless crime is would seem.

Back to original question: when I was in England the train station of origin was closed and we boarded the train anyway, knowing there was an option to purchase a ticket from the conductor. (I was with friends who were locals and I only attempted this because they said it was common practice.) I wonder if this option exists on the continent. Then, if one was so inclined to attempt such thievery, they could simply request to purchase a ticket from the conductor.

Posted by
337 posts

April, here in Germany you can also buy tickets from the conductor (at a higher price though). But in that case it's your responsibility to find the conductor and buy it before the "Your tickets, please!" round. If they find you on the ticket punching round sitting in a seat or hiding in the restroom it's too late, so that tactic doesn't help fare dodgers much.

Posted by
1525 posts

April, et al;

I have already done everything possible to express that I neither condone the activity, nor do I EVER plan to engage in it. There is nothing else I can possibly add to that.

I do not, however, think it is a sin to DISCUSS it.

This is a board for INFORMATION, correct? And as far as I can see, good INFORMATION has been passed along. As far as I can tell, so far the general consensus, is that rail journeys without being asked for your ticket are unusual. Don't you think that is information worth knowing? Would it be known to the novice traveller had I not posed the question?

The sanctimony on display here is nauseating, and I have been notified that I am not the only person who thinks so...

Posted by
652 posts

So April, what's a "non-serious" prescription drug?

Posted by
13011 posts

Randy--I BELIEVE you, especially, you say you're a middle age family guy. If you had wanted to do schwarzfahren, you would have done so long ago in your early 20s. But, I would not put it pass other "middle age" men, locals or foreigners living there who engage in that practice. I did hear of it done by "kids" (those in their late teens and early 20s) at the DJH hostel in Hamburg back then.

I agree that the topic can be discussed, whether or not one rejects such a behaviour or condones it; of course, we may discuss it...we had better be able to do that.

On short train rides (not TGV) in France, there have been times where my train ticket was not checked, same thing in Germany, especially this past summer with the S-Bahn not running and everyone was jammed into the Regionalbahn to get from place to place in the greater Berlin area.

But, apart from that, during my last few trips on the short rides, e.g., from Kiel to Hamburg, Hamm to Soest, etc. not every time was the ticket checked. Based on my experience the non-checking of tickets seems to take place more often in France (I'm talking about taking the train in eastern and northern France) than in Germany; until and including 1989 my German Rail Pass or Fahrkarte was checked every time, regardless of the shortness of the ride.

Posted by
1005 posts

Ummmmm...discussing the topic at hand
: that is what I was doing. I agree and think that we should be able to do that.

If Randy detected any type of condescending tone in my post; none was implied. Randy, you stated that nobody had provided an appropriate analogy, so I took the bait and provided one. No need to defend yourself because I wasn't accusing you of anything. As you said to another poster: chill.

Elaine, I am not even going to get started on your question because it is way off topic. I was merely making an analogy to the OP's statements. To further the analogy, does it matter? Say it was a serious medication, as opposed to non serious. Is it okay to commit a felony then? That was my point. You may think it is okay to commit a felony, you may think it is wrong. I wasn't passing judgment and was just stating a fact...aka DISCUSSION

Posted by
8180 posts

I have run for dozens of trains and jumped on, buying my ticket from the conductor as they came around checking tickets. You can only do this on the regular trains, not the public transportation in the cities. I can ride for days without getting my ticket checked, and then get it checked 3 times in one day.

The main thing for Germans is embarressment, they hate having everyone turn around on the S-bahn or bus and stare at them. Lots of people ride without paying and they do harrass the controllers a lot. The saving grace is the lack of guns here, so the controllers do not usually fear for their lives, though lately gangs of teens or young men, beating people up on the trains and in the stations has become more common. Not good.

Posted by
365 posts

That's why I love this country. All I have to do when riding public transportation is part my coat a little so Messrs. Smith & Wesson are subtly displayed, and I don't pay for anything. Well, there was that one little episode with the Amtrak guy but he didn't even clear leather before I droppped him like a bad habit.

Oh, c'mon folks...he was wearing a Kevlar vest like everyone these days. We laughed about it and I bought him a beer afterwards.

Posted by
8997 posts

It's been a few years but if my memory is holding up, I seem to remember the the ticket inspectors on the Los Angeles light rail do pack heat!

Posted by
1525 posts

In Minneapolis we have a single little light rail line that runs from the Mall of America, through the airport and to downtown. It's about 10 miles. You buy a $2 ticket at an automated machine and step in. There are no tunstiles or staff (other than the sealed off engineer) so it's sort of an honor system. But the local transit system has cops who ride along periodically and check for ticket stubs. They travel in pairs and carry full gear with guns. I'd say they were checking about 1/4 of the times I've ridden, and every single time they have checked someone in my car was nabbed for not having a ticket. I think it's about a $50 fine. No one gave them any back-talk about it, either.

There are periods after ball games and during rush hour when the train is pretty full and I'll bet they never check then - it would be impractical.

Posted by
2349 posts

So what is the primary reason for the patrollers to check tickets? Is it to keep us honest because we fear embarassment? Or is it to make us feel better about having bought a ticket when someone else is busted? I think we can all agree that we're fine upstanding honest people. Except for that sleaze Randy, the OP, who must get his jollies from kicking canes out from under old ladies. Just kidding, Randy. But even if we would always do the right thing, no one likes to feel like a sucker. One guy busted makes 30 people happy. If you've ever been caught, think of the happiness you've brought others.

Posted by
1525 posts

In our urban situation, I think the purpose for checking is all of the things you mentioned. Basically, I think the powers that be are shooting for about 75-80% honesty - enough to keep the perception of non-ticket buyers as "undesireables" and not allow that perception to evolve into "normal", which would cause the system to collapse.

But that's only a couple of $ here and there for the buyer.

The situation with train tickets city to city in Europe is a little different, I think. There you are talking about significant amounts of money. It seems to me there ought to be the expectation that your ticket is checked by someone. When it isn't, I think that's just asking for trouble. There ought to enough money in the system to pay for the staff to do that.

I'm a pretty honest person, but when our $450 worth of tickets went unchecked there was a voice in the back of my head that said "you just wasted $450". I didn't pay any real attention to that voice. But is that a message you want to send? I think not.

Posted by
4742 posts

This thread reminded me of an experience 20 years ago. I got on the bus at the stop in front of a youth hostel somewhere in Germany. At the next stop, the inspector got on. After he checked my ticket, he moved on to the guy sitting across from me ... another American tourist. The tourist checked his pockets. No ticket. He pulled out his money belt. No ticket. He then started to unpack his backpack. Out came some clothes. Then out came a couple of beer bottles. At this point, all the locals on the bus were smiling and all the people from the hostel were laughing. The inspector was not amused but he kept waiting. Then out came a pair of jeans. He reached into the pocket and pulled out a ticket. It was a 24 hour ticket that he had bought the day before and it was still valid. The inspector checked the ticket, rolled his eyes, smiled, and moved on.

Posted by
13011 posts

Randy--You have a good local transit system in your city, especially the way the tickets are checked. I am just not very optimistic with a ticket system working here which is based on an honour system as that in Germany.

As I stated above, it is a matter of socialisation. Jo is correct in saying that embarrassment is a social deterent in Germany.

Posted by
47 posts

Has anyone here read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell? Gladwell uses New York City as an example of how cutting down on things like turnstile jumping and graffiti can reduce more serious crimes. Eliminating small crimes (e.g. turnstile jumping to ride the subway for free) can help create an orderly environment that reduces more serious crimes. (The book's argument is more compelling and interesting than my synopsis).

So in that view, riding trains without tickets is not showing a lack of respect for the laws of the country you are in, but might also contribute to moral decay on a personal and societal level. ;)

On a random note, I wish my local transit system would adopt the Oyster card system like London. Efficient, eco-friendly (no paper tickets!), etc.

Posted by
121 posts

During our two week trip in Germany/Switzerland our tickets were checked every time except on Christmas Day. One time we had only 2nd class tickets but thought we had 1st class tickets (since we did for all of the other trips) and the guy said we could stay where we were.

Posted by
1525 posts

Kg,

I haven't read the book, but the principle is familiar enough, and I certainly agree with it.

Oddly enough, though, the situation that caused me to begin this thread wouldn't really apply. For the principle you speak of to apply, it has to be known by the general population that the law-breaker is breaking the law and not getting punished for it. In this case, the exact opposite is true; If no one checks your ticket, no one knows you don't have one. The only way anyone can know if you are a lawbreaker is if you get caught - thereby negating the effect.

Qiute a conundrum, isn't it?...

Posted by
386 posts

In Austria it would be pretty hard, I am on the train several times a week, and the conductor comes through fairly quickly. Here you can buy a ticket on the train, but it costs a little more.
This is not possible on some German trains, I nearly got in trouble not long ago, not because I wanted to schwarzfahren, but because I changed my travel route at the last minute. I got away with some evil looks and a lecture, but only because I had the valid, much more expensive ticket from the leg before to show the very tough lady conductor. Even though she very well remembered me, she made me go back to fetch my ticket when I wanted to grab a cup of coffee from the Bistro a few cars ahead, a short while later.

Like Jo said, most Europeans are very, very honest and correct that way, and yes, getting caught schwarzfahren is a MAJOR social embarrassment, an absolute NoNo. We pay a lot of taxes for our public transportation systems. by riding illegal, we let our entire society and eachother down, that's why there is such a huge stigma attached to it.