Modernising in the Neoliberal way

A wry smile crosses my face when I read about the effects of ‘modernising’ the French rail system, described in Monday’s ‘Le Monde’.

They are a bit behind the UK in their neoliberal zeal but catching up fast.

One poor passenger had to travel from the suburbs into central Paris to get her ticket because they’d closed her local ticket office and it was the nearest place able to issue it whilst verifying her ‘Carte senior’ (OAP card). When she has also not had the knowledge to make an appointment there is twenty minutes of queue to endure before she can actually buy her ticket.

Another has had even more fun. She changed the morning ticket she had for an afternoon one – a change which cost a mere €15 – without realising that it was the name of her husband on the ticket…

When the ticket inspector came down the train he demanded her identity card, which, not unnaturally, she refused. (Though in the past the railway was always legally allowed to have sight of this and I suspect, still is, but I doubt it is commonly known any longer.) On arriving at her destination she was duly arrested by three policeman, thoroughly searched, including her luggage, and fined €250, for travelling without valid entitlement.

So she had the right ticket of course, but it was her husband’s, who was not travelling, and not hers. Tickets are not transferable – naturellement.

I strongly suspect that this is the same version of strict liability that applies, as it does, in England & Wales.

So that means that when, as I was, I was sold a ticket at the barrier for immediate travel, dated the 1st April although in fact it was only the 20th March, and I actually climbed on the train to travel, I was effectively travelling illegally, although I had no idea what the date was on the ticket, which I had paid for in good faith. The ticket inspector hauled me up, too. At least he did accept my explanation and of course I don’t have an identity card for him to demand – but he remarked that I would have some explaining to do at the next lot of ticket barriers. He was correct of course, though by rights it should have been the train company itself that had to do the explaining. At least the guard grimaced resignedly when I suggested that for his train company it was permanently the 1st April.

Although in my view these strict liability laws, even if they should be considered valid for nationalised industries (and I doubt that many actually comply with human rights legislation) should certainly not be so, once the enterprise succums to private ownership.

Unless, of course, we have to presume that not only on the railway, but also for the neoliberal economy, it is likely to be forever April the first.