Criminalization of paying customers

Last week I traveled with the Dutch Railways (NS). I have a discount card, so can get 40% discount when I travel after peak hours. For simplicity, NS says the card is valid from 9am each day. Quite preoccupied, I bought my ticket with a discount and got in the train. While I was searching for a seat, the conductor used the intercom to tell everybody that it was still 8.45am and discount cards weren't valid. Ah well, I went in search of the conductor, to give myself in. I didn't watch the time, so I was in the wrong. No trouble with that, I should've payed attention.

The conductor took some of my personalia and told me I could expect a ticket the next week. And a €35,- fine. I was a bit surprised by this, because I always thought fines were for criminals, who explicitly went about doing wrong things. I actually thought that, because I contacted the conducter myself, they would waive the fine. No such thing.

Today I got the payment slip and I went in search for some more info. Apparantly, they waive the first fine you ever get. So I called them on a 0900 number for €0,10 and after some stalling (hey, they have to make money from the call, don't they?) I got to talk to a girl who told me that indeed she could waive the fine if it was my first 'offence'. So she proceeded asking me some personalia again and she could indeed see that it was my first offence. So now I could consider the slip I had before me as 'not-sent' and she would sent me a new one.

I have to gripes with this. The first one is, if she could look up that this was my first offence, why didn't they do that before sending the check? Why did I have to call them myself to get the fine waived? Is that NS's way of giving service to their customers? I'm appalled that I had to call an 0900 number just to get the fine waived.

The second thing is, since when is it proper to treat you paying customers (I had bought a ticket!) like they were petty crooks? If I go up to the conductor myself to tell him I don't have a ticket because I didn't look at the time properly, why am I all of a sudden fined? This is rediculous. I'm no criminal and I sure as hell don't like being fined for being honest. The next time I won't go to the conductor.

It's a trend. More and more companies are criminilazing the normal, human behaviour of their customers. The record companies started the trend, by going after the 'pirates'. Even though their sales are up, they don't care, they just have to make criminals of their customers. The NS is going on the same path, by criminalizing the normal, human behaviour of forgetfulness. Or being preoccupied.

As a normal consumer, depending on the NS for my transportation, I have no choice but to allow them to do that. It way too expensive to drive the distances I need to travel. And they're the only transportation that uses trains here to get me there. Nothing we can do about their tendency to criminalize their customers.

But I still think it's just plain wrong. I hope someone will figure out a way to stop them. If they need help, let me know.


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