Friday, November 16, 2007

Wanted in San Francisco

I returned home from my trip to the wilderness to a mounting legal problem I had forgotten all about:

I can barely read the carbon copy, but evidently, on 10/3/07 at 2:49 PM on a Wednesday, I, (name, address, drivers license number and class, birth date and physical description), was issued a ticket, by a police officer representing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

I failed to appear in court to set my court date to appeal my case against the accusation that I committed the nontraffic violation of getting off a T train at the Powell Street Station without a 50-cent fare receipt. (Or $1.50, depending on whether I'm identifying as "disabled," which legally I could. And which that day I did.) I would be fined, according to the officer, a minimum of $174.00. Unless I appealed, which the officer implied was expected.

My crime (not possessing a fare receipt) was committed coming home from a support group at the Black Coalition on AIDS. I had got on the tram at 23rd Street, got on the first car, put my two quarters in the coin slot, and sat down several rows back. I saw (in silhouette through the tinted glass separating the conductor's room from the rest of the first car) that the conductor was waving his hand, and that he waved it faster when I looked up. I realized he was waving the fare receipt at issue. But I was tired, didn't want to get up and go get it. And I had shook my head and waved it off. In questionably-accurate retrospective memory, he might have even shook his head back in response.

I had enjoyed riding along the water's edge from Bayview, then watching forward through the conductor's wind shield, the dark-lit tunnel under Embarcadero. I had arrived with quieted noise at my usually-too-familiar underground stop at Powell, walked up the two flights of stairs (rather than took the escalator, disabled, tired or not) and met the police officer at the turn-style, not knowing what he was doing there but seeing there were others. It was a raid.
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At the Powell Street Station turn-style, I saw that I caught the fare-receipt monitoring officer's eye first thing. (They were not checking everyone.) And that I must be in trouble for something. I saw myself shuffling like my cat when I'm about to catch her and scoop her out of the corner I've backed her into, to give her her medicine. All dilated pupils, whiskers out, and ears flat back.

The police officer called me over, with like a come-on-over-here-I know-you-don't-have-it look. I don't know why I was presenting such guilt. I didn't even know you could get a ticket getting off a train in San Francisco. And I had in actuality paid my 50 cents.

I surrendered my disability transit card, and my drivers license upon request from my back pocket. (I usually don't carry my drivers license at all, so it was fortunate I for some reason had it with me that day, since, technically they are required together.) The police officer looked them over with serious, effective authority, and asked why my card wasn't stamped for October. (For people using public transit a lot, it is cost effective to pay a monthly eight dollar disabilty rate fee and then ride for "free," for the month.)

I could have just said, "I don't ride frequently enough. - So I pay my 50 cents, when I do." But I was feeling shame about having a disability card in the first place, thinking it was wrong to be classified as disabled if I'm capable of walking most of the places I need to go. The disability status is based on my valid income-option disabilities and disability to manage my life, based on real health problems. But that doesn't mean I can't or don't walk. Or that I don't live in a city where everything, except inclusive HIV support groups, is in walking distance from where I live.

So I said, "I dunno." Like I'm fare-skipping all the time. He wanted to know why I didn't have the September stamp either, and I said that I was out of town - which was true - I was in New Orleans. But I didn't say that because I didn't want to be exploiting New Orleans over this.
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The officer didn't tell me how much the fine would be till he finished the paperwork and explained that it was required by law to have your fare receipt with you at all times while riding, and in the stations.

I said, "OK."

He had me sign the ticket. It was then that told me that my 50-cent fare receipt--which I had for real, paid for - was going to cost me $174.00. I yelped. He was mean till then. I guess he was armed for being yelled at at this point of the process. - Not yelped at. He said, still with authority, "Go to court and have it appealed." What am I gonna say in court? He just told me it was the not having the receipt that was illegal. I didn't have it.

I took a breath. He tore off the ticket and handed it to me. I said, "Thank you," and "Sorry about that," over my shoulder as I walked free. I heard him say, "Me too, Baby," behind me.

Seriously, what would I say? I really can't afford it, but was scared of appealing because of the possibility of being asked to explain my disabilities in a courtroom. That's probably not legal. And it wouldn't be relevant, except that I would have had to say, "I paid two quarters," because I can't lie in court by saying that I paid the dollar-fifty normal person rate. Which I often do, anyway.

Last week I received an official notice from Superior Court saying that because I did not show up at 850 Bryant Street by 11/12/07, to set my court date I will be fined an additional $300.00 "assessment" fee. And that if I don't pay the $474.00 total, my driver's license - which I just recently got reauthorized for not having seizures - would be subject to re-suspension.

I don't think it's fair that there is no Traffic School option for nontraffic violations. I need a Passenger School.

To be continued, no doubt.


M. said...

Dear Passenger, What in the world has happened on this since Nov. 16? Love, M.

+PHc said...


Please see "Thank you," Dec. 17 for update.