Musings and Amusings

It’s Free … Is It?

I do not want to wade into controversial topics. I know where I stand on most issues and how I fit (or don’t) with prevailing opinions. Occasionally though, I’m stumped when hearing about a mindset or practice that seems innocuous or acceptable, but causes me ill-ease.

While I might rant (off-line) at corrupt or negligent government and corporate malfeasance, I support both taxpayer-funded institutions and for-profit capitalism. I try to live by the “Do what’s right when no one’s watching” moral code.

Recently I read a blog post about a town where metro tickets are priced by the hour, and people who don’t use the full hour leave the tickets near the metro entrance for others to use. The blogger did not say, but I presume this is not intended or condoned by the governmental agency who expects each rider to purchase a ticket.

The blogger called this “free metro tickets” and likened it to the growing “peer-to-peer sharing economy” (see link below). The intent of the post was to promote this valuable “free” service.

As I was reading the post, I had that sense of ill-ease.

Why?

The metro ticket probably cost a couple Euros; it had already been paid for; it would clearly benefit the follow-on recipient.

Where’s the harm?

As I read the peer-to-peer article, it became clear that ownership and intentional sharing are the underlying premises. A homeowner, car owner, or outright owner of any asset is willingly sharing/renting the unused portion of that asset. No other individual or entity has a stake or ownership in the asset. Therefore no third party is subsidizing, paying for – or is financially harmed by – the sharing/rental.

What is different about the purported “free” sharing of the metro ticket?

The ticket owner does not own the asset; he/she simply purchased the right to use the metro for an hour. I know – you might ask, “Then doesn’t he/she have the right to give away the unused time on the ticket?”

Honestly?

I don’t know … but my ill-ease tells me the answer is No.

Governments collect taxes based on their projections of capital and operating expenditures; usage numbers and many other factors. Taxpayers have paid for these government assets. While this ticket sharing might appear “free” to the user, it certainly isn’t without cost to the taxpayer. I doubt the metro agency is willingly allowing this “free ride” on a taxpayer-owned asset.

Publicly touting this as a “free metro ticket” and deeming it part of the peer-to-peer sharing concept seems incongruent to me. In addition, our growing electronic environment facilitates numerous opportunities to exploit similar “free” practices that, with enough exploitation, could significantly harm taxpayers and business owners.

I am a former restaurant owner. How long would I have stayed in business if customers ordered meals, paid the bill, ate half, and allowed someone else to slip into their seats to finish the “free” meal, using space and labor that should have been available to another paying customer?

Is the “free” metro ticket any different? Why? Because it’s a service instead of a product? Because it’s a government entity? Because the taxpayer’s cost is invisible to the user? Because it’s only a Euro or two?

Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

But my gut tells me this is not the same thing as peer-to-peer sharing.

C’mon, Sammy. Stop kvetching. It’s free … is it?

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Comments on: "It’s Free … Is It?" (32)

  1. Well expressed, Sammy, with a view toward discussion rather than a firmly expressed opinion, which most times closes the discussion (I see those too often in some media).

    I teach my son that honesty is the best policy because otherwise it’s easy to fall into a “no one is looking, so I’m going to take it” mindset. Hard to see how that leads anywhere good, or a productive life.

    I grew up in a communist country — Romania — (under a dictator), and I can say the mindset was a bit different there. People did not view something taken from the government as stealing. Perhaps because the government was taking (stealing) form the people so blatantly? I don’t know. Perhaps this is a cultural difference, not really sure, but I remain of the opinion that honesty is the best policy.

    • Thank you, Silvia. If I can stay away from opinions and express puzzlements, I hope to get good insights like yours. Your perspective about the Communist countries helps a great deal, and I suppose even European countries have a different view because the citizens get some benefits provided by government that differ from ours.

      Of course I have pulled into parking meters with time left on them (although kiosks have replaced meters now). But that occasional opportunity seemed different than intentional promoting the re-use of metro tickets.

      For me, I think my biggest ill-ease was implying this is a peer-to-peer sharing activity because I don’t see it that way.

      “Free” is bandied about so often, and the lines seem to get more and more blurred. It sounds like you are teaching your son to make good choices.

  2. I am of two mindsets about this. I agree with you on one hand. And like Silvia, above, I also know that the government takes so very very much from those of us that cannot afford it for things many of us do not believe in (war) while wriggling out of things that I do believe in (health care and contraceptives for those that cannot afford them) . . . while the 1% pays literally nothing.
    And on the other I am floored that the cops in Portland give out tickets if a good Samaritan puts a quarter in a meeter to keep a person from getting a ticket ($20) — as if what I do with my money is there business!
    I hear your restaurant analogy, and agree, but you also might not care if someone was walking her food out to a homeless person . . .
    I also agree that you do the right thing even when no one is looking.
    Good post!

    • Thanks, Katie! That’s what makes this one so hard – I can understand many points of view for the very reasons you mention.

      And I’m positive the blogger had the best of intentions in what she saw as a positive action.

      Without prior knowledge or forethought, I probably would pick up the “free” metro ticket. But I’m pretty sure afterwards I would realize it wasn’t really “free” and the next time I’d buy a ticket.

  3. This is very good and at first I had one opinion then as I read I questioned my opinion and swayed. You see where I used to live we would buy a car park ticket and if not all the time used we would give it to someone else. My thinking is perhaps I might end up bringing a smile to someone’s face and or give it to someone who could do with saving that pound or two. Also sometimes in a situation where one wonders is it a fair price in the first place? If not why not share if unused as the seller is being greedy.

    However your right though your restaurant wouldn’t have survived and yes the ticked being given away if copious has an end wffect on us as fAx payers.

    It’s tricky I suppose it’s a question of is the price fair? Whose charging? What is the service/product? How often is this done and hence impact!

    You got me thinking hehe x

    • Exactly ๐Ÿ™‚ there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer, especially now when electronic media can promote so many things that once were done occasionally, and could have significant impacts if done by many.

      Ideally, I like to think that governments subsidize the truly needy and “fair pricing” in private enterprise will prevail as long as there is competition. But if course, that’s not always the case. It’s just hard to figure out those gray areas where we are taking advantage or ignoring a regulation or law because of individual choices not to follow them.

      I don’t have answers, just questions and a few opinions :-). Thanks for your input, Justine.

      • If only we did live in a fair and just world I guess I’m a bit of a synic at times. There are those that do good and those that don’t and if we had a majority inbetween the world would be very different .

        You brought up a real debate hehe x

      • That is the hardest thing for me – knowing how deliberately wasteful our large bureaucracies have become when so much could be done if money was kept in communities and decisions made at local levels. It does make me think ” why should I follow the law when they change it or ignore it and they’re the ones in charge “?!?

      • well i hope you had happier things to think about this wekeend xx

      • Yes, it’s a great weekend. I only let that nonsense get me down for a few minutes a day ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I don’t know much about the metro as we have no such thing where I live. But if someone bought and paid for an hour and only used 15 minutes of the time…I don’t think I see anything wrong with leaving the ticket for someone else to use the other 45 minutes. Seems like a kind gesture to me. Now about that restaurant analogy I don’t see anything wrong with that either as long as I am the one eating first!!!! I like blogs that allow us to freely express our opinion.

    http://smidgensbitsandsnippets.blogspot.com/

    • Thanks, Paula! I appreciate your comments – whether they are lighthearted or serious ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you and Richard have a (relatively) easy weekend.

  5. Great post Sammy, totally get where you are coming from. People are sometimes so obsessed with sticking it to “the man” they forget why we have to have “a man” in the first place! x

    • Thanks, Lainey. And ultimately WE are collectively the man.

      Sadly, so many have been (rightly) disillusioned by their governments, and can’t find solid footing in soured economies, it can feel like the world is a cruel and discouraging place.

      • Sammy, I see-saw. The world is inspiring and full of wonderful people one day and then I find it hard to see the good the next day ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

        How lovely that we have the internet to connect and see there are good people around (I’m having a good day today, lol!) xx

      • Oh me too! I really should stop reading/listening to the news.

        I’m much more optimistic some dates than others, and 99% of the time on my bicycle Life is Really Good.

        Golf is more like the see-saw ๐Ÿ™‚

      • oooooh, I might have to take up cycling! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Thanks for a thought provoking post. We need more “shades of gray” thinking to counteract the black/white mentality that seems to be so prevalent throughout the USA.

    • Thank you, Shelly. I so agree with you. There is no “we” and ” they” whether the discussion is left vs right or government vs citizens. We are the government and we are the citizens. “WE” are all in this together and we seem to be floundering miserably.

  7. Sammy D. , so interesting. I have been noticing a lot lately that the young folks thinking is becoming quite different from our generations sense of “right and wrong”, decent and indecent, mine and yours, etc. Values and standards are changing at great speed. The mine/yours/ours blur is big now. Is it from us spoiling them into believing everything revolves around them as they grew up? That if they fall, we are always there? Obligation, Accountability, and responsibility mean new things or nothing at all. Is it good for our society or a detriment? I see pros and cons. Even in situations where I am very clear about how I feel, I still start pondering other takes on the subject. I have also noticed that these new ideas are more in line with other countries, i.e. India, China, etc. We forget sometimes that man is in evolution just like the rest of the world. That society keeps changing, right or wrong or in between. It is not stuck, which I guess is a good thing. My grandmother always told me there was a reason that we got old and died rather than living forever. We can only alter our life style so much and then the new world we defined outgrows us. I am beginning to understand what she was getting at. It is hard to break out of the rigidness of right and wrong and into those shades of gray. But, since we all can not agree on what right and wrong are, maybe it is where the “new world order” lies?

    • See? There you go being the writer who knows exactly what I’m thinking but could never express as concretely and eloquently. I so agree with your grandmother; we have an expiration date for a reason!

      The only part that is frustrating is I’m now at the age where I have the wisdom to understand my mistakes and history’s blunders but I’m too old and irrelevant for anyone younger to pay attention to my warnings!! The lament of the crones ๐Ÿ™‚

      But that’s the selfish viewpoint because, as you rightly point out, the world and humanity are evolving in ways that require new thinking and new alignments. I can lament the good things that are disappearing; appreciate that I had them during “my time”; and pray that younger generations will make good decisions for their world as they become the leaders and adults.

      On good days, I’m enthusiastic and in awe of the remarkable advances in just a decade. I’m learning to live partly in the past; grasp part of the future and appreciate the melding – all while staying in the moment ๐Ÿ™‚

      • They can’t heed our warnings, Sammy. Otherwise, they would not venture out. But no lamentations. I now call it planting seeds. I think I have spoke of this before. Warnings go unheard or even worse spark the opposite ( doing it to be spiteful or prove you wrong), advice does not help even if asked for, most of the time the “asker” only wants to hear their conclusion repeated and that is all they hear or they go on to someone else and someone else till they get the answer they want, but seeds can be planted any time any where and no one knows the better. You may or may not ever see the results but the possibilities are enough. And, it doesn’t matter how “old” or “irrelevant” you are. Someone may need that seed someday and water it and make it grow. Just like my grandmother’s words on having to leave this world make so much sense to me now.
        Hugs, Sammy D. It seems a crazy world more often than not, but if we can find our way to be comfortable and at peace with our part of it, perhaps that will plant the seed for our young people to remember someday when they need to make sense of “their world”.

      • You have been so helpful in teaching me acceptance and understanding. I know it is the right order of things, but what struck a chord was you pointing out how everything evolves and using dated standards to judge the “rightness” of a new world order will only cause me senseless pain. I DO like the idea of planting seeds, and I do know there is truth to them flourishing when the time is ripe.

  8. I tend to agree with you on this one ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Wow, this a complex issue Sammy. I saw it a day or so ago but couldn’t get my head around it. In my view I may deliberately leave extra in the meter for someone else. My money etc etc. It’s been legally paid for and there is still time to run on it – for someone else. The comments have all been wonderful and thought provoking.
    In terms of the restaurant story … restaurants cannot open themselves to others finishing a half eaten meal. If the other got sick, after eating someone else’s half eaten meal, then what? Besides, as you say, space and labour is how a restaurant makes its money.

    • Thanks for adding to the conversation, Susan. I received so much understanding and perspective from the people who commented. It actually soothed my ill-ease and gave me a new way to cope with some of the “but that’s not how it should be” feelings I struggle with in our rapidly moving world and transition to the next generation’s leaders and values.

      I also received a wonderful response (on original blogger’s site) reassuring me that I hadn’t offended her and that she continues to appreciate my comments. That was such a relief.

      • I guess we’ll always have those sorts of feelings of sadness about how things are … but it is how it is. Where does that leave us in our despair? Sometimes even hope is not helpful. We can just keep on adding our own little bit of consciousness to the world, ever so incremental it may be ..

      • That is so true. I’m most appreciative to have men and women my age sharing their thoughts with me.

      • I feel the same Sammy – thank you for sharing.

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