Can you imagine if the grocery store you always shopped at was renowned for being a shoplifter’s paradise? If the store was totally permissive and seemingly even went out of their way to accommodate thieves? On their way out, thieves would wave the stolen goods at the cashiers and security guards, and the personnel would just shrug their shoulders and go, “meh, I can’t be bothered.” Or they’d see them, but they’d be too lazy to pause the games on their cell phones to do anything about it. With plenty of acne and only a few stray facial hairs beginning to sprout, these security guards would be mere teenage boys, visibly bored and armed with what essentially came to nail clippers. Sometimes they’d even wink at the shoplifters and slyly give them a thumbs up. Other times the store officials would mock-seriously wag a finger at the miscreants, who would then pull their pockets inside out to show that they can’t afford to pay, poor little things. And then everyone would laugh and go about their business. When stopped, the sticky-fingered shoppers would regularly protest that the quality of the products is so poor that it isn’t fair or logical to expect them to pay for them. As the store owners would never be able to come up with a good comeback to this (they would know that their products are undeniably crappy, and they would have no plans of remedying this), they would just uncomfortably shrug and look in the other direction.
Imagine that we’re not talking one or two or even ten shoplifters in the supermarket chain’s stores, but almost seventy thousand a day. You’re a law-abiding citizen, of course, and you would never think of stealing (though it would be so easy to do, seeing as there are no cameras and an absolute laxness and impunity that mean you could get away with it, no questions asked). But, naturally, it ires you to know that you’re subsidizing these criminals, and the problem only gets worse as more and more people realize how unnecessary it is to pay for anything. Only a fool pays when you could just take it. And it would appear that the store couldn’t care less. Oh, but that’s where you’d be wrong. They absolutely do care, routinely fretting over the health and safety of their thieves. This leads them to periodically make half-hearted denunciations of the non-payers, tsk-tsking them for putting their lives in danger. No mention whatsoever is made of their criminality or, at the very least, extreme selfishness, and no effort is made to reduce shoplifting. Once in a blue moon, shoplifters are play-nabbed, but then just as quickly let go. It’s all a game, and this joke of a system is carried out right in front of the honest folks. What kind of self-respecting person would continue to patronize this establishment? Well, when it’s essentially the only choice you have, all the other nearby stores being either convenience stores filled with junk food or prohibitively expensive gourmet shops. You continue to bear it, your dignity suffering a little more each day. The local newspapers report on the shoplifting epidemic regularly, but this changes nothing. It’s an open secret, and the store appears to be entirely complacent.
And then you arrive at the store one day to face a huge sign hanging over the doorway: Due to low revenues, we are forced to raise our prices. Thank you for understanding.
SEVENTY THOUSAND daily thefts that the store took zero measures to curtail or stop. SEVENTY THOUSAND daily thefts that the store still has no intention of lifting a pinky finger about. And these buffoons have the effrontery to feel sorry for themselves and force their honest customers to make up for the loss in revenue that their own incompetence brought about. No, I don’t and won’t “understand” it. What nerve, what gall, what utter audacity. Of course, raised prices will only ensure that the thefts will increase, but at this point, one almost starts to feel that those idiots deserve those thefts. In the face of such boundless ineptitude and indifference, I for one refuse to ever support their services again until a serious anti-shoplifting policy is implemented. I’m not holding my breath.
Don’t live in Bogotá? I’m talking about this horrendous little system called TransMilenio. I’m actually a huge supporter of TransMilenio (and have a lot of respect for Enrique Peñalosa), but its current administration is flabbergastingly horrible. Like, couldn’t be made worse even if you were paid to think of how to make it more useless. I used it twice yesterday, railed against this very topic with a friend, and then came home to learn that the fares are going up. And I’ll be honest with you: it doesn’t really affect me because by local standards, I’m rich. Yes, it’s just a “measly” five cents, but if you only knew how measly local salaries are you’d know how brazen this is in light of the rampant thievery that goes uncommented and unimpeded. Also, TransMilenio is very expensive compared to Latin American averages. It’s the principle, though, and TransMilenio and the local government show time and time again that they have none. They’re all talk, all squawk, all speech, all plan, all study, all announcement, all defense, all self-pity, all conspiracy theory, all accusation, all improvisation, all self-congratulation, all self-nomination for obscure international awards . . . with so very little to show for it all. Jokers, every last one of them. So, again, I refuse to ever take TransMilenio again (even though my card has almost 30.000 on it) until this problem is seriously and effectively addressed. I don’t even insist that they address all of their other ills–just fix this problem of the non-payers, at the very least! Their silent condonation makes them complicit in their own robbery and in the robbery of the rest of us. It already felt like a daily slap in the face, and this new fare hike now feels like a kick in the gut. I wash my hands of the whole scummy ordeal.
I recognize that I’m privileged in that I can even consider forgoing this option, instead relying on walking, biking, taxis, and SITP (I see them as a mal menor, as at least they’re not affected by non-payers). Many, many Bogotanos absolutely can’t, and they’re the ones that will be most hit by this fare raise. Surely, many of them will resort to not paying themselves. Not that everyone who sneaks in without paying does so because they can’t afford to . . . many do so just because; to stick it to the man; because stealing is their nature; because papaya servida, papaya comida; and so on and so forth. I’m glad that this fare raise is supposedly going to help continue the subsidy for those on SISBEN, but for me it still doesn’t excuse the gargantuan problem with the non-payers and the complete silence and invisibility of the authorities on this issue.
Where’s the Spanish? Well, let’s see, I probably shouldn’t teach you emputada or any of the “four-letter” invective I find most suitable for everyone related to this decision. But, there’s this: these 70,000 daily non-payers are called colados. Colarse means to get in somewhere without paying, to sneak in, or to gatecrash. It also means cutting in line. And just plain old colar means to strain, so a piña colada is a drink made from straining pineapple. Cut out the entire mesh part of the strainer or sieve and just let the entire pineapple plop into your drink, and you get what TransMilenio lets happen every day. TransMilenio was inaugurated on December 18 (hey, my birthday!), 2000, and the name was clearly chosen to evoke the progress and innovation that the new millennium represented. That era has long come and gone, though. Though it was truly innovative at the time and showed great promise, subsequent administrations didn’t follow through with the system’s extension plans (there should be 388 kilometers constructed by 2016, and instead there’s only about 112 currently). Always a man more concerned with superficial image than actual substance, current mayor Gustavo Petro recently got his panties in a bunch about wanting to change TransMilenio’s name. Yes, that’s what keeps him up at night: the name. Not the service or lack thereof. OK, fine. I have the perfect name for you, mayor Petro: TransColado. A much more apt description of what the system’s become and of what clientele it truly caters to, this name will provide you with a legacy that fully encapsulates all that you’ve given the city. (I don’t deny his many contributions to gains in social areas, but he’ll be remembered for his effective do-nothingness, incapacity, and arrogance on the transportation nightmare.)
I’m not stingy. I’d be willing to pay even more if we received a world-class service, or even a simple service characterized by respect, efficiency, professionalism, and dignity. But, sadly, that’s far from the case.
¡Ay, Bogotá! Vote with your feet and your pesos.