Don’t blame STM employees for doing their jobs

STM bus En Transit

When I was younger, considering my options for a future career, I thought of being a bus driver. I enjoy public transit, and thought it would be fun to spend the day driving such a big vehicle around town, meeting a bunch of people, turning that giant horizontal wheel.

And having people spit in my face.

I didn’t imagine that last part, and thankfully it doesn’t happen too often, but there seems to be this mentality in this city that bus drivers and other employees of our mass transit system are scum of the earth, seen with disdain by the blowhards that seem to make themselves heard the loudest in our media (social or traditional).

For left-wing activists, there’s the expression “ACAB”, which stands for “all cops are bastards”. For the soccer moms and dads out there, it seems like “all bus drivers are bastards” is the common refrain.

It’s not just that this is a generalization based on an exaggeration, but the actions it’s based on are often simply the drivers doing exactly what they’re supposed to.

When doing your job makes you a bad person

Take Pauline Tantost. She’s the Montreal woman who boarded a bus without exact change and got fined for not paying her fare. Based on media reports, the undisputed facts of the case are as follows:

Tantost and her two-year-old child boarded the 108 bus at the Atwater métro station. Not having exact change for the $3 fare (her child rides free since he is under 5 years old), she tries to pay with a $5 bill. The driver refuses, because the machine does not take paper money. He allows her to stay on the bus, but warns her that if the bus is stopped by inspectors, she could be fined $200 for not having a valid fare.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happens. At Bannantyne and 4th Aves., inspectors board the bus and check fares, starting with hers since she is sitting behind the driver. Discovering she doesn’t have a valid fare, they take her off the bus and give her a $219 fine for not having a valid fare.

Upset at this turn of events, Tantost goes to the media, which are all too happy to recite her story and present it as some David vs. Goliath story.

Nowhere in this story is there an allegation that Tantost was treated disrespectfully, or that she was intimidated, or insulted, or yelled at, or treated in anything but a professional manner by STM employees. Nowhere in this story is there an allegation that she was tricked in some way. But everyone and their mother blames the driver for not helping her by taking her $5 bill.

There are some things that are alleged in these stories. It’s alleged, based on zero evidence, that the driver may have somehow arranged for the intervention by the inspectors. According to Google, the 10 pm bus arrives at 4th Ave. at 10:17pm, which means it might have been possible to scramble a team of inspectors and have them rush to that intersection, provided the inspectors were on standby in the area, waiting like an ambulance for a snitch to call them to duty. (And the driver would have to do so without the passenger sitting right behind him hearing about it.) Both the STM and the union say there was no move of inspectors to intercept the bus.

In short, nothing in this story suggests that any of the STM employees were doing anything other than their jobs. It’s unfortunate for Tantost that she didn’t have exact change for the bus. It’s unfortunate for Tantost that STM buses don’t take paper money or provide change. It’s unfortunate for Tantost that her bus happened to be checked by inspectors. And it’s unfortunate for Tantost that those inspectors decided to fine her.

But nobody forced her to stay on the bus, ignoring the driver’s warning, when she did not have exact change. Nor is anyone denying her the right to fight her ticket, if she believes she can convince a judge that the STM inspectors did indeed act incorrectly.

All generalizations are bad

Now, I’m not saying all bus drivers and STM fare inspectors are saints. Like the rest of society, there are good ones and bad ones. Some are exceptionally polite and friendly. Some are so grumpy and unhelpful that you wonder why they’re in these jobs. But most do their job with the same amount of enthusiasm as anyone else in the public service industry: polite, patient and courteous, occasionally gusting to friendly, with scattered grumpiness.

But to the peanut gallery, the STM is evil, and this is just another demonstration. Letters written to The Gazette included two that suggested that she and others like her should have ridden for free. One letter writer even suggested the driver should have paid the fare himself. Most comments on Facebook and Twitter said the employees all showed a lack of sympathy, with many seeming to imply that because she was a mother, travelling late at night with a young child from a hospital, that she should have received special treatment, as if treating a young mother differently from a teenage boy is somehow an example we should be setting.

More non-scandals

One commentary online really got to me: This story by Martine Turenne suggesting that the STM sees its users as annoyances. She cites other examples of widespread misconduct, including buses not stopping for people running after them, or failing to stop at bus stops, or how the STM ignores complaints against its employees.

I can’t really comment on buses driving past stops, other than to say that in my years of public transit use it’s only happened a couple of times to me. But I can certainly say something about why some bus drivers won’t stop for people running after a bus they just missed: They’re not trying to be mean, they’re doing exactly what they’re instructed to do by their bosses.

And their bosses don’t instruct them to do that because they want to be dicks, but rather to prevent people from being run over and killed by the buses they’re running after. You only need to witness a couple of instances of reckless people running along buses, inches away from huge, accelerating wheels so they can pound on the side to get the driver’s attention away from a left-side lane-change to realize how dangerous it is to encourage the behaviour of running after buses. And so long as that dangerous behaviour is rewarded by opening the doors and letting the person on, it will continue.

There’s also the often repeated complaint that complaints to the STM go nowhere. The problem isn’t that the STM doesn’t care about complaints, but rather that their hands are tied by the law, which states that employee discipline is a confidential matter and cannot be announced to the media. Maybe the STM takes that legal interpretation too far. Maybe there’s some wiggle room that it could use to provide people with more information of what happens after a complaint is made. Maybe the STM should have some provision in its collective agreement that allows for the company to publicly disclose disciplinary measures that come from interactions with the public. But to conclude simply that the STM never acts on complaints is, I think, irresponsible.

Some real scandals to consider

There are people out there whose opinion of our public transit system is impervious to data. It doesn’t matter how many studies come out showing that the STM is efficient, well managed and inexpensive, there are those who are convinced based on their gut feelings that the agency is incompetent and overpriced.

There are those who blame every single metro disruption on incompetent management, even if it was caused by a suicide attempt, or a police intervention, or flooding, or a major power failure.

But as much as I’m defending the STM here, I should make it clear that there are some things that they do from an organizational level that we should feel are scandalous. Things that they should be correcting but haven’t.

  • Communication failures: The STM is, at least, improving on this slightly. It’s embracing Facebook and Twitter as communications platforms, and providing more detailed information about things like metro disruptions. But it still has a long way to go. As recently as a year ago, it was including a pager number in its press releases, and representatives would be notoriously difficult to contact when news would break. A few cases where major metro disruptions happened outside of business hours meant the media had no information to pass along to transit users.
  • Lack of transparency: I went to an STM board meeting once, and asked to see a document that had been approved by the board. I was told by the secretary that I would have to file an access to information request to get any such document. It doesn’t matter that the document was approved in a public meeting, its contents are not available to the public without them having to go through a formal process of asking for it.
  • Lack of accountability: Speaking of the STM board, it has a representative who sits there on behalf of transit users (actually, it has two, the second one representing adapted transit users). Unfortunately for us, that person is STM chair Michel Labrecque, a politician who was given the seat as a loophole when he failed to become a city councillor. I like Labrecque, and think he makes a good STM chair, but he’s not a users’ representative. He is not, as far as I can tell, active on social media, and his contact information is not available on the STM’s website. So if you want to express your concerns about STM policy with the person put on that board to represent your interests, you’ll have to track him down.
  • Fare integration problems: This issue has more to do with the AMT than the STM, but there are some annoying problems that people run into when using more than one transit network. Going from Carrefour Laval to the Quartier Dix/30 requires using three separate networks and paying $9.25 in cash (all coins). We’re still discriminating based on mode of transportation, charging more for the train than for buses. And the AMT and STM have separate but similar-looking Opus card machines that don’t provide the same services or offer the same fares for sale.
  • Overnight metro service: The hours between 1am and 5am are when the STM services the metro tunnels, which is why the system has to shut down at night. But it has shown, during the Nuit Blanche and at other times, that the metro can run all night on special occasions. Why, then, it chooses not to do so on New Year’s Eve is a mystery. Since the service is running at the stroke of midnight on all four lines, it’s not like more employees will be missing out on the fun by having the metro run later than usual.

I’m sure there are others, and I’d be happy to add them if you have suggestions in the comments.

Paper money

There is one issue that can be considered a legitimate complaint in the Pauline Tantost story: The STM’s fare boxes should be able to accept paper money. In the days before Opus, fare boxes were simple glass boxes with a slot at the top, that accepted coins and tickets. Those paying multiple fares or who didn’t care about getting change would occasionally fold up a $5 bill and stick it in there, and there was no problem. The new Opus fare boxes, however, are designed to count coins that are placed in them, and sticking paper money down that slot isn’t an option. The boxes were originally designed to also accept those small coloured paper tickets that were used before Opus, and allowing the insertion of paper money into those slots shouldn’t be too difficult if no other option is available.

Ideally the machines would accept paper money and even give change.

As single fares climb past the $3 mark, and other bus system fares even higher than that, something will need to be done here. The STM was supposed to test a solution whereby fare boxes were installed at bus stops instead of on the buses. Though those machines would accept credit cards, not paper money.

Hopefully the agency is looking at possible solutions to that problem. At least, while they’re not killing babies and diving into their swimming pools filled with gold coins.

UPDATE (Aug. 23): The STM has cancelled the fine after the media attention it got. It maintains the fine is legal and everyone did their jobs, but made “an exceptional decision, based on the circumstances” after concluding that “everyone was acting in good faith.”

61 thoughts on “Don’t blame STM employees for doing their jobs

  1. Rosi

    Thank you, this was a very interesting post that clarified a few details about the story. I took the bus for the first time in years just last week (we love our cars in the suburbs), and I thought that the fare “3$ exact change” on the STM website meant that change would not be given if you paid more than 3$!

    Reply
    1. Bruce Martin

      STM Blog:

      Dear Mr. Fagstein:

      I am glad someone has a n independent blog going with a section on public transit.

      As a retired trilingual electronic technician with over 1 million Km. on the road, including some large vehicle use, in addition to countless fly and dsrives in 3 languages and 3 countries, I have also seen “The good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

      Back in the spring of 1967, the forerunner of the STM needed driver because of the coming Expo67. Supposedly there were not supposed to be strikes in respect of expo. That summer, there were, in that case more from the Mechanics’ union.

      Eventually the government was forced to intervene, as has been the case with many collective bargaining labour disputes.

      For about the next 35 years, the lack of bus driver people skills plagued the bus company to the cost of a loss of about 20% of their ridership. This was no easy problem to regulate.

      My information has been scavenged through many years and many sources, including many former and present bus drivers, inspectors, etc. Simply put “I do not work for the STM, but I know the inside story about as if I did”.

      Sometimes I have had the chance to provide real help whenan unsuspected situation arrives and a driver may not have been pre-advised (this pre-advising is not always possible.)

      As you said, bus driving is not an easy job at all. Nor is _any_ job that works with the public!

      …back to the labour history:

      the management of the bus company was able to fire a small minority of the most “asocial” (official term) drivers. then in the next tier, another small number of them were placed in the metro in positions where they had no public contact.

      In the next tier, they had to wait for natural attrition to take its time. Typically, natural attrition (loss of members in any group) amounts to approximately 25% of the group numbers, dynamically, according to the ascending or descending numbers as the case may be.

      This happened over about the next 35 years. the reason beinbg that after a bus driver has about 35 years under his/her belt, the value, in terms of after tax take home money becomes less than what he would have in retirement pension, also after taxes. At this point the vast majority simply retire. a small minority may contu=inue, but inside, they are not necessarily appreciated. since a driver who would choose to continue is doing so simply because he/she likeas driving a bus, and a driver who likes his job is a good driver, this is too bad. We need drivers who like to drive a bus and deal with the public, but a lot of that is a “2 way street”, albeit like so many other life issues.

      Now, when I get on a bus and meet a driver whom I have never met or known, it is a matter of about 15 seconds and I will silently have him/her sized up. the general batting average is sort of in the middle, if we also take into account in the “sizing up” the salient circumstances, such as traffic concerns, number of passengers, time of day/night and more. This can also shange rapidly, especially on routes when the driving is partly on city streets and partly on an autoroute. This is understandible.

      another bad driving habit I see from the publoic that plays a dangerous role, is the type of driver who starts from behind the bus, in the lane to the buses left, then overttakes and cuts in front of th bus. Often this is done in a manner that is downright illegal, and shows no respect for other users of the road.

      The day will come, at random, when I will be a witiness of such an accident. when this happens, standard procedure in minor accidents, is to call the inspector, or go to the nearest safe stopping point or termianl and then empty the bus and call the inspector. If the matter is more serious, such as if there are injuries, the police are called via the onbourd emergency channel in the transponder.

      For any professional driver, the smallest incursion or “fender bender” is a serious matter, much more so than for a “pleasure driver”. I have witnessed this first hand on occasion when a bus had a minor accident which was no fault of that driver. Added to that Incident was a n unexpected situation involving a person who spoke no English or French who tried to board the accidented bus. As the very perturbed driver was trying to empty his bus, and this happened, I was able to get that person off the bus, and find out that he was illegally in Canada, and did not even know that. His language was one of many I do not speak or undewrstand, however this did npot prevent me from handling the situation amicably.

      Eventually I was able to get him downtown and find translation services, ultimately arranging to get him back to his own country, saving an R.C.M.P. incident and likely a deportation.

      (I think it was fortunate for that poor driver that I happened to be aboard during his accident and subsequent harrowing time.)

      And so somebody would think a bus driver’s job is an easy one! As already said, far from the actual truth!

      So much for now, but I have many more transport experiences from multiple countries, but most from Montreal and Toronto to come over time.

      Urban transport is a basic common infrastructure. Let us all see this cooperatively on both sides, simultaneously and balanced!

      Reply
  2. Lorne

    It seems unfair to me that a woman who was willing to pay 5 dollars for the bus ride gets a fine from the cops for over 200 dollars.

    Reply
    1. nathalie

      What they didn’t say or what people don’t seem to understand is that the women got on the bus at a metro!!! You can buy your ticket there at the counter or in the machines!

      Reply
  3. Marc

    Do you actually believe that it was by pure chance that the goons, err, “inspectors”, happened to be in a not too active part of town at that hour? No way. The driver called them in. It’s simply not possible they just happened to be there. This woman was set up.

    And speaking of these fare inspectors, who the hell do they think they are? Look how they dress. Is there really a need for a bullet proof vest, combat boots, and utility belt with enough stuff on it they can fight the battle of the bulge? As fare inspectors, a much more simple uniform suffices.

    It’s yet another blow to an agency that already has layers of egg on its face.

    Re: modes of payment:

    Yes, the fare box should accept bills and give change. We’re capable of putting people on the moon so designing such a fare box can’t be that tough.

    But it would be much more beneficial to add an Interac Flash reader to it. The amount of people carrying and paying with physical cash is dropping every year and isn’t even close to what it was just five years ago.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Do you actually believe that it was by pure chance that the goons, err, “inspectors”, happened to be in a not too active part of town at that hour?

      Sure, why not? I’ve run into them repeatedly while riding a night bus uptown. The fact that they would be in Verdun at 10pm doesn’t surprise me.

      No way. The driver called them in. It’s simply not possible they just happened to be there.

      Then where did they come from? Is there a van that can deploy these guys anywhere in town in under 20 minutes? And how did they know she’d still be on the bus when it got there? And why would they target this woman in the first place? I’m perplexed that this conspiracy theory is being perpetrated – calling both the STM and its drivers’ union liars in the process – based on nothing.

      And speaking of these fare inspectors, who the hell do they think they are? Look how they dress. Is there really a need for a bullet proof vest, combat boots, and utility belt with enough stuff on it they can fight the battle of the bulge?

      They do dress kind of intimidating. Though I would expect anyone in a position to fine people to be dressed with some protection. Is that the problem here? Is that the scandal? Fare inspectors should have fewer things on their belt, and less padding around their abdomen?

      Reply
      1. Marc

        I’m perplexed that this conspiracy theory is being perpetrated

        It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a product of a perverted, sick mindset currently stinking up how the STM manages itself.

        Is that the problem here? Is that the scandal? Fare inspectors should have fewer things on their belt, and less padding around their abdomen?

        For me, it is a problem. They need to decide if they want to be cops sans firearm, or staffers who check the validity of fares. Leave the macho dress and attitude to the real police. Lots of them put on their militaristic uniform and think they're goons of some dictatorial regime.

        I'm not minimizing the five points you brought up. The document request from the board meeting is particularly disturbing.

        But you simply cannot dismiss the fact that this agency has a serious behavior & power-tripping problem.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          But you simply cannot dismiss the fact that this agency has a serious behavior & power-tripping problem.

          Does it? I don’t think that fare inspectors making themselves look too much like police officers is proof that there’s a “serious behaviour and power-tripping problem” here.

          Reply
          1. Marc

            Does it? I don’t think that fare inspectors making themselves look too much like police officers is proof that there’s a “serious behaviour and power-tripping problem” here.

            I disagree.

            December 2, 2011, just before 7:30am at Villa Maria, Cote Vertu-bound platform, I witnessed this from the downtown-bound platform: (yes, I have a knack for remembering dates, especially when you’re off to one of several post-op follow up visits at hospital.)

            Four students, 16-17 yrs old were chatting among themselves, two sitting, two standing. Coming down the stairs I see no fewer that 8 “fare inspectors” surround them in a semi-circle formation so they can check their fares.

            I guess that being that age means you’re automatically up to no good. I and a few people around me waiting were absolutely stunned. I just rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust.

            These wannabe cops tore a page straight out of Ceau?escu’s Romania.

            Reply
            1. Vahan

              Man we need a “like” button for some of these posts. I have seen similar situations at the Guy station. Look I am a middle aged man and these overdressed buffoons don’t tend to target me. But I care that they come off brutish and are scarring the next generation of riders and making the whole atmosphere of the STM and us vs them thing. It will be and endless cycle of we will get you then you retaliate.

              Reply
        2. Bruce Martin

          Re fare inspectors:

          Bus driving, and even more are dangerous occupations. thre is a poroven constant risk of public violence. therefore, they have every right to protect themselves and the public. Buses are equipped with thransponders. these can preroifm many automated and diverse functions. One is that there is always a hidden means for the driver to summon police inan emergency without it being seen by the oubklic or an assailant.

          This technology was originally developed to manage threats of armed aerial hijackers on international flights, and has been adapted to the needs of the STM.

          As for the fart r inspectors, they are not full police officers, but do face comparable threats of violence. Therefore what they are wearing are bullet proof jackets, and rightfully so. the do not carry guns, tazers or other firearms. that is for the police, but they do need to be protected in case an assailant proves armed and dangerous without prior warning.

          As for the security cameras, I fully support their presence and use. They protect all of us, not just the drivers.

          We must all accept the right of personal safety for all, no matter that it may seem “emotionally grizzly” at times. Imagining that in Canada we are safe, just because Canada had gun control is simply not realistic, – and dangerous!

          Murder is murder, no matter what means is used, and the choices for the violent assailant are many! Even a threat is a criminal offence in Canada, so if threatened, call the police. they will take the report and start the crown prosecutor’s clandestine investigation. And tell the police that you WILL go to court, in respect for your legal duty as well as supporting the police in their legitimate jobs. With the Crown Prosecutor if and when called. Delays are apt to be about 6 months, but having done so in my time, I can say it does work, even if not as fast and convenient as so many would like.

          Reply
      2. Bobby

        No actually Steve, they sit in cars at Angrignon station shooting the shit in the bus area. Its entirelly plausible and likely they were summoned to that particular bus by dispatch.

        I find it amazing you are defending the POS organization.

        Looking around I am imagining that 99.99999999% of the people in Montreal and area don’t give a rats ass that they have to file a FOI request to get a document, they are just sick and tired of being abused.

        Besides if you don’t like the coverage that your paper has given the issue, bring that up with your editors. You look lame here defending the STM.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Its entirelly plausible and likely they were summoned to that particular bus by dispatch.

          Why is it more likely that they were dispatched there than they were simply there in the first place? And why do you believe the STM and the union are both lying about this?

          I find it amazing you are defending the POS organization.

          Actually, I’m defending the driver who is doing his job, and the inspectors who are doing theirs. The fact that fares can’t be paid with paper money, which seems to be at the heart of this problem in the first place, is the fault of the STM.

          Looking around I am imagining that 99.99999999% of the people in Montreal and area don’t give a rats ass that they have to file a FOI request to get a document, they are just sick and tired of being abused.

          I’m sure they don’t care. Just like they don’t care about most freedom of information cases. But when those hidden documents expose incompetence or worse, suddenly they start caring.

          Besides if you don’t like the coverage that your paper has given the issue, bring that up with your editors.

          The Gazette didn’t invent this story. And its angle on it, that the STM had not interviewed the driver a week after the fact despite promising an investigation, is newsworthy, as far as I’m concerned.

          Reply
    2. Vahan

      Marc. I agree with you 100% about the outfits. I always chuckle to myself when I see them in the Metro “posturing” the big tough guy attitude. I have taken STM surveys online and have mentioned the outfits in one survey exactly about the conduct of these employees. They do this in the U.S a lot too with rent a cops, they hire a skinny kid with a way too big shirt and then put on a massive brown cowboy type hat on their heads. I think this whole look brings out the aggressiveness in people. Whereas in Europe cops walk around in simple uniforms with no massive armour and probably less aggression.

      Reply
    3. Anonymous

      Premièrement, il n’est pas possible pour le chauffeur d’appeler les agents directement, on a pas ce moyen ds le bus, 2ement les boite de perception ds les autobus ne rendent pas la monnaie, parce que c’est trop compliqué de la recharger en cours de route, t’imagines, en pleine ligne, pu de change, on fait quoi? On arrête le service jusqu’à ce qu’un chef soit libre, vous trouver qu’il manque de service, ça serait pire……

      Reply
  4. Rebecca

    I’m not sure if this falls under communication problems – but here goes.

    * Construction changes. Montreal road works regularly cause detours and delays on bus routes. It would be nice to be able to see the stop-by-stop changes to the bus route on the STM mobile app and/or the STM website. Maybe they update their phone system with this information — I don’t know as I stopped using the phone system when the STM mobile app became available.
    * Alternate routes. Express buses tend to take detours when traffic gets bad. The idea is to avoid the traffic and still get to their destination in good time. Yet there is no publicly-viewable map of these detours. If the website and the app can update in real-time, why can’t we see which bus will be detoured? You can hear the detour being spelled out on the radio to the drivers (it seems to be broadcast to all routes); so it must be on a map somewhere.

    Reply
  5. Paul C

    It has happened to me where the bus driver suddenly decided to abandon their route and kick everyone off of the bus. One time while riding the 211 everyone got dropped off and abandoned on Notre Dame street after a woman started a racial argument with the bus driver when he didn’t stop for a visible minority man who was running after the bus even though there was no 211 bus stop in that area.

    Reply
  6. Common Sense

    Bus drivers are allowed to issue courtesy passes. He refused to and went to hide behind the union because of a bad decision he made when it became public outrage. No matter how you try to sugar-coat it, it was his personal decision that created this.

    On a side note, when I was younger, it was regular to see “bus driver inspectors” riding the first passenger seat and evaluating the drivers. When was the last time anyone has seen any such thing? They are left on their own, without oversight, with the companies relying on public complaints to evaluate the individual driver… then the unions blame the bosses and the bosses try to spin PR crap to claim they’re not that bad and it’s isolated incidents. Yawn.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Bus drivers are allowed to issue courtesy passes.

      Not in cases like these.

      No matter how you try to sugar-coat it, it was his personal decision that created this.

      Why is everyone blaming the driver? He let her on the bus even though she didn’t have a ticket. He warned her that she could be fined if she was caught. And he wasn’t the person who actually issued the fine.

      On a side note, when I was younger, it was regular to see “bus driver inspectors” riding the first passenger seat and evaluating the drivers. When was the last time anyone has seen any such thing?

      I see these during training runs, but those don’t have passengers on board. I’ve never seen an STM employee evaluating a driver while passengers were on board. And in any case, if they were visible like that, wouldn’t a bad driver change his behaviour?

      Reply
      1. beeg

        Bus drivers are allowed to issue courtesy passes.

        “Not in cases like these.”

        In what cases are courtesy passes allowed to be issued?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          In what cases are courtesy passes allowed to be issued?

          Courtesy tickets, at least in the days before Opus, were designed for unforeseen circumstances. If a bus or metro broke down, for example, forcing everyone off, then people would get these tickets because they’d already paid for their rides but hadn’t completed them yet (and in many cases didn’t grab a transfer because they didn’t need one).

          In the post-Opus era I’m not sure under what circumstances they would be distributed. I’ve never seen one given out.

          Reply
      2. Karen

        If drivers are allowed to issue curtesy passes, but this situation did not merit one, what type of situation would?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          If drivers are allowed to issue curtesy passes, but this situation did not merit one, what type of situation would?

          Presumably, a situation where someone has paid for and validated their ticket and is unable to complete their trip because the entire transit network is down.

          Reply
  7. Richard

    I agree that there is a requirement to verify that fares are paid, and If I was an inspector, I might want to wear a vest that protects me from knives .. those vests are probably there for that. The bus driver did his job, warned the lady of what might happen, and you know what, in life S*&%t does happen more often that it should.

    I heard in one news story that the driver has limited ‘free’ passes that he can dispense, I assume that they are counted and if they give too many out, they get into trouble, but if they do exist, this occasion sure seems like one where that discretion could have been used.

    What I really don’t get is why these two inspectors didn’t use a little more compassion, we have a lady who indicated she was just out of the hospital, she had a two year old in her arms, and had tried to pay the fare with a 5$ bill. But no, they fine her 219$, and leave her there late at night! Fine use of good judgement there! Where not talking about three gang bangers who where mouthing off and being obnoxious here, where not talking about a drugged out wino here, a 20 year old mother with her 2 year old daughter and a five dollar bill in her hands.

    I live off the island and could take public transport into work every day sitting quietly on a bus reading a good EBook, I would save about 500$ in gas per month, many many miles on my car, 18$ parking every day, but you know what?? I don’t want to get stuck on a dead subway, or out in the snow with 2000 other people waiting for the buses that are replacing the dead metro again (been there, done that). I don’t like riding a bus or a metro end of July, stuck up against a bunch of people when it’s 30 outside, and 45 inside.

    I realise that too many people select Death by Metro and that sometimes the metro goes down for that reason, but how many times have I heard over the last 12 – 18 months that the entire metro system is down again because of a computer failure? Please quit spending a fortune advertising the Opus cards on the radio, and fix the computer / electrical / HR / training problems, then when you have a better system, and the inspectors have had their guide lines or training fixed up, then come out and try and get the rest of us to leave our cars at home.

    Richard

    p.s. A parking lot near the end of a metro line that is there to encourage us to leave our car and take the Metro is kind of useless if it’s completely full at 5:45 in the morning!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      this occasion sure seems like one where that discretion could have been used.

      Why? What is it about this situation that is so exceptional? Is it that she didn’t have exact change (which can be said for just about anyone boarding a bus without paying), that she only had paper money, or that she’s a sympathetic-looking mother?

      What I really don’t get is why these two inspectors didn’t use a little more compassion, we have a lady who indicated she was just out of the hospital, she had a two year old in her arms, and had tried to pay the fare with a 5$ bill.

      I’m not in the minds of those inspectors, but I’d be willing to bet that (1) just about everyone who gets stopped by inspectors has a similar sob story, and (2) letting someone get off for that would be an invitation for everyone else to use the same scheme to ride for free.

      Where not talking about three gang bangers

      I’m sorry, but what does “gang bangers” mean in this context? Does number of simultaneous sexual partners have relevance here? Or do you mean people in gangs? And how do you tell whether someone is in a gang?

      I realise that too many people select Death by Metro and that sometimes the metro goes down for that reason, but how many times have I heard over the last 12 – 18 months that the entire metro system is down again because of a computer failure?

      About three or four, by my count.

      Reply
  8. Kevin

    Whether the bus driver notified inspectors about Ms. Tantost is irrelevant.
    The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people believe this is exactly the type of action that bus drivers would take — whether or not it is morally correct.

    Yes, she should have paid the fare — she was willing — but the system can only accept coins. It was a stupid decision when the STM installed the machines 7 years ago, and it’s even dumber now as fares creep closer to the $5 mark.

    I don’t know how inspectors choose where they go, but whatever they’re doing it doesn’t seem to work. Last month I was waiting at a metro station for 45 minutes to meet someone on a Saturday afternoon and I saw at least 12 people walk through a turnstile without paying. In each case it was a casual and well-practiced maneuver made in plain sight of the ticket taker.

    When people like that are taking free rides, and people who are willing to pay cannot, the system is not serving the public.

    Reply
  9. Chris

    I totally agree with you Steve. All the STM employees were doing their job. There was no reports of any of them being unprofessional. If there is anything we should be upset about is that the fare box doesn’t accept paper bills and doesn’t give change.

    That being said, I do empathize with the mother.

    Reply
  10. chris

    There was a comment on an article in the gazette about this isuue. Th commenter said she was on the bus with her husband when this happened and offered to pay the 3$ fair. The STM inspectors refused. Seems like they were looking for someone to write up if you ask me. Seems a steep price to pay for someone willing to pay the fair to get on. When I used to take the bus, it was a box with a slot and the driver didn’t even count it. Seems like a step back if you ask me.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Th commenter said she was on the bus with her husband when this happened and offered to pay the 3$ fair. The STM inspectors refused.

      If people could get out of paying tickets by just paying the fare when they got caught, then there wouldn’t be any point in the tickets, would there? That’s like offering to fill the parking meter as a ticket is being placed in your windshield.

      Reply
  11. SMS

    Next bus in 30 minutes… it wasn’t like it was the last bus of the night.
    No money, no candy! Get change at Tim Hortons at the Forum instead. What difference would another 30 minutes have been to wait… look at the opportunity cost.

    Reply
    1. Vahan

      SMS Really! If I remember the story correctly she had spent the day at the Childrens’ hospital with her kid. Have you ever spent that time with a kid in the hospital? I have and it knocks the crap out of you and the first thing you want to do is get the hell out and back home. Traveling with a sick child on the bus is an extra kick to the balls. So some compassion man. Yes and the Timmy’s is a change machine. Wow, wow, WOW!

      Reply
      1. SMS

        My dear Vahan, yes really! The world doesn’t revolve on charity sadly. I am not a fan of hospitals either believe me. Why didn’t this lady ask people on the bus for change to break her fiver? Drivers have no obligation to make change and cannot be trusted by the company to carry change banks on them clearly as they haven’t offered this service in decades. At the same time, I would like to state for the record that it was extremely short sighted of the transit corporation to purchase fareboxes without the capability to pay with bills. Just wait till the daypass hits $10 presumably next year… people at YUL riding the 747 will be in for a treat. And yes, a timbit could have gotten her the change. I am sure that if the lady went back in time, she would have done just that! Wouldn’t you?

        Reply
      2. Martin Cirino

        Isn’t there change machines in hospitals near the cafeterias? IIRC, at the CHUM Notre-Dame, there’s a change machine, so it would be easy for her to get some change before taking the bus.

        Reply
  12. Karine76

    I thought there was something fishy with the mother’s story but only because I regularly take the bus to Terrebonne and Maschouche and they accept paper bills, I didn’t know the STM buses didn’t take them since I use my Opus card in Mtl. Still, I do think warned or not, it’s not like she just got on the bus without paying, the bus driver was aware that she wanted to pay and had the money to do so. Legally, the constables were right but I think they could have used some leeway.

    As for legit complaints, I have been able to load fares from the north an south shores on my Opus card. The only reason you’d have to pay cash is because they don’t have single fare tickets for Opus and that makes no sense to me.

    That leads me to my complaint about MRC Les Moulins: I spent a couple of weeks up there last year so I bought their ticket packs, one set to get from Mtl to Terrebonne, another from Terrebonne to Mascouche. If you use a teller, it’s all good since you can specify what area you travel too. If you use a machine, they only show codes (or zones, can’t remember) with no explanation so I had no idea what zone was covered by the tickets I bought and I picked wrong. I would have been more then happy to shell out the bucks to get a weekly regional pass that went from Mascouche to Mtl, something I was easily able to do in France.

    Reply
  13. Luc Landry

    Is it legal to refuse legal money? To refuse to give change, ok. But to refuse a 5 $ bill for a 3$ service? On the bill, it is written “This note is legal tender”. Doesn’t that note make it illegal to refuse it?

    Reply
    1. Marc

      Is it legal to refuse legal money?

      Absolutely. The Currency Act stipulates that no one is mandated by law to accept any cut of circulating currency as means to settle a debt. “Legal Tender” means that a chartered bank or central bank guarantees to honor it. A big chunk of population actually doesn’t know what those two words mean.

      Reply
  14. telso

    If she left from the Atwater bus loop, she could have walked the two minutes to the metro station to use the paper bill to purchase a ticket from the machine or the station attendant. It would make sense for them to install a machine at this and other major bus loops (like Dorval Circle), especially with all the night buses converging there when the metro station is closed, and it also would have been nice to install fareboxes that could accept bills, especially for the 747, whose fare is now $9.

    But given how many people pay with change, or OPUS, or tickets, the latter two being widely available and are often acquired by most Montrealers (I keep my OPUS with tickets, some unlimited evening passes and some individual tickets in my wallet at all times, in case one doesn’t work, and I take public transit once a month or less), I suppose the STM made a calculation that the extra money necessary to accept bills (which most European buses don’t accept either) could have been better spent elsewhere, just like they recently decided about air conditioning. Although there are lots of dumb ways the STM spends its money, there are probably better uses for it than installing bill acceptors in all those boxes.

    Some friends of mine have said that when someone boards without paying, the bus driver pushes a button on his control panel, which alerts inspectors, and after a few pushes, when the number gets high enough (which I suppose could depend on the time of day and availability of inspectors, meaning the number could be as low as one if they’re not busy and nearby), inspectors will be dispatched to the bus. I have no idea if this is true or not. However, you don’t want bus drivers getting into arguments with fare evaders; I saw one about a decade ago almost escalate into assault.

    And lastly, the suggestion among manner commenters that the inspectors should have been lenient (i.e. “showed more compassion”) because she’s a mother with a young child is how we get an unjust society. I’ve had friends who didn’t have their STM student photo cards (before the OPUS) who got tickets: should we give them a break because they’re poor students (even though some of them weren’t actually poor)? What about the elderly? Or someone with an injury? But of course, people who look like they’re in gangs should be ticketed at every possible opportunity. Let’s get the delinquents, the homeless, the downtrodden, anyone who makes us feel uneasy.

    Allowing officers discretion is just going to lead to profiling. We already have had cops in Quebec who have pulled over dark-skinned people because they “looked suspicious” or because they were driving a car registered to someone who had a “French” name even though they didn’t “look” like someone with a French name. Do we want them to only give out tickets only if a person doesn’t look “sympathetic”. Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination; if government starts treating people differently, that’s not only unconstitutional, but also immoral.

    I suppose if for some reason as a society we wanted to allow mothers of young children with the young children present just out of the hospital to take public transit for free then we could set up such an exception (why not more exceptions?), but it should be a publicly made decision announced to everyone, not a case-by-case set of exemptions decided by the inspectors at the time. That’s why I generally oppose many “nuisance” laws that don’t harm others (curfews, loitering, drinking in public and the now famous no sitting on grass in parks), because they’re often applied arbitrarily and capriciously to whomever the officer doesn’t like, while those of us “lucky” enough to be of the majority will often not be even given an official warning.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Some friends of mine have said that when someone boards without paying, the bus driver pushes a button on his control panel, which alerts inspectors,

      As I understand it, this logs that someone did not pay but doesn’t send it in real-time. Rather, it’s reviewed after the fact, and if the STM notices a pattern (say, a large number of people not paying on a certain line at a certain time of day) then it can arrange for inspectors to check there in the future. I don’t think dispatching fare inspectors on the fly to chase down buses makes sense, and have never seen a bus pulled over by fare inspectors chasing them in a vehicle.

      Reply
      1. telso

        Thanks, that makes much more sense; it would be rather impractical to catch people on the fly, especially as people might often have gotten off by the time the inspectors arrive, unless it’s an express bus that won’t stop for a while. (I might also intrude to advocate for a proof-of-payment system, like the AMT uses for its trains and most European cities use for their buses. This is especially useful on busy routes, where half a dozen people are boarding at every stop and all have to board at the front door and validate one-by-one. The Park/CDN 80/165/435 articulated buses often take much longer to board than would be with PoP and three-door boarding. A $200 fine the first time and a $500 fine for future offences, with a decent number of controllers/inspectors, would reduce fare evasion pretty quickly.)

        Reply
  15. beeg

    It seems to me that the inspectors could have, upon verifying her story with the driver and other passengers, taken her five bucks and given her a warning instead of a ticket. That way nobody gets away with anything and nobody is punished for not following the letter of the law. (Count me among those who has always interpreted “exact change only” as “overpayments will not yield change; this was not uncommon in the pre-Opus era, especially when fares weren’t even dollar amounts.) Ignorance of the rules is at best a lousy defence, but stiff fines should be handed out with discretion. Nobody has suggested the woman was trying to scam the STM – though I suppose it’s possible she knew the driver couldn’t accept a $5 bill and was counting on a dearth of inspectors out at 10 p.m. It’s altogether more likely that she was desperate to get home and put her sick kid to bed.

    Steve, you argue that the driver and the inspectors were bound by the rules that govern their work. Fair enough. But, as anyone who uses public transit regularly knows, even the most rule-abiding employees and passengers use their discretion to test the flex of the rules all the time. Drivers routinely display habits that are presumably against the regs – modified uniforms, cell-phone conversations, listening to music. They routinely wave people through when their Opus cards don’t work. They get off the bus for a smoke at terminuses and let people board without verifying that they’ve paid. They also do good – they’ll occasionally let passengers board early in winter (though it seems that most STM drivers would prefer to park the bus ten feet from the stop and let people shiver for five minutes before letting them board). Metro ticket-counter agents let people pass through without paying when they take breaks. And the Opus readers break all the time. No system is perfect. Passengers too break the rules all the time. They don’t move to the back, they sneak on (as kids we used to re-use transfers – just flash ’em to the driver – or have the first kid in line pass his monthly pass out a rear window to the last kid in line), they don’t get out of the reserved seats. So the system functions with a fair bit of slack.

    That neither the driver nor, particularly, the inspectors sought to use their discretion to do anything other than fine a woman travelling with her sick ten-year-old and leave her on a street corner late at night reflects terribly on the system, yes, but on them too. She wanted to pay, she meant no malice, she messed up. It happens. Other passengers who offered their change were turned away. According to an eyewitness in the Gazette story, another woman who had an issue with her proof of payment was not fined.

    Fine. Everyone did their jobs and can feel good at night knowing that they showed real commitment to a hard-line application of the rules. But what, exactly, did this woman do that was deserving of such treatment and punishment? What behaviour needs to be stamped out so badly that only a $219 fine will do the job? Why should it be acceptable that this kind of mess happens?

    PS: Maybe paying a solo $3 fare with a five is unusual. But imagine you’re a parent off work taking your ten-year-old kid and her two friends downtown to see a movie. Let’s further imagine you don’t commute by transit every day so you don’t have an Opus card. The idea that you have to pay $12 worth of fares twice with, what, a dozen twonies, reflects more on the STM’s planning than on yours. That you don’t have a quarter-roll of twonies on hand can land you $2000 worth of fines is insane, and speaks directly against the STM’s attempt to increase its appeal to new riders and families. But everyone’s just doing their job. Maybe the folks at Sid Lee can help the STM market their way out this mess.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Drivers routinely display habits that are presumably against the regs – modified uniforms, cell-phone conversations, listening to music.

      I’m not aware of rules on STM uniform modifications. Some are presumably permitted and others not. Cellphone conversations while driving are not permitted and will result in disciplinary action if caught. Music listening is permitted, but drivers must bring their own radios and cannot use headphones.

      So the system functions with a fair bit of slack.

      Most of the examples you list of this are why inspectors are there in the first place.

      That neither the driver nor, particularly, the inspectors sought to use their discretion to do anything other than fine a woman travelling with her sick ten-year-old and leave her on a street corner late at night reflects terribly on the system, yes, but on them too.

      So if it was a man it would have been okay? If the child had been in good health or older (he’s actually 2, not 10) it would have been okay? If it had been earlier in the evening it would have been okay?

      She wanted to pay, she meant no malice, she messed up. It happens.

      So why doesn’t she just pay the fine?

      According to an eyewitness in the Gazette story, another woman who had an issue with her proof of payment was not fined.

      It’s hard to comment without knowing what that issue was.

      But what, exactly, did this woman do that was deserving of such treatment and punishment?

      Again, there is no evidence that this woman was mistreated in any way, other than the fact that she was issued a fine. As for what she did, she rode a bus without a valid fare. That’s what she was fined for. When the driver warned her that she could have been fined, she should have gotten off the bus and found some way to get change.

      But imagine you’re a parent off work taking your ten-year-old kid and her two friends downtown to see a movie. Let’s further imagine you don’t commute by transit every day so you don’t have an Opus card. The idea that you have to pay $12 worth of fares twice with, what, a dozen twonies, reflects more on the STM’s planning than on yours.

      Under your scenario, it would cost $9 each way, not $12, but sure, the fact that the machines don’t take paper money is a problem. The question is what do we do about it. I don’t think “let anyone without change ride for free” is the answer.

      That you don’t have a quarter-roll of twonies on hand can land you $2000 worth of fines is insane

      At $219 per fine, how would you accumulate $2000 of fines in one shot?

      Reply
      1. beeg

        So if it was a man it would have been okay? If the child had been in good health or older (he’s actually 2, not 10) it would have been okay? If it had been earlier in the evening it would have been okay?

        No, I don’t think so. It’s hard to imagine why, in all these cases, it wouldn’t have been optimal for the inspectors to issue a warning, whether the passenger was male or female, travelling solo or with a kid, sick or healthy. Take the $5 and issue a warning. The fact that we’re talking about a mother of a sick two-year-old being left halfway between her house and the hospital obviously colours the story, but the fundamental point remains: this is a stupid reason to issue someone a ticket.

        That said, it’s ridiculous that a transit agency that operates a service that allows women to ask to be let off in between stops at night in the interest of their safety would employ inspectors who would abandon a mother of a two-year old halfway home, after 10 p.m. Your replies haven’t addressed the main issue: the total lack of empathy and the refusal to use discretion on behalf of the transit agency’s employees, ostensibly there to serve the public interest.

        Precisely what about this situation is desirable?

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          It’s hard to imagine why, in all these cases, it wouldn’t have been optimal for the inspectors to issue a warning

          Since the bus driver had already issued a warning, would an inspectors’ warning have changed anything?

          Your replies haven’t addressed the main issue: the total lack of empathy and the refusal to use discretion on behalf of the transit agency’s employees, ostensibly there to serve the public interest.

          I have issues with people using “discretion” in their jobs, particularly when it comes to things like issuing fines, mainly because of the increased risk of inconsistent application. I’ve already read suggestions here that this woman should have been treated differently because of who she is, which suggests that if someone doing the same thing fit a less sympathetic stereotype that they should be fined. I don’t think that’s particularly fair.

          Should the inspectors have let her off with a warning? Maybe. I don’t think it would have been scandalous had they done so. But ticketing someone who doesn’t have a valid fare is their job, and I can’t fault them for doing that.

          Precisely what about this situation is desirable?

          The fact that people were doing their jobs as instructed. It might not lead to ideal results, but in general it’s better than people doing whatever they want without regard for policies that are there for a reason.

          Reply
      2. beeg

        Also, I didn’t say people with paper money should ride free. I said inspectors should take the paper money, not issue chance and issue warnings instead of fines:

        “It seems to me that the inspectors could have, upon verifying her story with the driver and other passengers, taken her five bucks and given her a warning instead of a ticket.”

        And you get to $2000 in fines because, presumably, the parent and the three kids would each get a fine. OK, maybe not $2K. But close.

        And, last, being issued a $219 fine for trying to pay a $3 fare with a $5 bill counts as mistreatment. The fact that the STM has suspended the fine pending its BS investigation says as much.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          And, last, being issued a $219 fine for trying to pay a $3 fare with a $5 bill counts as mistreatment.

          But that’s not what she was fined for. She was fined because, rather than find a way to acquire change, she decided to stay on the bus and ignore the driver’s warning that she might be fined for riding a bus without a valid fare.

          If you’re warned that something might happen, ignore that warning, and then that thing happens, how is that mistreatment?

          Reply
  16. mike

    Public transportation is a service for population. With this in mind the most important characteristic of people working for public transportation is HUMANITY. Applying all the rules in the most damaging way is not what you expect for such a service.
    Pathetic…
    I suggest you to start complaining when a bus driver is using his cellphone or you see a bus stopped near mc donal’d or other fast food places.

    Reply
  17. Tux

    You’re right Steve, if we believe the STM’s version of events (inspecteurs were not called in by the bus driver) then nobody acted improperly, legally. However there is no excuse or justification for buses being unable to accept bills. The inspecteurs are there to catch people defrauding the system. People willing and able to pay should not be penalized. The driver made the right move letting her on. (If he’d abandoned her on the street with her kid and she’d gotten mugged even you wouldn’t defend the STM) The inspecteurs should have let it go. It’s got nothing to do with what “the rules” are and everything to do with being decent human beings and using common sense. You ever seen an inspecteur give a warning? Me either. Know why? ‘Cause they need to issue enough tickets to justify their salaries.

    Reply
    1. Dan

      The lady was at Atwater station, she could go down a buy a ticket at the cashier in the metro. So there is no excuse for her…

      Reply
  18. Andrew

    No change, no ride! ! Its as simple as that.
    The driver did his job by informing her about the risk.
    Do you know how many people get away with saying ” I’ll pay when we get to the metro” and they get off 3 stops before either because they don’t want to take the chance of getting too close to the metro just because there might be inspectors waiting to check their pass…or simply say that to get a free ride to where they want to go…

    He warned her and there is no reason why the driver should be interviewed because the public says they want answers……????

    People, the driver did nothing wrong at all.

    Someone mentionned about the inspectors not being in the busses…. they are and they are dressed just like everyone else, in regular clothes. And the are on lines that have specific problems or issues that have to be fixed. The inspectors are somtimes asked by the bus drivers to be a a certain area at a certain time because there is a problem in that time frame on that bus line. PEOPLE ITS MOST OFTENLY FOR YOUR OWN SECURITY! !! alot of people who don’t pay, don’t give a shit about other users and that problem has to be rectified. …

    Im sory that the example had to happen to a young mommy with her 2 year old…. but she has responsibilitys and she had to have known that the fare is 3 $ but didn’t want to take the time to get change… she HERSELF could have avoided the while situation by just asking other users on the bus if they had change to help her out. !! And im sure that any decent person who had change on them would have help her.

    The courtesy card is for special situations and a person not having the right change happens too often to put that in the same category!

    You are dammed if you do and you are dammed if you don’t! ! If the driver lets someone on without paying, some users who bust their ass to be able to pay their fair could get pissed off at the driver if he/she lets the person on and also, the passengers could get pissed off at the driver if he refuses to let her on..!! He is not the one to decide who gets on or not. He’s not allowed to judge people.. thats not his job.!!!! He has to accept and warn people of the possible random consequences.

    There is no way that the driver can call the inspectors while he is on his route. The phone in the bus doesn’t contact them at all. And for those people who think he did you would have heard him explaining the fact that the women didn’t pay. The person on the other end of the radio doesn’t really care because its not part of his job! !

    It does suck that the stm doesn’t have a change system in their busses… but you know what, there are poeple out there who WILL start holding up the busses just to rip that change box out. Then people are going to complain that the system is not secure enough.!!

    Talk to as many drivers as you want. .. they all have a story to tell about the clients and you would be shocked on the thimgs that will come out of their mouths.

    Reply
  19. SMS

    It took two weeks but finally some intelligent comments have come through! Bravo!

    Fagstein, if I ever have the (mis)fortune of booking 7h30mins of RTL route 45 (ten round trips), I will cordially invite you to witness the fare evasion and to truly grasp who is the bad guy in the various situations faced.

    Reply
  20. Marc

    All moot now. With more than enough egg on its face than it can handle, the STM did the right thing and cancelled her fine.

    Reply
  21. Chris Miner

    Really!? You’re claiming “They were just doing their jobs.” is a defense? Try that defense out in the context on any number of historical travesties and see how far your conscience lets you get? If the drivers don’t like something, their union can most likely get it changed. The only rational conclusion to draw is that they like the current system. As such no one should have any sympathy for them.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Really!? You’re claiming “They were just doing their jobs.” is a defense?

      Yes.

      Try that defense out in the context on any number of historical travesties and see how far your conscience lets you get?

      You’re saying that fining someone for not having paid their fare is the equivalent of genocide?

      If the drivers don’t like something, their union can most likely get it changed.

      Right. That’s why Quebec’s public-sector unions are so happy with how everything is going right now.

      Reply

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