I walk down a Brooklyn alleyway and arrive at the NYC Transit Adjudication Bureau, prepared to fight my $100 bus fare-evasion ticket.
After I wait an hour, the hearing officer swears me in, records my testimony, then sends me back out into the waiting room.
On my right sits Bong Jin, a polite young Korean student, who tells me his tale in halting English. He paid his subway fare, but the turnstile wouldn't let him through. A woman held open the emergency gate, but when he followed her a transit officer grabbed him and scribbled an "entered without payment" ticket.
"I don't understand," he tells me, "but the more I try to explain the angrier he gets."
They call Bong Jin's name and hand him a paper. He stares at it, puzzled. "What this mean -- dismissed?" I answer, "Not guilty -- you are free to go."
On my left is Shakaya, a restaurant manager who did not want her last name used. She says she paid her $2.50 bus fare in quarters, but soon after an inspector said she shortchanged the box and issued a $50 ticket.
"The box gave that beep that signals when you paid in full," she tells me, "and the driver gave me my transfer. I know they have a job to do, but catch the bad guys. It kills me to have to take time off for something I didn't do, but I don't have money to throw away."
About an hour later, they call me. I receive my printed verdict: "The respondent's MetroCard reveals an entry at 1:34 p.m., approximately three minutes prior to the notice of violation, and supports his testimony that he paid his fare.
The process took almost all morning. If the inspector had scanned my MetroCard when he yanked me off the M34 bus, it would have taken two minutes. I paid the fare. Why didn't he have a mobile reader?
I call MTA headquarters, and get an emailed response from spokesman Kevin Ortiz: "We explored the idea some time ago, but the mobile readers that are available would only be able to say what is left on the card . . . We will look at mobile readers again as we work toward implementing a new fare payment system in 2019."
So good news! They will be putting us through this unnecessary hell for only five more years.
If we're lucky.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.