It would have been a good couple of weeks for Ha and I, but both weeks have been negatively affected by bad incidents in Madrid. A week and a half ago, Ha lost her wallet (with credit and bank cards and cash). We are not even sure what happened, whether it was dropped or stolen. We weren’t walking in crowded areas, and then just noticed it was gone while preparing to buy food at supermarket CarreFour in Salamanca.
Today, we lost 30 euros (about $40 USD) to Metro (the subway train in Madrid) cops. After entering our tickets into the gates at De Quevedo and taking a short trip, we got off at San Bernardo to transfer to another train. In the station transfer, we were stopped by ticket checkers. However, I had not received my ticket back from the machine when I entered originally – I did not think this was a big deal because it was my last ride on that ticket anyway, and in Madrid, you do not enter your tickets on exit as with other subways (thus, I did not need it).
When they stopped us, Ha was cleared since she had a ticket. I explained that I did not receive a ticket from the machine. The officer said it did not matter, regulations said anyone without a ticket had to pay 30 euros. I told him they could check the video of the station to see that I in fact had used a ticket, but he and the other staff said it did not matter repeatedly. When we tried to go back to De Quevedo so we could find the lost ticket, they stopped us and said we could not. With heated arguments, it was clear they did not care whether I actually had paid my way or not, they wanted money. There were 5 people total, 2 ticket checkers with one “boss” (their term) and 2 security staff, one male, one female.
(It was a difficult situation both ways as Ha and I do not know Spanish, and their English was lacking)
At one point, one of the male staff spoke harshly to Ha in Spanish for an extended amount of time even though she repeatedly told him she did not speak Spanish (in Spanish).
I did not know what we could do other than pay at this point and then asked to pay via credit card; they refused, saying they could not leave the station in order for me to use the credit card. This was a problem as Ha and I were short on cash because of the previous stolen wallet incident. We felt this situation was terrible, as they wanted us to pay, yet made it very difficult to do so. Ha told them to call the (real) police, and they said they would. We were hoping the police could view the previous station footage and see that I did nothing wrong. I asked how long it would take for the real police to get there, they said they did not know. They said it could be 15 minutes or two hours. They also said that if they called the police, we would need to pay 300 euros in order to pay the police “service” fee.
In general, we felt they were trying to intimidate us into paying, particularly as they could have guessed (knowing no Spanish and clearly not being European) we were not native.
While they said they had called the police, I doubted they did. I was not afraid of the police, but I was cognizant that I did not know Spanish law, so we did need to be careful. I did not believe the police were coming any time soon, and Ha and I needed to get to IE Business School for a meeting. I also did not have my passport on me (I have heard that police may retain foreigners who do not have passports on them), and was concerned about a situation in which I might be held until things could be cleared things up, which would have resulted in even more time lost. I could not even be sure that the police who were supposed to be coming could speak English with us. After thinking it over for a few more minutes, we prepared the cash and gave it to them and left. I think we were in argument with them for 10 to 15 minutes total. They issued the ticket below:
If you look at the ticket (it’s one sided), there is no phone number, no name of the person who issued the ticket – there is no recourse for complaint or way to talk to the person responsible for the department. I wanted to make a formal complaint in how they handled the situation, but there is no way to do it, other than writing this blog post and this Metro web site contact form. When I asked for some kind of business card, they said they did not have one.
Overall, I am very upset about this experience. Of course, I can understand the Metro’s side in wanting to regulate ticket sales. However, the way we were treated was disrespectful and I got the feeling that many of the things they said, particularly about the real police officers being called, were lies. In fact, the only reason I can assume these Metro cops were real is because other train travelers also stopped to let their tickets be reviewed, and the staff dressed “official.”
An irony here is that the Metro is concerned with people illegally using the Metro for free, yet they allow people to set up shop and sell bootleg DVDs and fake handbags inside the stations with no problem.
What bothers me even more about this situation is that some stations do not have people staffing the ticket areas at all times. The question then is, if the machine had let me through and not returned my ticket, and then I noticed and had wanted to get my ticket back, who would I have talked to? There would be no one there. I would have likely just taken the train (as I had paid for the ticket) and then again, been forced to pay the fine even though I was innocent and a paying customer. Again, I would have taken the penalty despite no fault.
How ridiculous is that?
(edit: as of May 18th, 10 days after the incident, the Madrid Metro had not responded to my complaint submitted on their website. Thanks a lot, guys!)