I purchased two travel tickets yesterday, and screwed up both times. The second one nearly cost Donna-Lane and me a bunch of Swiss francs.
The first ticket, purchased in a machine for the train from Geneva to Montreaux, I overpaid, instead booking to Lausanne via Montreaux. Got me where we were going, but for a few francs more than was necessary.
The second ticket, purchased in a machine for a short bus ride, almost came with a hefty fine because I underpaid.
In Switzerland, France, and I expect other places in Europe, the public transportation is on a semi-honor system. You buy a ticket - machine, online, or ticket seller - get on the bus or train ... and you may very well continue the entire way to your destination (even several hours hence) without being asked to show your ticket. There is no TSA-style pre-boarding security ... in fact, the busses and trains typically do not stop for very long at a station, so be ready and get on board!
Randomly, 'controllers' check passengers for tickets. For example, on the train between France and Switzerland, which requires three separate legs, we will usually see controllers on the second leg between, say, Montpelier and Lyon.
Yesterday, we had walked from the Montreaux Christmas Marche (more on that in a separate blog later) to Chillon Castle (more on that in a separate blog later) - a hike of about 3 kilometres (about 2 miles), so we decided to take the bus back to the Marche ... which is where we needed to get the train to return to Geneva.
The busses in Montreaux use a different ticket machine than the ones in Geneva, and I was having some difficulty figuring it out. I knew that in Geneva, D-L qualifies for a senior discount, so I chose the 'reduction' option for two tickets. It was about 2 francs, 60 less than full fare.
No sooner had I sat down and the local controllers - 3 of them - got on at the next bus stop. A very large controller took our tickets and started asking us for our 'proof' that we were entitled to a reduction - in French of course, which I did not understand in the least. D-L referenced her Geneva discount, but apparently that was not valid in Montreaux.
But instead of offering us the option of paying the 2,60 difference, the large controller instructed us to get off the bus with them. As we were standing at the bus stop, waiting for the next step, an older controller was pulling out a pad and preparing to write up a fine of perhaps 100 francs or more.
Then the bus driver saved us. Not sure why he had gotten off to assist, but he approached the controllers and told them they were having problems with the ticket machine.
The controller then handed our tickets back to Donna-Lane, and told us to go ahead and get back on the bus.
Moral of the story - when you ride public transportation, be sure you understand (beforehand) how to purchase a ticket, have plenty of coins in case it's a machine (bus machines sometimes don't take bills - only coins and special pre-purchased cards), and purchase your ticket as soon as you get onboard.
In case you're interested, here are some other recent times I've almost been fined or gone to jail (and not always in Europe ... so it must be me and not the locale):