That Time a Railroad Sued a Commuter for 92 Cents Plus Interest

A N.J. Transit train departs from Montvale, N.J. on Feb. 10, 2016.
A N.J. Transit train departs from Montvale, N.J. on Feb. 10, 2016. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

Fare evasion remains a constant problem and hot topic of discussion for commuter railroads and transit agencies.

The Erie Railroad once took legal action against a Montvale, N.J., woman who boarded a train and did not pay.

According to an account in the Oct. 18, 1927, edition of the Bergen Evening Record, Cora B. Campbell boarded a train on Dec. 30, 1925, without her commutation card and did not pay the fare.

Conductor Patrick Gessner did not eject the woman from the train, so she rode it to Jersey City. He did, however, note her name and pass it along to the railroad company for collection of the fare.

In 1927, the railroad took action and sued Campbell for $1.03 in Hackensack District Court, according to a newspaper account. The amount included both the original 92-cent fare and 11 cents in interest.

The railroad filed the action under the Interstate Commerce Act. Under the act, the railroad could face fines if it did not collect fares.

A friend of the woman paid the fare about two months after the railroad filed the action.

“A friend of Miss Campbell wrote to the President of the Erie Railroad setting forth the circumstances of the case, and what people generally thought of the action,” the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald reported on Dec. 17, 1927.

“In reply the Erie President intimated that the receipt of a for $1.03—a one-way fare, and presumably 11 cents interest—would satisfy the claim,” the newspaper wrote. “The check was sent and Miss Campbell has received an official notice from the railroad company that the case had been discontinued.”

The suit likely cost the railroad more to initiate than it recovered.

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