My thoughts on the ticket SNAFU
My fiancé and I were “lucky” if you can call it that... My request for 2 tickets was granted at the $390.00 tier.
This will be my thirteenth burn in a row, and my fiancé’s seventh in a row. We got engaged on the Playa (on the Man!) in 2007. I’m a participant, as opposed to a “spectator.” I’ve been a part of large scale music camps, small scale (but cool) art projects and several theme camps. I bring a small art car and give rides to anyone who asks. I’ve gifted literally thousands of dollars worth of custom made trinkets as a way of thanking my burner brethren for their participation. And every single day, I wear (proudly) one of the two burner necklaces I received in 2004 from Liquid Diet Lounge. (Gave the other one away, as instructed, to someone who “wasn’t an asshole”). I’ve been responsible for countless virgin burners deciding to go, getting there, and getting through the event. I truly cherish the core ethos of Burning Man, the freedom to express oneself without conventional boundaries. Being among those who appreciate and participate in such an event is awe inspiring and rejuvenating. That’s why I’ve been back every year since I first rang the bell in 2000.
Its also why I’m heartbroken at what has happened this year with the ticketing situation and its probable impact on both the event and - more importantly - the community. There is a lot of confusion, anger and pain out there. Its palpable and its legitimate.
Our core group of burner friends and camp-mates played by the rules, and of the 12 of us who applied, only 4 got tickets. I doubt any of the four of us that got them will actually go unless something miraculous happens for a majority of the other eight.
What hurts isn’t that there hasn’t been some sort of profuse apology from the Org, as so many apparently demand. What hurts is that anyone who is smart enough to be in charge of such an event should have seen this coming a mile away. When the lottery was first announced, there was an almost universal antipathy from the community. Many people, presciently, pointed out that scammers and scalpers could and would easily game the system. I personally sent a letter to the LLC last November explaining numerous ways that the system could be gamed and provided several methods (legal and technical) to prevent them - including linking tickets to IDs. I never heard back. Others tried to warn them too, directly and through social media. But the Org decided they knew better and asked us all to trust them...we really had no choice....
And so here we are.
Its important to realize that this is not a virgins versus long time burners issue. Yes, its important that the large scale camps have sufficient manpower to build their projects. But I don’t think there is something that makes a long time burner more deserving of a ticket than a virgin. We were all virgins once. The event needs a constant flow of new people and fresh ideas to remain vibrant. So I hope my long time burner brethren will stop bashing the virgins simply because they were lucky enough to score a ticket.
I do not think it particularly “burneresque” for people to cast personal aspersions. I don’t - for a second - believe there was any overt intention from the Org to screw over our community. They did what they thought was the right thing to do. Hindsight is always 20-20. I appreciate and believe Maid Marian’s statement that the Org is going to take a long hard look at their options. I’ve been fortunate to have met Marian and I am certain that she is as heartbroken and concerned as I am, if not more so. So I do not approve of people attacking her for her press release.
I will say that I think it was incredibly naive of those who set up the lottery to believe that scalpers - who due to the supply/demand situation could potentially triple their money in just a few months - wouldn’t take out pre-paid debit cards which the “scrubbing software” couldn’t possibly catch. They do this for a living and know how to game far more complex systems than the one employed by the Org in running the lottery.
I also believe it naive (or at best wishful thinking) to assume that there are a significant number of actual burners who got more tickets than they need and who will now redistribute them through STEP. The sheer number of people who have discussed the ticketing problem on social networking sites, the e-Playa and here are ample evidence that simply didn’t happen. Thus far, I have not spoken to a single person who registered for more tickets than they needed, and got them. In fact, what I’ve heard is that a few registered for more than they needed, and got none at all.
One additional concern I have, which I have not seen discussed, is that it reasonable to assume that if only a third or so of the burners who applied actually received tickets, then there is a strong probability that only a third of the scalper applications were granted as well. So simply giving those who applied and were turned down a better chance at the remaining ten thousand tickets will only put more (probably 60%) into the hands of the scalpers. Talk about pouring gasolene on a fire....
Complaining isn’t going to fix the problem. It may be cathartic, but its not really productive.
As I see it, the real question now is what can be done to try to fix the problem.
Selling more tickets isn’t an option. The BLM permit has restrictions and - believe me - the government doesn’t care about the ticketing problem.
Some are talking about “occupying” or rushing the gate or trying to sneak in. Please... It’s a federal crime to trespass on federal land. There are many in the government who frown upon our gathering, and would look at a huge number of arrests, be they for drugs or trespassing, as a golden opportunity to deny future permits. So unless you want to throw out the baby with the bath water, that isn’t the answer either. Perhaps the long term solution to the supply/demand problem may involve moving from our beloved Playa to another location that can accommodate more people, but that is a discussion for another time. But the man burns in 210 days...
So what can the Org do to make this better now. Many have suggested linking IDs to tickets. I agree. (I suggested it in the letter I sent in November.) The Org should immediately undertake and implement a legal and secure system to do so. (I hereby volunteer to help.)
I believe it can legally be done, even for the tickets they have already sold. I wanted to know for certain, so I went to the source... I have my ticket stubs going back to 2003. Each one bears the same warning; “This ticket is a revocable license and it may be revoked by Burning Man for any reason.” Any reason can now simply include that the ticket hasn’t been linked to an appropriate identification document as required.
Burning Man has the e-mail and mailing addresses for every ticket sold. An e-mail (and a snail mail letter) should go out to each “winner” with a coded link to a database that allows them to identify the name(s) linked to each ticket reservation. If you won a single ticket, its your name. If you won two (like I did) you can identify the other person you are bringing. If you show up at the gate without an ID that matches your ticket, your license is revoked. (Yes, there will be a line for those to plead their case that they lost their ID on the way, or whatever, but it won’t be allowed to hold up the main entryway.)
Each ticket must be linked to an ID within a short period of time, otherwise the license will be revoked, the ticket refunded, and the available ticket placed back into the pool. The time to link the names must be reasonable (perhaps 15-20 days) but must end long before the March 28th drawing. The Org should immediately publicize the new system to keep people from being duped into purchasing in the secondary market. Scalpers will not be able to collect hugely inflated prices - especially for tickets they don’t even have in hand - when people know they have to be quickly linked to a specific ID or be revoked.
While it could be done, there is no need to actually print one’s name on a ticket. Each ticket is already bar coded, and they have been for years. It doesn’t take all that long to check a ticket’s bar code against the database to ascertain the correct holder. Yes it will take a bit more time. Yes, the Org will probably need more lanes to get people in without clogging up 447. But we have 8 months to work through the logistics.
The programming for this system can not be all that hard. In fact, they may already have the system in place. The early arrival system already uses bar-coded PDFs which are checked upon arrival. If they need to improve that system to correlate to IDs and to handle the larger numbers, or even build a new one from scratch, I’m sure a good programmer could code the entire system in well under a week. The Org just took in a significant amount of money. I’ll bet they can afford to hire someone good.
Anyone who needs to sell a ticket can do so, but only through STEP. A reasonable service charge may be appropriate, and may increase as the event gets closer, but it would be relatively easy - and fair - to restrict sales to the STEP program.
People seeking tickets through STEP will be placed in line, first come first served. It would be easy to include a tracking feature for each reservation so that you could go on-line and see how many people there are in line in front of you. Tickets purchased through STEP tickets must be immediately linked to both an ID and the purchasing credit card, and the names on both must match. The printed tickets should now include a notice that it must be accompanied by the linked ID, and is non-transferable other than through STEP. Any tickets left over (if any) would be available - at a premium - at the gate.
It’s clear that this will not be a simple task and that it may cost some money to implement. It may require some more on-Playa manpower, but I’ll bet that the Org wouldn’t have much trouble getting volunteers if it helps alleviate the problem we are all facing now. But it’s certainly doable in the time between now and the Burn. The Org have access to people with significant legal and technical expertise. If they don’t, then I can help them find some. This could all be solved next week if there is a will to do so. I hope there is, because I’m looking forward to my thirteenth burn and hope I don’t have to wait until next year to experience it.