With impeccable smiling customer service staff motioning to myki readers and swarms of grinning, armed, uniformed officers pursuing passengers for a chat, the Victorian Liberal government hopes to win support for its public transport agenda.
Public Transport Victoria stopped selling weekly, monthly and yearly Metcards on July 2. More than 80% of Metcard machines have been removed from train stations. The expensive and unpopular myki system will soon take over.
Melbourne residents have been subject to a succession of public transport ticket systems over the past thirty years. These have been dreamed up by bureaucrats under successive Liberal and Labor governments: from age-old manually dispensed single use paper tickets, to multi-modal neighbourhood two hourlies and dailies, then three zone tickets, scratch Met tickets, three zone Metcards, two zone Metcards and finally myki.
The system has become increasingly confusing and costly. The travelling public once paid the conductor, then the driver, and then pre-purchase and scratch their tickets, carry change for trams, validate Metcards, and now top up myki cards to touch on and touch off before and after travel.
The driving force behind Melbourne's public transport ticketing madness has been privatisation, automation and job cutting to make the system more efficient and attractive to private operators.
Tram conductors and station staff once played a vital role in customer service and safety, providing information, assisting passengers with special needs and deterring violence.
The removal of these staff has gone hand in hand with a rise in policing of the public transport network as successive Labor and Liberal governments have talked tough on fare evasion and crime. Protective Services Officers (PSOs), graduates from the police academy, now police the train network.
With the removal of Melbourne’s iconic tram conductors, Customer Service Officers were deployed throughout the system. These staff initially helped introduce scratch and automated ticketing to the travelling public before being renamed “Authorised Officers” and given a more overt policing role.
If an authorised officer believes a behavioural or ticketing offence against the Transport Act 1983 has occurred they can ask a passenger for their name and address, ask for ID, arrest the person until they provide ID, arrest a passenger who refuses to comply until police arrive and confiscate tickets.
Premier Ted Baillieu's government plans to recruit a further 940 PSOs by November 2014. PSOs exercise police powers at and around railway stations. They receive the same firearms training as police recruits, wear police-like uniforms, stab proof jackets and carry guns.
The government said it would place two PSOs at every metropolitan railway station and major regional station from 6pm until last train.
While passenger facilities at many stations remain minimal, the government plans to spend $20 million on infrastructure upgrades for PSOs, in addition to the $212 million budget for recruitment and training.
As part of a PR exercise, groups of armed uniformed PSOs have been randomly approaching passengers catching night trains, assuring them that they have real guns and they can hold people they arrest until the police arrive.
The Victoria Police Media Unit says PSO facilities at some stations will include lock-up “police pods” or “handover areas” for detaining people who commit offences at or in the vicinity of railway stations until they are removed by regular police.
Authorised Officers also have the power to arrest passengers until police arrive for committing trivial ticketing offences and failing to produce ID.
Young or unemployed people travelling without myki cards or ID after 6pm, or even people who have lost their wallets, could be handed to PSOs and held until police arrive.
The only way out of Melbourne’s public transport policing nightmare and myki madness is through restoring public ownership and user friendliness. Dumping myki and providing better services will ensure our stations and vehicles are not deserted at night. Tram conductors and station staff are the alternative to policing and will make public transport safer.
[Helen Said is a former tram conductor. She was an acting depot delegate during the 1990 Met ticket dispute.]