A recent study, led by Victoria University and West Justice Youth Office, has revealed that students from low socioeconomic families cannot afford to travel on public transport, or pay the fines they incur for travelling without a valid myki card.
West Justice chief executive Denis Nelthorpe said: “Up to 80,000 Victorian students a year were unable to pay fines, resulting in many of them skipping school.”
There is evidence of young people missing school because they have to work to pay off exorbitant myki fines. Further, a large number of students have been too scared to tell their parents they have been fined, resulting in anxiety and breakdown of family communication and relationships. This greatly impacts education outcomes, as well as mental health issues.
The study calls on governments to give free travel to students from families on Centrelink benefits. Ironically, state and federal parliamentarians and judges already enjoy this privilege.
This blatant attack on the poor is reprehensible, yet hardly surprising in the competitive neoliberal world. Enforced by armies of “authorised officers”, who openly use bullying and intimidation, especially to young people, it is very easy to be fined when a myki card is not validated. The power and control given, and in many cases, abused by these authorised officers, has also come under attack, with more than 500 complaints a year from public transport users.
Since its $1.5 billion development, paid to a consortium of private companies, myki has proved problematic, expensive and extremely user unfriendly.
Public transport should be free for all. The money saved from enforcement could be spent on genuine improvements to infrastructure and the expansion of services. As Melbourne's population continues to grow, a real alternative to car travel and road building must be considered.
From an environmental perspective, this thinking has to be our future and our social responsibility, and such responsibility never be sacrificed to the profit motive. When profit is put first, people always come last.