Morning commuters at Laverton and Seaholme stations may have thought they had gone back in time on February 3. Usually the only staff are roving squads of ticket inspectors. Instead, commuters found a uniformed tram conductor riding the trains with them — giving out information on how the public transport system can be improved and made free.
In May 1998, in preparation for privatisation, Melbourne exchanged its popular tram conductors for an automated ticketing system policed by inspectors, who have been criticised for being heavy handed and assaulting passengers.
But former tram conductor and Socialist Alliance candidate for the February 13 Altona by-election, Margarita Windisch, donned her old uniform to distribute "public transport rescue packs", which included election material from the Socialist Alliance.
Windisch contrasted her public transport-focused campaign with the "law and order" focus of the Labor and Liberal candidates. The Liberal Party plans to put 900 Protective Services Officers at metropolitan and major regional train stations from 6pm until the last train and an extra 350 police to patrol the train, tram and bus networks.
"While inspectors and police make people feel like criminals, tram conductors were there to help, not harass", Windisch said.
She called for train stations to be fully staffed by rail workers from the first to last service. "Not only will this keep the area safer it will reduce delays at stations and provide assistance to passengers, for example for older members of the community."
She said the Liberals' law and order campaign is a distraction the from causes of problems.
The five fastest growing areas in Melbourne are outer suburban areas that ring the city — Wyndham, Melton, Whittlesea, Cardinia and Casey. These five areas are all in the top seven local government areas for growth in assaults since 2000.
Yet public facilities have stopped expanding with Melbourne's sprawling population. People are moving into new housing developments in areas lacking in social infrastructure, including rail services.
Forced to address public anger over the decline of Melbourne's public transport system, Liberal election material calls for "a fairer deal" for public transport.
"This means nothing", said Windisch. "And they have no policy to address areas of Melbourne not covered by the public transport network. It's hypocritical since the shambolic condition of the public transport system is the predictable result of the former Liberal government's destruction of the public sector, and Labor's continuation of this policy.
"To fix the public transport crisis, it needs to be brought back into public ownership and control."
To watch videos on the Socialist Alliance Altona by-election public transport campaign, click here.