Victoria’s unfair fare enforcement system must change

 
Thursday 26 May 2016
 
A poorly targeted and disproportionate public transport fare enforcement system unfairly punishes many travellers in an attempt to snare a small number of recidivist evaders, according to an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass.
 
Tabling an Investigation into public transport fare evasion enforcement Ms Glass says the system must be redesigned to deter serial offenders while encouraging the use of discretion in cases where a financial penalty is not the most appropriate response.
 
‘Fare evasion costs the state tens of millions; the vast majority of public transport users who buy tickets do not want to subsidise the travel of those who don’t. Fair enough. The current approach has not got the balance right between financial imperative and fairness. It hits the vulnerable and innocently ignorant and fails to focus on recidivist fare evaders. Not only is it unfair, it is costly,’ said Ms Glass.
 
Research shows that 1.7 per cent of the Melbourne population are recidivist fare evaders, but they are responsible for 68 per cent of all fare evasion.
 
The investigation found the parallel systems of $75 on-the-spot penalty fares and infringements of around $223 are confusing and often unjust. Case studies in the report show that the pressure to make an immediate decision, and transfer $75 at the time, can result in unfair outcomes, especially for young and vulnerable people.
 
‘So your ticket is not valid – will you pay an on-the-spot penalty of $75 or give your details for an infringement notice of $223? If you cannot immediately pay the $75 by credit card or EFTPOS you have no choice. There is no review for the penalty fare, and although you can complain to Public Transport Victoria or the Public Transport Ombudsman, you are very unlikely to be told this,’ Ms Glass said.
 
Ms Glass says Authorised Officers must use greater discretion.
 
‘Without appropriate use of discretion, the drift net catches large numbers of unsuspecting tourists, students and numerous other ‘one-off’ evaders, many of whom are left baffled, distressed and almost invariably poorer.
 
‘Authorised Officers should take into account at the start of an encounter with a passenger, what the likely outcome will be at the end of it. If an infringement will eventually be withdrawn due to the ‘special circumstances’ of someone’s vulnerability – whether that be disability, homelessness or other factors – why waste bureaucratic time and money and cause personal distress?’ Ms Glass asked.
 
The investigation also highlights the reality that people who choose or find themselves in court for an infringement can often wait over a year for a hearing.
 
‘The court process for infringements – for those who have the stamina, resources or legal aid to get that far – is complex, distressing, lengthy and ultimately ineffective,’ Ms Glass said.
 
‘The maximum amount of revenue lost per offence in the metropolitan area is $7.80 – the price of an adult daily fare – but it costs a vast multiple of that to pursue offenders through a labyrinthine system, ultimately to court, with only a 20 per cent chance of any financial return at the end of the process.’
 
Recommendations in the report include ensuring the system can provide for a single penalty with options for review, and that these should be made clear during a passenger’s first interaction with an Authorised Officer.
 
‘The system should be designed to focus on recidivists, not honest folk who may have made a mistake or ‘lack ticketing competence’. This approach could present choices for immediate or delayed payment, and penalty escalation for recidivists,’ Ms Glass said.
 
‘We need a system that balances financial return with fairness, enforcement with equity.’
 
Report can be read here
 
Ms Glass is available for interview.
 
Chronology
  1. An Authorised Officer informs a passenger their ticket is invalid.
  2. The passenger is given the opportunity to pay a $75 on-the-spot penalty fare or give their details and receive a $223 infringement notice.
  3. There is no review process for a penalty fare although passengers can complain to Public Transport Victoria or the Public Transport Ombudsman.
  4. With an infringement, passengers can request a review by the department.
  5. If the review is not successful, passengers can challenge the infringement in the Magistrates’ Court. If they do not pay, the department can prosecute in court.
 
Media contact: Rory Cahill Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235  rory.cahill@ombudsman.vic.gov.au
 
Office of the Victorian Ombudsman: Tel 03 9613 6222 | Regional 1800 806 314 ombudvic@ombudsman.vic.gov.au | Follow @VicOmbudsman