Fare evasion is a drain on the public transport network. But sometimes the “tough on fare evasion” rhetoric isn’t matched by practical, non-confrontational approaches to reduce it.
Across the public transport network, there is a mix of strategies. On Melbourne’s train network as on many big busy systems, there are too many passengers to check all tickets manually, so other means such automated fare gates come into play.
Before Myki, and before Metcard, there were “manual” fare gates. At central city stations, paper tickets would be visually checked by staff as you passed through a gate/past a booth. Checking an individual ticket was quicker, but this required huge numbers of staff to cover peak times. On weekends in the 80s and early 90s there were usually minimal staff on duty, often resulting in queues to enter and exit places like Flinders Street Station even at relatively quiet times.
And suburban stations had physical gates, which not only stopped people running in and trying to catch a departing train, but also enabled station staff to do ticket checks. By the late-80s, staff cuts meant this became more and more rare, and they were all removed (or opened permanently) during the 90s. (In fact, just before Metcard arrived in the 90s, station staff were often so scarce it was impossible to buy a train ticket at some times of day.)
How many trips go through gates today?
Automated fare gates were initially installed with Metcard at central city stations only, but they’ve gradually spread.
Nowadays the policy is that all Premium Metro stations (staffed first to last train) have gates installed when they are built or rebuilt. By my reckoning, that means that the number of stations with gates has grown to 25:
- Flinders Street (apart from an ungated entry/exit at Elizabeth Street sometimes opened at peak times due to crowding)
- Southern Cross
- Melbourne Central
- South Yarra
- North Melbourne
- Box Hill
- Camberwell (platforms 1+2 only)
- Caulfield (platforms 2+3 only)
- Glen Waverley
- South Morang
- St Albans
- Williams Landing
(Have I missed any? Leave a comment.)
So, based on the 2015 patronage (station entry) figures on the PTV site, we get the following:
- Total boardings per weekday: 750,050 / per week: 4,362,850
- Boardings at gated stations (including partially gated) 400,880 (53.4%) weekday / 2,344,910 (53.7%) per week
- Boardings at ungated stations: 349,170 (46.6%) per weekday / 2,017,940 (46.3%) per week
So 53% of station entries are through a gate. But how many passenger trips is that? That is, what proportion of trips pass through a gate at the start or the end?
A calculation based on some assumptions:
- Assume that 95% of entries into central (City Loop plus North Melbourne and Richmond) stations are going to the suburbs (rather than to another Central station)
- Also assume that most passengers take two trips per day, from home to a destination, and back again. Therefore their destinations when entering at a central station are distributed to the gated or non-gated suburban stations to the same ratio as the entries into them.
- Treat the partially gated stations as fully gated.
My brain was hurting after figuring out a way to do it in Excel, but eventually I got a figure of 82.4% (on weekdays) of passenger trips having a gate at the start or end of the trip. (For the whole week it was 82.3%)
Also notable in the figures:
- That 95% assumption doesn’t actually make a huge difference to the final result if it’s tweaked to say 90% or 98% or even 100%.
- There are far more suburban entries than central entries, which means there must be a (perhaps) surprising amount of suburb to suburb travel — about 23% of all station entries. I suspect this reflects the growing importance of activity centres like Glenferrie, Caulfield, Box Hill, Footscray, Frankston and Dandenong, as well as places like Huntingdale (for Monash University Clayton).
So anyway, about 82% of Metro trips are going through a gate. In theory.
Keeping them closed
But fare gates only work at discouraging fare evaders if they are kept closed.
Fare evaders can of course jump gates, but why would we make it so easy for them that they don’t even need to do that? (Not that Melbourne’s fare gate design makes them particularly difficult to jump.)
“But Daniel!” you say, if gates are kept closed you need a staff member standing next to them all the time! Not so. And this is where we get into station design.
World’s best practice is to design station concourses so that the booking office is adjacent to the gate, and the staff member inside has control to release/open the gate to let through people who can’t get through themselves — those with wheelchairs, awkwardly large luggage, prams and so on.
With many stations being rebuilt during level crossing removals, there’s an opportunity to get this right. This is precisely how the new Bentleigh station is configured.
Which means that sometimes, you’ll find all the gates closed, as they should be, and the staff member on duty watching from behind the window, ready to help.
At interchange stations, there are problems with passengers having to leave the paid area (and often go out onto the street) to change platforms. Prime examples include Caulfield, Camberwell and Footscray. Ideally these need over or underpasses for interchange, to make it a quick process that doesn’t require touching on and off along the way.
Another, far more expensive option is to reconfigure the lines and the platforms so that the most common changes of train are cross-platform.
Caulfield is notorious for delays in evening peak coming off platform 4. And it’ll get far worse when the metro rail tunnel opens next decade, requiring more changes between the Frankston and Dandenong lines.
Gate numbers and speed
The number of gates, and speed are issues to ensure delays don’t snowball. The newer Vix gates are about twice as fast as the older Myki gates. And on a bad day, the older gates are hopelessly inconsistent.
Flagstaff, shown below in 2011, used to clog up at busy times. The installation of faster gates, as well as an increase in the total number of gates
(achieved by moving the booking office) has mostly fixed those problems.
Configuring for peak
Another issue is something central city station staff are used to, but suburban station staff are still figuring out (and/or may need training on): balancing the peak vs off-peak directions.
Sometimes you’ll find queues to exit the station because there’s insufficient gates switched to the peak direction. This should be easily fixed.
Ticket checks on every trip
Getting people to pay their fare is a mix of making it easy to do so, and hard to avoid.
Ultimately, fare gates can be used to help reduce fare evasion, being a cost-effective way of giving people the expectation that they will get checked on every trip.
But if we’re going to have fare gates around the network, and if they’re going to work well, they need to be designed and used properly.
* * *
- Marcus Wong: How fast are Melbourne’s ticket gates? (the pre-Vix variety)
- Want to make the system free? First find $700m per year to pay for it. Then show how it will get people out of cars when the overriding factors are about service quality, not fare cost.
- There is ongoing debate about the merits of gates vs Proof Of Payment systems (eg with random checks for compliance). Some city metros (particularly in Germany) have gone to POP.
In Melbourne, this is how tram fare enforcement works. My personal view is it has been shown to be problematic in terms of low checking rates and confrontations between inspectors (Authorised Officers) and people who haven’t paid, either inadvertently or deliberately.
PS. An industry insider has noted another side effect of fare gates is that because staff need to be nearby (visible) this has a significant effect on safety, and perceptions of safety — far more so than stations without staff, and even staffed stations that don’t have gates. Interesting.