Fining lots of people is not the solution to fare evasion

Melbourne’s tram operator also set a target of catching more than 60,000 commuters over a nine-month period.

— Herald Sun, 11/9/2009, “Tram inspectors pushed to meet their quotas

See, after all these years, they’re still going about it the wrong way.

I don’t think the deterrent of fines is really working. The measure of success or failure in revenue protection should be the occurrence of fare evasion, not the number of fines issued.

Flinders St/Degraves St unstaffedSuccess is found by making it easy for people to buy a ticket, and hard for them to avoid it. To a certain extent you can see this in these Metlink fare evasion stats (from August 2009, and which include concession fraud):

  • Train 7.6% — most people use a staffed station at least one end of their trip, and the biggest patronage growth is based around trips to/from a handful of gated CBD stations
  • Bus 6.2% — traditionally low because people have to pass the driver when boarding
  • Tram 13.0% — higher in part due to the fact that passengers are unlikely to get their tickets checked at all on most trips

If there’s a large number of fines being issued year after year, it probably means there are still lots of people evading, as you can bet only a fraction of them are being caught.

Simple things like can help a lot, like consistent staffing.

Here’s an example of where, for all the bluster about fare evasion, sometimes the operators just don’t take it seriously:

Back in 2006 I noticed the Degraves St subway gates weren’t being staffed most of the time. I took notes for about a month, and found no staff were present most of the time, even in peak hour. And I started to see people who were obviously looking around to find an open gate into Flinders Street to catch trains for free.

So I did what any fare-paying customer who is sick of seeing others having a free ride would do: I issued a press release and organised a Herald Sun story!

WHILE the Government subsidises a $1 million advertising blitz to shame fare evaders, tens of thousands of commuters are flowing through open barriers at Melbourne’s busiest train station.

— Herald Sun, 25/8/2006 — “Fare evaders find the gaps”

A Connex spokesperson blamed reduced staff numbers due to illness, but miraculously following that, everybody got better, and staffing of that exit jumped to 100%.

Degraves Street exit staffing graph

The operators shouldn’t need to be told this stuff via the newspapers. It should be obvious.

Random patrols and over-zealous fines haven’t worked. Put staff back on the system, make it easy to pay, and hard not to, and evasion will drop.

By the way: technically Inspectors are Authorised Officers, who are employees of the private operators who are authorised by the government with powers under Transport Act. And they don’t issue fines directly, they write out a Record Of Non-Compliance (RONC) which goes to the Department of Transport, which then decides whether or not to issue the fine. The operating company gets $30 from the fine.