Fairness in PTV fare evasion penalties?

Over the past few months the subject of Melbourne public transport users fighting their myki fines in court has appeared in the mainstream media a number of times – most recently the case of someone who through they had touched on, received a fine and decided to challenge it, and then had the case dropped by the prosecutor shortly before the court date rolled around. So what is going on?

Authorised Officers talk to a passenger at Albion station

In 2012 the Victorian Auditor General has this to say on fare evasion:

Effectively protecting revenue and controlling fare evasion requires:

  • a well-designed, understandable, accessible and user-friendly ticketing system
  • education and marketing—to help passengers understand how to use the system correctly and persuading persuade them to do this
  • revenue protection measures—ticket barriers and station staff
  • enforcement—detecting passengers travelling without a valid ticket and addressing this behaviour.

Doing these things effectively will help address fare evasion where it is:

  • unintentional—when passengers don’t understand the ticketing system or when machine failures mean they are unable to purchase or validate tickets
  • deliberate—when passengers purposely travel without a valid ticket.

PTV predecessor Metlink did understand why different passengers evaded the payment of fares, with the 2010 edition of the ‘Network Revenue Protection Plan’ having this to say:

To address the problem of fare evasion it is important to understand its underlying causes.

Fare evasion is a complex behaviour. it can be inadvertent, opportunistic, based on an economic decision, or encouraged by perceptions to attitudes that allow the customer to rationalise fare evasion. Although we talk generically about fare evasion it is in fact a catch-all phrase for a continuum of behaviours.

  • Never evade
  • Inadvertent
  • Opportunistic one off
  • Opportunistic – learned behaviour
  • Game players
  • Always evade

Once someone has fare evades and ‘got away with it’ they are predisposed to fare evade especially when a similar circumstance arises.

It also has this to say about the ‘game players’ who never pay their way:

A pragmatic, rational exercise in game play – it is cheaper to be caught occasionally and pay fines than to buy a ticket every day.

In 2012 PTV awarded a $107,546 contract to Monash University for additional research into the psychology of fare evasion, which found that recidivist fare evaders accounted for 68 per cent of all revenue loss, but only 1.7 per cent of the Melbourne population.

As a result, in 2014 PTV introduced on-the-spot penalty fares, – the 2014 edition of the Network Revenue Protection Plan has this to say about the change in strategy:

The Monash University study found that the risk and perceived risk of being caught for fare evasion has a significant impact on the decision to fare evade, particularly for recidivist fare evaders. This is borne out by historical trends in fare evasion and fines issued.

The introduction of penalty fares will provide Authorised Officers with the capacity to check more tickets and increase the risk to fare evaders of getting caught. This approach, which allows Authorised Officers to issue an on-the-spot penalty fare of $75, will also reduce the risk of unpaid Ticket Infringement Notices by requiring immediate and full payment. Penalty fares provide an opportunity to increase fare evasion detection rates, thereby reducing overall levels of fare evasion.

If a passenger elects to pay the penalty fare, a receipt is issued but no further enforcement activity is required. This reduces the time of each interaction between the Authorised Officer and the passenger, thereby allowing each Authorised Officer to check more tickets during each shift.

Six months after the trial of penalty fares commenced, PTV PTV had this to say about the new penalties:

“Of more than 140,000 people who were caught freeloading in the past six months, 28 per cent chose to pay the on the spot fine.

Over the six months from August 2014 to February 2015, Authorised Officers in the metropolitan area checked 6,743,300 tickets across Victoria.

In total, 103,229 reports of non-compliance and 41,001 On-the-Spot Penalty Fares were issued.

However PTV seems to have missed something their predecessor knew:

it is cheaper to be caught occasionally and pay fines than to buy a ticket every day

With the new on-the-stop fines only costing $75, a fare evaders now only needs to dodge two weeks of fares to come out in front – compared to the almost five weeks of inspector dodging required under the old regime.

The end result – Public Transport Victoria treats every traveller without a ticket as someone out to game the system, with anyone who unintentionally forgets to pay their way opting to pay the penalty fare to avoid the time and effort of a court appeal, while those who choose to fare evade a cheaper way to keep on dodging the law.

An alternate strategy

Back in 2004 the State Government and PTV predecessor Metlink introduced what appears to be a fairer system – one of graduated penalties:

Public transport fines will increase from 13th July 2004
6 July 2004

Fines for public transport offences will increase from 13 July 2004, Metlink Chief Executive Officer, Mr Bernie Carolan advised today.

The fine increases and the introduction of a graduated fine system for repeat offences comes into effect following legislation introduced last year as part of the State Government’s Rights and Responsibilities Package.

“Customers should be aware that fines will go up but the vast majority of people who do the right thing when travelling on public transport will not be affected,” Mr Carolan said.

“However for those who do break the rules, particularly repeat offenders, this fine increase sends a strong message that fare evasion and other offences are taken seriously and are just not worth the risk.”

Repeat offences committed after 13 July 2004 are subject to graduated fines. For example, fare evasion will incur a fine of $150 for a first offence, $200 for a second offence and $250 for the third and subsequent offences within a given 3-year period.

AT first glance, the graduated penalty regime does exactly what you want a penalty regime to do: allow any inadvertent offenders a chance to learn their lesson, while changing the rules of the game for recidivist fare evaders.

So what happened to this fare regime?

On 2 March 2006 then-Shadow Minister for Transport Terry Mulder questioned the Attorney-General in parliament regarding the number of repeat offenders:

With reference to individuals who have been fined a second or greater number of times for a public transport related offence since the graduated fines came into existence in July 2004 —

(1) How many individuals were fined for offences committed in —
  (a) the Melbourne metropolitan area;
  (b) rural Victoria.

(2) What offence did each repeat fine involve.

(3) What was the postcode of residence, if known, of each offender.

(4) How much is the total amount of fines imposed upon repeat offenders since July 2004.

But unfortunately no data was available at that time:

This matter falls within the responsibility of the Minister for Transport. My Department does not have access to the data requested.

In November 2009 Metlink still considered graduated penalties an important part of legislative framework around revenue protection.

However the end came in February 2010 with the passing of the Transport (Infringements) Regulations 2010:

The objectives of these Regulations are to—

(a) ensure that users of public transport services fairly contribute to the cost of services and behave safely and responsibly, by prescribing ticket and transport infringements including infringements for offences relating to fare evasion, conduct, etc.

(b) align public transport penalties for children with the principles of fairness underlying the youth justice system by recognising that children should be treated differently from adults and prescribing different penalties for children.

With it regulation 138/2006 Transport (Infringements) (Further Amendment) Regulations 2006 and 90/2004 Transport (Infringements) (Penalties) Regulations 2004 were revoked, taking with them graduated penalties for fare evaders.

So why the change?

It seems that graduated penalties are the perfect solution for stamping out habitual fare evasion in Melbourne, but the question remains – why was it killed off in 2010?

In 2012 the Auditor General suggests the transition to Myki led to a spike in fare evasion:

The department’s oversight framework was effective in controlling fare evasion between 2005 and 2008, but failed to cope with the transition to myki and the new tram and metro train contracts that commenced in November 2009.

The overall fare evasion rate for Melbourne has come full circle over the past six years. Between 2005 and mid-2008, the percentage of passengers without a valid ticket fell from 13.5 per cent to a low of 7.8 per cent. However, these gains were lost, with a return to an overall evasion rate of 13.5 per cent for the first half of 2011. Since this time overall fare evasion has fallen to 11.6 per cent in the first half of 2012.

Which leads me to a possible explanation – graduated fares gave offenders the chance to challenge their fines in court – a fight that the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure are unsure that they will win, if this December 2013 article from The Age is anything to go by:

Fines issued under Victoria’s myki system have never been contested in court, amid claims the government has been forced to waive infringement notices because the troubled technology cannot withstand legal scrutiny.

The Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure has been warned by staff that a successful legal challenge could undermine the integrity of the $1.5 billion ticketing system, which has operated for more than three years.

A former contractor said he provided the department with verbal and written advice that false readings, administrative errors and poor calibration of machines would damage the chances of a prosecution in court.

”They [the transport department] don’t want it to be tested in court, they just want the revenue. They need to prove beyond reasonable doubt and they simply can’t. I know of several cases where people have challenged infringement notices on the basis of faulty technology, but the prosecution has withdrawn the fines,” the source said. ”As a prosecutor, you have an ethical duty to the court and I would regularly explain to them that this system won’t stand up to scrutiny.”

Another former employee of the department said concerns about the prosecution of myki fines in court had influenced a recent plan by Public Transport Victoria to give fare evaders the option of cheaper on-the-spot fines. Due to be introduced next year, the proposal would allow commuters without a valid ticket to accept liability immediately and pay a lesser $75 fine with cash or a credit card, rather than the full infringement of $212.

The end game being PTV deciding $75 in revenue in their pocket is a better outcome than a higher fine that might never get paid, and might even bring their entire enforcement regime crashing down.

Melbourne’s bus stops to nowhere

Improving the accessibility of the bus network takes more than just low floor buses – passengers need to be able to reach the bus stops themselves. So where does this approach fall flat?

CDC Melbourne #89 rego 8015AO waits for route 408 passengers at Sunshine station

In recent years the State Government has allocated funding for infrastructure upgrades – here is just one example:

Mornington Peninsula bus services to get $6m upgrade
Sharon Green
May 13, 2014

The Victorian Government will invest $6 million in infrastructure improvement works to bus networks throughout the Mornington Peninsula.

Nepean state Liberal MP Martin Dixon said works would include a new bus interchange at Rosebud, new bus lanes and traffic light priority works at major intersections and congestion hot spots as well as bus stop upgrades.

Mr Dixon said about 120 bus stops would be upgraded to ensure they are compliant for disability access.

“These bus stops will have tactile and concrete pads, as well as a range of other accessibility features that will be installed where required, such as footpaths and ramps,” he said.

However in sparsely populated areas such as Mornington Peninsula, the usefulness of these upgrades is dubious – with no footpaths to be found, any bus passengers are forced to walk along the side of the road.

DDA compliant bus stop on Point Nepean Road, Blairgowrie

A similar situation applies to stops in Melbourne’s west, where buses follow narrow two lane roads through former paddocks.

Yet another DDA 'compliant' bus stop, but with nowhere for a wheelchair to go after the bus stop

But that isn’t as bad as this ‘compliant’ bus stop in Gisbourne – thanks to the kerb between the road and bus stop, the only way out for the wheelchair bound is the next bus out of there.

Somewhere over the rainbow - DDA compliant bus stop with no footpaths

Is there a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow?

Footnote

Does the above remind you of Melbourne’s tram network? Back in April 2015, The Age had this to say:

Melbourne’s expanding fleet of low-floor trams are being allocated to tram routes that lack wheelchair-accessible stops, while accessible tram stops are being built on routes that have no low-floor trams.

The Victorian Government ‘Accessible Public Transport in Victoria’ Action Plan 2013-2017 appears to at least acknowledge that infrastructure upgrades on their own will not lead to an accessible public transport network.

The Action Plan will embed a broader access approach to public transport services but also ensures the Victorian Government meets the requirements of Commonwealth disability discrimination legislation and standards.

This approach recognises that technical compliance will not always deliver an optimal access outcome for public transport users, particularly if specific actions and projects meet compliance standards but are done in isolation of other factors. For example, the upgrade of bus stops without a connecting pathway would mean that technically more bus stops are compliant, but access outcomes have not been achieved and many people may remain unable to use the bus network.

This Action Plan takes a whole of journey approach to accessibility that recognises the need for people with a disability or mobility restriction to be able to access information to plan their journey. Pathways to various modes of public transport services are as important as physical access itself.

But the real proof will come in the actions of Public Transport Victoria – they seem to have enough trouble coordinating bus, tram and train services for the able bodied, so it may take some time until their work moves from ‘box ticking’ for compliance, to a focus on an accessible network for all.

Last refuge of Melbourne’s high floor buses

Low floor wheelchair buses are nothing new – it was over two decades ago that they first appeared in Melbourne. You might expect finding an accessible bus shouldn’t be too hard, but unfortunately for anyone who has trouble making their way up stairs, high floor buses are still common in one part of Melbourne.

Sita bus #73 rego 2373AO departs Yarraville with a route 431 service

The Public Transport Victoria website has this to say about accessible buses.

More than 80 per cent of Melbourne’s bus services are wheelchair-accessible on weekdays. Most bus services are wheelchair-accessible on the weekend and public holidays, except bus routes 453, 455, 457, 458 and 459, which operate in the Melton area and bus routes 431, 432 and 404, which operate in the Footscray / Yarraville area.

However the above raises more questions – why should Melbourne’s west miss out on wheelchair accessible buses on weekends?

When you look at who operates the listed bus routes, a possible reason soon starts to emerge.

Route Operator
453 Sita Buslines
455 Sita Buslines
457 Sita Buslines
458 Sita Buslines
459 Sita Buslines
431 Sita Buslines
432 Sita Buslines
404 Sita Buslines

The common factor is Sita Buslines – which raises the questions as to why they don’t have wheelchair accessible buses.

Sita #28 rego 2328AO picks up route 404 passengers at Footscray station

Digging deeper into the company’s fleet is easy – on the ‘Australian Bus Fleet Lists‘ enthusiast website you can find a list of every virtually every single bus in Australia, broken down by bus operator – the fleetlist for Sita Buslines is here.

After some time spent massaging data in Excel, I came up with this table.

High floor Low floor Total
34 73 107

I then collated the delivery dates of the current Sita Buslines current fleet, broke it down by high and low floor, and then graphed the results.

Buses delivered to Sita Buslines (as of 2015)

So what does that tell us about the Sita Buslines fleet?

  • over thirty percent of their buses are still high floored,
  • as late as 1999 brand new high floor buses were still being purchased,
  • it took until 2001 for Sita to receive their first low floor bus,
  • widespread adoption of low floor buses didn’t start until 2008.

For the purposes of comparison, in 1995 Melbourne’s first low floor bus entered service, and by 1999 virtually every operator in the city had at least one in their fleet. In the years since, high floor buses have been progressively retired as they reach their end of life, being replaced by the low floor buses that are seen in service today.

It makes the Sita Buslines of the late-1990s look a little backwards, doesn’t it?

Accessibility targets

The Victorian Government ‘Accessible Public Transport Action Plan 2013-17‘ included the following table showing current progress against the DSAPT (Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport) targets.

Victorian public transport DSAPT milestones and progress (as of 2013)

From an initial inspection it looks like Sita Buslines had no trouble meeting the 2012 target, despite their apparent early dislike of low floor buses.

Footnote

Note that Sita Buslines isn’t the only bus company in Melbourne still with high floor buses – Transdev has a handful of buses dating back from the early 1990s still in service, albeit only in peak hour.

Transdev bus #298 rego 1196AO on a route 237 service outside Southern Cross Station

Over on the Australian Transport Discussion Board ‘venturatiger’ posted a section of photos of Melbourne’s early low floor buses – at the time operators treated them as the pride of their fleet, and painted them in special liveries to promote the lack of steps.

Theft from Metcard and Myki machines

One might think that leaving steel boxes full of cash on an empty railway station platform would be a temptation for criminals – and it is. So how much damage have they inflicted for their meagre returns?

Armaguard crew do a cash pickup at Southern Cross

In 2015 two men were jailed for breaking into Myki machines – causing $600,000 of damage to retrieve less than $6000 in cash. However, the older Metcard ticketing system wasn’t immune to being targeted by criminals.

Armaguard staff swapping over the cash vaults from the Metcard machines at Flinders Street Station

The Auditor Generals’ May 1999 ‘Report on Ministerial Portfolios‘ included an entire section on the problem:

‘Corporation’ below refers to the ‘Public Transport Corporation’ – the government entity once responsible for running Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses; and ‘ATS’ is the automatic ticketing system better known as Metcard.

Impact of criminal damage to ATS dispensers

In early November 1998, the operators of the train businesses faced severe disruption in the availability of the ATS dispensers following a spate of crimes which exacerbated the risk of fare evasion.

At that time, the train businesses were advised that 8 ATS dispensers at 7
metropolitan train stations in the eastern suburbs had been damaged during attempts to illegally remove the cash collections held within the equipment. The offenders had used a corrosive liquid to damage the electronics of the equipment, triggering the discharge of money and rendering the equipment inoperative, requiring their withdrawal from service for major repairs.

The damage to equipment escalated over a period of 2 weeks after the initial wilful damage was reported until 70 machines were out of service. In response, the Corporation in conjunction with the private consortium, responsible for the installation and operation of the ATS, devised modifications to the machines which rendered the use of the corrosive liquid ineffective. The consortium also appointed a security firm to initially guard machines located at 9 major suburban stations and to provide mobile security services at unstaffed stations on one particular train line. However, the attacks continued as perpetrators became aware that the intermittent security presence provided opportunities to access the equipment.

In response, in late December 1998 the Corporation engaged a security firm
to provide both security guards at selected stations and roving security services to cover other stations between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The timing of the attacks again shifted to those times when perpetrators were aware that there would be no security presence. As a consequence, the Corporation immediately engaged security services to provide 24 hour protection, initially at 97 train stations and then increasing to over 200 stations by February 1999. During January 1999, 137 machines were out of service and every metropolitan train line was affected by the incidence of offence, however, the deployment of such security resulted in a rapid reduction in these offences. All damaged machines were back in service by the end of February 1999 and no security guards have
been employed since that date.

In the period from November 1998 to February 1999, items of ATS equipment totalling 243, mainly dispensers, were damaged by corrosive liquid attacks at 142 metropolitan rail stations and 39 dispensers were damaged by other means. During this period the Corporation paid $3.4 million to security firms engaged to protect the ATS dispensers. In addition, at the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has been unable to provide a specific estimate of the loss of fare revenue collections resulting from the non-operation of the ATS equipment.

At the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has not sought compensation from the consortium for the financial impact of the non-availability of the ATS dispensers or for costs it incurred for the provision of security services. The consortium has also not lodged a claim with the Corporation for the costs it has incurred for the modification of the ATS dispensers.

The agreement between the Corporation and the consortium for the ATS
states that the loss of cash collections from ATS dispensers is to be borne by the latter. However, the agreement also states that costs incurred due to vandalism are initially to be met by the consortium to a maximum of $2 million, with related costs in excess of this amount shared equally with the Corporation.

Unfortunately for Metcard, fixing the liquid induced cash jackpot problem wasn’t enough – old fashioned vandalism was also taking ticket machines out of serivce.

At the peak of the problem, the damage bill was running into the millions of dollars per year, which lead to the State Government in May 2002 renegotiating the contract with OneLink, operator of the Metcard system:

In the past 3 years, the PTC and OneLink have shared the costs of vandalism, estimated between $6 million to $7 million per annum. As part of the settlement, the PTC will be required to pay $3 million per annum to OneLink and that company is to assume responsibility for payment of vandalism costs and operational machine failures.

Eventually another round of security fixes was deployed to the ticket machines, and the vandalism rate fell, as detailed in the October – December 2006 edition of Track Record:

The progressive strengthening of the ATS equipment (making it more vandal resistant) from December 2001 to June 2002, coupled with increased surveillance and policing, delivered significant reductions in the weekly incident rate for vandalism.

Weekly incidents of vandalism to ATS equipment – January 2001 to March 2004

A relatively constant level of ticket equipment vandalism has occurred over the past three years. There were 1,055 reported incidents in the December quarter 2006.

It puts the problems of Myki into perspective, doesn’t it?

Footnote

Back in December 2002 a particular brazen criminal broke into the tram depot at Glenhuntly, and stole a cash vault from the Metcard ticket machine onboard tram Z1.45. At least Myki isn’t vulnerable to that problem!

First weekday for Regional Rail Link

On the weekend the last part of Regional Rail Link finally opened, with Geelong trains moving onto the new line via the back of Werribee, serving two new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit. I went for a ride on Monday morning to see how the new commuters took to their new serivce.

Geelong bound service pauses at Tarneit station

The new bus network was up and working, including the new double decker bus for the route 190 service that links Wyndham Vale station with suburban trains at Werribee station.

Double decker bus at Wyndham Vale

But there were also plenty of opening day glitches. The first thing I noticed was that none of the next train displays were working – they were either showing inaccurate data, or the default ‘Listen for announcements’ message.

'Listen for announcements' message on the next train display at Wyndham Vale

Platform length is also a problem at the new stations. V/Line is currently only operating trains up to a maximum of six carriages long on the line, but Footscray, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale are all setup for nine carriage long trains.

'VL9' - nine-car VLocity set stopping mark on the RRL platform at Footscray

Painted markings indicating where train drivers should stop, but they appear to be used inconsistently – some trains pulled up to the departure end of the platform, while others stop near the platform entrance. Combine that with the lack of information is given to waiting passengers, and dwell times blow out, as waiting passengers run down the platform to meet the train.

Passengers board a citybound train at Tarneit station

Finally, today was the first time that many commuters from Wyndham Vale and Tarneit had ever stepped onboard a V/Line service, so there was some confusion as to how to open the train doors!

A few more points:

  • I travelled on a citybound service that commenced at Wyndham Vale, and it was almost empty, while elsewhere there was reports of Geelong services becoming overcrowded once they reached the new stations.
  • V/Line now has nobody to blame for themselves for en-route delays, yet my citybound train got held outside the junction at Sunshine, presumably for another V/Line service, and then crawled into the city, arriving 5 minutes late at Southern Cross.

The glitches with the next train displays are hopefully just an opening day bug, as do passengers not knowing how to open the doors. I’m also hoping that once passengers from Wyndham Vale and Tarneit get used to the new service, they will discover that the dedicated short working services are their best bet for getting a seat, reducing crowding on the Geelong services.

However, the inconsistent stopping locations at platforms is something that V/Line needs to address – the Chief Investigator of Transport Safety flagged it as an issue following a ‘signal passed at danger’ event in 2011.

So to summarise – I’m glad to see a new rail line built to serve a growing area of Melbourne, but V/Line and PTV really need to pull their finger out and make sure the public get the most out of the new infrastructure.

Headed off to the CBD at Tarneit

Some timetable quirks

Under the new timetables, for much of the day Metro Trains services to Sunshine station are now outnumbered by those provided by V/Line!

  • V/Line: 3 trains an hour to Geelong, and 2 trains an hour to Bacchus Marsh, with every second train continuing to Ballarat.
  • Metro Trains: 3 trains an hour to Watergardens, with every second train continuing to Sunbury.

In addition, services to Geelong in peak hour now outnumber those on the ‘suburban’ line to Upfield, which only receives a train every 20 minutes.