‘Chuggers’ inside Melbourne railway stations

As someone who works in the Melbourne CBD, running into “chuggers” (private contractors paid by charities to raise funds) is an every day occurrence. Normally they just clutter up street corners and are easy enough to avoid, but last night I ran into street fundraisers from Médecins Sans Frontières working the unpaid area of Flagstaff station.

Street fundraisers at work in the unpaid area of Flagstaff station during evening peak

Flagstaff station is staffed full time, so it isn’t like the street fundraisers just sneaked onto the concourse and started chasing down every commuter walking past. A check of the Metro Trains Melbourne website reveals their “fundraising at stations” policy.

Our customers appreciate the opportunity to support registered charitable and not-for-profit organisations trying to raise awareness of their causes.

At the same time our customers have requested that all station activities be organised in moderation. In response to this feedback from our customers, one day of every week is allocated for such activities.

Each registered organisation is welcome to submit an application to undertake fundraising or promotional activities on one day of any single week in the calendar year, subject to availability.

Of course there is always an exception.

When surveyed, our customers told us they value the work undertaken by the Salvation Army during the Red Shield Appeal and Christmas Appeal and the RSL during the ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day Appeals.

As such, we have formed partnerships with both organisations and have special arrangements in place for longer periods of fundraising during these annual campaigns.

On behalf of our customers, we do our best to accommodate the many applications received. Inevitably it’s unlikely we will be able to accommodate all requests.

Any promotional arrangements by commercial businesses or professional event organisers are managed via JCDecaux.

The line regarding established fundraisers such as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and the Red Shield Appeal is a response to the fallout following Metro’s 2012 attempt to apply their restrictions to everyone:

Victorian President of the RSL, Major General David McLachlan confirmed an item from the Rumour File this morning which suggested the RSL had been told by Metro that their fundraising efforts at CBD railway stations in the lead up to ANZAC Day would need to be scaled back from two weeks to just one day.

Major General David McLachlan told 3AW Breakfast the RSL in previous years had an unofficial arrangement for sub-branches to collect money for two weeks, and the scale back will have a “considerable effect” on the RSL’s fundraising.

Metro’s justification at the time was as follows:

“Overwhelmingly our customers have said ‘we just don’t want that pull at the heartstrings every time we come out of the station on our daily commute'”, General Manager of Corporate Relations Leah Waymark told Neil Mitchell.

The difference between “chuggers” and the RSL fundraisers is worlds apart:

A caller to Neil Mitchell who fund raises for the RSL said he had never encountered any complaints while collecting money.

“When we sell badges, we are in no way obstrusive,” David said.

“We’re not allowed to rattle the tin, we’re not allowed to even point the tin at someone. We’re not allowed to ask someone if they want to buy a badge.”

“If we didn’t have a tray of badges and a tin, you wouldn’t know we were there. And that’s the way it should be.”

I wonder if the Médecins Sans Frontières crew will be back at Flagstaff station any time soon, or whether this counts as the single day for the 2014 calendar year.

Footnote

While blocking station entrances is usually people trying to sell crap, the congestion at Flagstaff station is normally caused by the slow Myki gates.

One week later…

The week after I posted this entry, Flagstaff station was overrun by another group of chuggers – this time employed by Oxfam. They first appeared on the evening of Tuesday May 20th:

Oxfam street fundraisers at work in the unpaid area of Flagstaff station during evening peak

And appeared again on the evening of Thursday May 22nd:

Street fundraisers from Oxfam at Flagstaff station for the second time this week

That makes a mockery of Metro’s “one fundraiser per week per station” policy!

And an update from Metro

After I got home on 22nd, I shot off the following complaint to Metro Trains Melbourne:

On two occasions this week at Flagstaff station I have been actively touted to by fundraising staff working the charity organisation ‘Oxfam’.

Both times the fundraising staff were standing in the unpaid area of the Flagstaff station concourse, making passage between the escalators and ticket barriers difficult during evening peak.

Metro Trains Melbourne provides their ‘fundraising at stations’ policy on their website:

http://www.metrotrains.com.au/fundraising-at-stations/

It states:

“Our customers appreciate the opportunity to support registered charitable and not-for-profit organisations trying to raise awareness of their causes.

At the same time our customers have requested that all station activities be organised in moderation. In response to this feedback from our customers, one day of every week is allocated for such activities.

Each registered organisation is welcome to submit an application to undertake fundraising or promotional activities on one day of any single week in the calendar year, subject to availability.”

This week Metro Trains has failed to follow this police in two ways:

– Flagstaff station has had fundraising activities carried out on more than one day in one week
– Oxfam has operated on more than one day in one year

The presence of fundraising staff actively touting for business contributes to congestion in railway stations, and is unwanted by the majority of passengers. This is in contrast to volunteer fundraisers for events such as the ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, and the Red Shield Appeal.

Why is Metro Trains permitted to invite aggressively touting fundraising staff into their stations?

Someone from Metro Trains got back to me at lunchtime the next day with a response:

We confirm that charities conducting fundraising at Flagstaff and other City stations have paid for the right to be at stations.

While we welcome charitable and promotional activities at the stations, all charities have been given strict guidelines in terms of their activities and conduct; under no circumstances are they to harass customers or delay the flow of pedestrian traffic in and out of the station.

Our Station Masters also have the responsibility to ensure charities and promotional activities do not impact negatively on customers. In this regard, your feedback has been brought to the attention of our Station Master at Flagstaff station to address.

Your comments have also been directed to the Manager of the paid charity activities at Flagstaff station to address with the staff concerned and to reiterate that under no circumstances are they to harass and impede on our customers. Their presence at Flagstaff twice in one week has also been raised.

Since then I’ve only seen Salvation Army volunteers rattling their tins at Flagstaff station – is it possible that Metro Trains actually listened to customer feedback?

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13 Responses to “‘Chuggers’ inside Melbourne railway stations”

  1. Andrew S says:

    Interesting you bring this up – I often use the Elizabeth Street entrance to Melbourne Central on Saturdays and am regularly greeted by ‘charity muggers’ the Special Olympics or Life Saving Australia just at the bottom of the escalator in front of the two dollar shop before you enter the paid area. Is that bit of the concourse still under Metro control or is it technically part of the shopping centre?

    As you pointed out the RSL volunteers are on the side quietly raising money as opposed to annoying the crap out of you in the way as you try to rush past!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’ve never pinned down exactly where the demarcation point between the Melbourne Central station concourse and the shopping center – you could get up to all kinds of shenanigans dancing around it!

  2. Max says:

    Marcus, please note that not all “chuggers” are private contractors paid by charities to raise funds. Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and UNHCR all do their own fundraising in-house. You won’t see them inside the stations as the costs for fundraising in a Metro station are in excess of $3000 per day. the in-house fundraisers are the most cost effective and could never afford those kinds of overheads.

  3. Gloria says:

    Thanks for bringing it up.

    I use Parliment Station daily during the morning and evening peak hours. In the past 3 months, there have been more than 4 different organisations camped out in front of the electronic gates. They constantly call out to you, with each organisation camping out for a whole week.They all tell you that you must pledge a minimum amount and it must be ongoing. This is very different from the Big Issue guy (who is lovely and never tries to shove his wares directly at you), the kindly RSL gents or the Salvation Army music players. They really get up into your face and ask for you to stop to talk to them despite you trying to run for your train.

    I support many organisations but find that this recent change at Parliment station bordering on becoming a menace.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I ended up complaining about the chuggers at Flagstaff, and the response from Metro Trains was that they would ‘look into it’. Hopefully if more people complain, then they will actually follow through with it!

  4. Charlotte says:

    I was escorted by a then-Connex officer out of flinders street station when fundraising a few years ago. The organizers (jeans for genes) met me at fed square and just sent us over to the station without telling us where we could go, so I went under the dome and got very roughly asked for a permit multiple times even though i had no idea what they meant before they took me out by the arm and shoved me on the street. Needless to say I never volunteered for Jeans for Genes again, they had no idea you even needed a permit.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It’s a bit concerning that fundraising organisers weren’t up to speed about the regulations that apply to them – the last thing they would want to do is make the charity look bad, or to turn volunteers off working for them again.

  5. Spellcheck says:

    You wouldn’t happen to mean ‘Oxfam’? A check of the ACNC registrar didn’t return anything under the name ‘Oxfarm’.

  6. […] I’ve seen many things – some normal like massive Myki queues, other annoying like the recent plague of chuggers, and finally some odd ones like this performance piece on the concourse. However this 1985 event […]

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