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Melbourne’s thuggish ticket inspectors

G22nd December 2010

C21 Comments


The Victorian Ombudsman has criticised Melbourne’s transport ticket inspectors for using “excessive force” towards alleged fare-evaders.

Today, the Victorian Ombudsman released a damning report into the issuing of infringement notices to public transport users on Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses. The report describes how Metro-employed ticket inspectors (or “Authorised Officers”) have been recorded assaulting passengers in the name of preventing or dealing with fare evasion.

Additionally, footage provided by the Ombudsman (see below) demonstrates the thuggish culture that many such ticket inspectors seem to inhabit.

Four ticket inspectors confront one alleged fare evader. This photographed exchange was entirely professional and courteous.

For most Melburnians, the brutality of ticket inspectors isn’t new. Such stories go back years.

I am not a regular commuter these days, but for many years I took the train to work every day. During that period, I saw several assaults committed by ticket inspectors, and have had my own share of verbal altercations with Authorised Officers.

In his report, the Ombudsman identified several issues with the recruitment of ticket inspectors, including the failure of Metro Trains to perform background checks prior to employing them. The Ombudsman wrote of the use of “excessive force” which “demonstrates that authorised officers and their managers are clearly not aware of the limitations on the appropriate use of their powers, or are ignoring them”. The Ombudsman has also revealed that some of the inspectors have criminal records.

As the following clip from ABC News Victoria shows, some ticket inspectors are clearly ill-suited to a job that requires patience, respect and integrity as per Section 221C, Part 1B of the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983.

Part of the problem with the ticket inspectors is that the Act actually gives some of these thugs as much power as the Victoria Police, but without the training.

Authorised Officers can imprison a person for refusing to provide a proof-of-identity or for refusing to speak without a ‘reasonable excuse’ (Sect 218B). The fundamental right to remain silent is extinguished on Melbourne’s public transport system, it seems.

Unlike the Victoria Police, the Authorised Officers are not employees of the State, but rather employees of the privately-owned transport companies which operate in Melbourne. They clearly have a conflict-of-interest to collect fines, rather than administer the law.

Under Section 221I of the Act, an officer must, if requested to do so, produce a valid identification card before demanding to see a ticket. I cannot tell you how often I have been insulted, ridiculed or questioned when I have made that simple request. Sometimes they will quickly flash a badge at me like a petulant child and I have had to remind them that they are required by law to show me their card, not a badge. I always make a point of reading their name.

In one case, a female ticket inspector simply bellowed at the top of her lungs “I think it’s clear to everyone else that I work for the tramways, can’t you see my uniform?”. Of course, I patiently reminded her that it is my right to demand an authorisation card from her. She then glared at me before thoroughly searching through her wallet to find it.

If nothing else, this simple right to know who is asking to see my ticket entitles me to know their name. This shifts the power balance considerably, and I urge any passenger to demand to see an officer’s card before showing their ticket. Unfortunately, most passengers are unaware that they have this right. The signs in the train explain the rights of the ticket inspectors, but not the rights of the travelling public.

Personally, I have nothing to fear from these people because I don’t fare-evade. Nevertheless, I have had occasional issues with rude inspectors.

On one occasion, I was asked by an Authorised Officer whether I had my concession entitlement card. Knowing what would happen next, I simply replied “No, I don’t”, which prompted the officer to pull out his ‘fines book’ and issue me with a fine. I then asked quietly whether I needed such a card if I was riding on a full fare. Suddenly, realising his mistake, he demanded to actually see the ticket which was, indeed, a valid full fare ticket. Red-faced, he cancelled the fine. This simple experience demonstrates how many of these officers operate; by targeting the young. He looked at my face, and made a decision without so much as actually looking at my ticket!

Time and time again, I have seen ticket inspectors walk into a railway carriage or tram and challenge teenagers or young adults first. They usually work in gangs of three, and corner individuals. Their body language is often confrontational.

Yet I have often seen the same inspectors, when confronted with an elderly woman who apparently ‘forgot to buy a ticket’, simply issue her with a verbal warning and facilitate the purchasing of a ticket, where an immediate fine would be issued to the youngster who committed the same offence. Such age-based discrimination is appalling, but commonplace.

I really believe that it’s time that the Department of Transport and the new State Government step back and consider what this is all about.

The maximum daily fare on Melbourne’s transport system is $10.60 for an adult travelling in Zones 1 and 2. That’s right, the very maximum a person can steal by fare-evading is $10.60. Is it really worth crash-tackling people, or assaulting them in other ways over such a small sum of money?

Of course I understand that Metro cannot just let everyone off over “a small sum of money”. And I know that they have to deter people from fare-evading so as to maximise their profitability. I understand that Metro don’t condone the behaviour displayed in the CCTV footage and I am sure they will do all in their power to prevent such issues recurring.

In terms of the bigger picture, there are other improvements that should be made. Ticket inspectors should be employees of the Department of Transport, to remove any conflict-of-interest. They also need to learn to be more courteous and professional, although I admit that improvements have been made in this regard. Finally, they need to administer the law equitably and fairly. Even grandma should pay her concession fare.

Hopefully the Ombudsman’s report will inspire the new Liberal-National coalition government to make corrective measures to improve the professionalism of ticket inspectors as part of their wider push to improve Melbourne’s public transport system.



21 responses to “Melbourne’s thuggish ticket inspectors”

  • Written by Ananda Sim on 22 December 2010:

    It is beyond appalling. We send soldiers to defend democracy and look after the down trodden. We see street marchers on anything and everything. But we let the local government brutalise the people. Make no mistake about this – there are undesirables in the staff but it is the government that allows this to happen.

  • Written by Andrew on 22 December 2010:

    Why would you want to see their ID? Isn’t it clear that they are ticket checker type people? Isn’t that being provocative? Why put them offside deliberately? I use trams, trains and buses all the time and I just don’t get this at all. I have my valid ticket and I show it on request. The staff are always polite, often friendly. With interest I listen to their conversations when taking people’s details who don’t have a valid ticket. I can’t fault them on their behaviour. The only area I fault them on is sometimes seemingly letting people off and not reporting kids with feet on the seats or people standing in doorways when there is plenty of space inside whatever vehicle. I have overheard one checker who became exasperated with a deliberate fare evaded, but he still remained reasonable although clearly very annoyed. I just don’t get it.

  • Written by Adam Dimech on 22 December 2010:

    A professional would have no objection to me asking for their authorisation card, and indeed the majority either show their cards without prompting or quickly make them available without fuss. I always exercise good manners, so a reasonable person would not see it as provocative.

    I have seen otherwise respectable teenage girls sporting massive bruises on their arms as a result of an altercation with a thuggish ticket inspector.

    In a civil society, no-one deserves to be beaten for even serious offences, let alone something as petty as evading a fare. We don’t tolerate police brutality, nor should we tolerate this. Violence of any kind is abhorrent.

    Unquestionably, fair-evaders deserve to be fined because they are thieves. But that’s all they are; petty thieves. A fine will suffice.

  • Written by Marie on 19 August 2011:

    I am completely in the agreement with you. I have been recently fined for an offence I didn’t know existed but that is beside the point. It was due to me crossing the safety gate, when a train was approaching.

    What I am livid about is the fact that these officers used the death of a young girl at Berwick station as the reason that they were there to issue the fines. 10 of them stood and watched countless people apparently risk their lives and cross in front of an on coming train, rather than 1 officer stand on the other side and stop people from walking through.

    I feel like the fact that they throw the death of this young girl in my face as them supposedly keeping me safe is disgusting. If they were there when the girl died, they would have done the exact same thing and just stood there and watched her die. Instead of trying to prevent her.

    I even offered to pay the officer the $280 (that is how much the fine is)as along as he went and stood on the opposite side of the gate preventing people from going through. The officer said “not my job”

    Oh and apparently all of Melbourne should know the 60 odd offences that they can charge you with. The officers told me the rules are much the same of drving a car and abiding by all the road rules. I wasn’t aware that there was some sort of course I could take just so I can take the train. I looked on the internet and couldn’t find on any site that explains all the rules associated with cathing the train or walking onto a platform.

    This whole system is a joke! I spoke to the department of transport who was less than caring and balmed the officers conducted on the private company who employs them.

  • Written by Adam Dimech on 20 August 2011:

    Like it or not, ignorance of the law is no defence. It has been thus for centuries, regardless of the law. Perhaps referral to the (rather long and tedious) Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 may be a good starting point?

    In terms of offering to pay the officer the $280, you were very lucky because you could also have been charged with attempting to bribe a public official (a very serious offence, indeed).

    Re the safety gate, doesn’t it close when the train is approaching? I am unsure why anyone would think it was legal to cross a closed safety gate any more than it was legal to travel through a red traffic light in a car or on a bike.

    All of that said, I agree that prevention is a far better approach than fines, although it doesn’t raise any money (which seems to be a primary focus). I also agree that fining you has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of anyone else and it’s insensitive and unprofessional to raise such matters when administering the law.

    I guess ultimately, one has to ask: Will you cross the railway gates when a train is approaching again? If not, then the fine has been worth it as far as the State Government is concerned.

  • Written by Cheryl on 9 September 2011:

    Had a bad incident last night with inspectors, I jumped off the tram as I nearly missed my stop (it had just taken me over 1hr.15mins to get home due to 3 trams not turning up and I was in another world staring out the window and realise it was my stop, plus the tram was so packed you could not breath, I live directly opposite a tram stop) FYI my trip is generally a 15min drive. I heard a guy yelling at me telling me to stand still and turned around it was an inspector on the tram, the 4 of them got off and 2 of them rudely dealt with me I sat down at the stop with my bags and they told me to get off the seat and stand over here,–my ticket was not validated even though I did put it through the machine on the first tram I got on to (it was 2 tram trip). One of them laughed at me twice – when I asked him why he was laughing he did not answer or look directly at me. I asked them if they cold quickly process the issue as I need to see my sick mum and cook her dinner but they took there time, over 10-15mins. I am a 50 year old corporate lady who was treated like a criminal just for the fact that my ticket did not go through the machine correctly. I am more than happy to pay a fine but seriously $3.00 fare and I was dealt with more seriously than a hard core criminal. Who do these guys think they are. The inspector who took my driver dicense off me would not return it until I asked him twice– and yes I did end up speaking to them the way they spoke to me adding in a few choice words !!!!

  • Written by Ron on 6 January 2012:

    The tram inspectors are nazi f***s, who get on a tram, like the gestapo, and hunt down innocent people. The treat these people like severe criminals, but they can’t even provide change on the ticket machines! The transport system is in a mess due to government incompetence so they turn the system into a mafia ruled entity!

  • Written by Teigan on 19 January 2012:

    I had an incident this morning actually, where I think I have encountered one of the worst inspectors and I am usually targeted being a young adult.

    I was doing the wrong thing technically speaking as I purchased a monthly concession and my concession card has expired and I am no longer entitled to it. I don’t care about paying the fine however I was treated like the gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Destroy it and leave it on its way.

    Two males and one female inspector surrounded me at the station due to not having a concession and were speaking to me in the most undermining way possible, they used terms like an idiot for purchasing said ticket if it was going to expire, they harassed me for more details they asked me to pull everything out of my bag etc. Being intimidated and already late I just did it as they threatened calling the police which will then take hours. I now wish I recorded the conversation… considering they record everything that I do

    I now feel like I don’t even deserve the respect of any human being from everything that was said… In a result I was also 1 hour late for work as they took a very long time to issue said fine.

  • Written by Vinny on 30 January 2012:

    Hi, I came across your blog a moment ago and was wondering if you could help me decide wither I should take the tram to Southern Cross Station then to the Airport or catch two buses from the suburbs.

    I have to leave home around 5.30 am so not too sure which is the safer option.

  • Written by J. on 31 January 2012:

    Those inspectors find joy in fining people because they are a bunch of miserable a**holes who never had a chance in life to have authority apart from being an inspector. It’s not about fining the right people, it’s about fining whoever they can!

  • Written by Tom on 17 February 2012:

    I don’t think you all realize what type of people they have to deal with on a daily basis. The drunk, young gangs of people, people carrying weapons, abusive.

    There was one incident in Hawthorn were a gentlemen spat in the face of an AO twice when he asked for his ticket. The AO then arrested the gentlemen for assault. The gentlemen preceded to swear kick and punch and otherwise resist arrest. The public uproar and media circus and he lost his job over the incident.

    Its funny how every reply above is when you are in the wrong. Sure blame the ticket machines, but they beep 5x when there is a problem. If you cant be effed to double check you are in the wrong.

    “the Authorised Officers are not employees of the State, but rather employees of the privately-owned transport companies which operate in Melbourne. They clearly have a conflict-of-interest to collect fines, rather than administer the law.”
    Wrong. AOs behaviour and powers is subject to the Department of Transport who also monitor the conduct of AOs. In the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 AOs are considered to be acting ‘dishonestly’ if they DO NOT report an incident regardless of importance. Metro makes no money from fines other than admin fees to cover AO wages. Also AOs do not issue fines, they file a ‘Report of Non-Compliance’ to the DOT and DOT decide if there is to be an infringement issued. If your upset with the amount of fines then write to your local minister…don’t get upset with Metro or AOs.

    “demonstrates the thuggish culture that many such ticket inspectors seem to inhabit.”
    There is no thuggish culture in AOs…how ignorant can you get. Obviously you grew up in the daisy fresh lovey dovey side of Melbourne because I know exactly why they travel in groups of up to 8. Because the scum of society are running around graffiting, drinking, robbing and abusing other commuters. The question is, would you like to be by yourself issuing infringments at 2100 at Lilydale station? Even at 0900 peak rush hour with passer’s by wanting to give there two cents.

    “Authorised Officers can imprison a person for refusing to provide a proof-of-identity or for refusing to speak without a ‘reasonable excuse’ (Sect 218B). The fundamental right to remain silent is extinguished on Melbourne’s public transport system, it seems.”
    I will also remind you that you are required by law to state you name, address and date of birth when request by a public servent…be it Police, PSO, AO, ASIO, AFP yadda yadda. You have a right to remain silent but, refusal to state you name, age and address is an offence. May i remind you also that we are not in the USA and our rights are not nearly as liberal as the American TV shows make our to be.

    Finally to Adam Dimech, stop terming them as ‘thugs’ there are a minority in all groups who are essentially ‘bad apples’. An you using the term to paint all AOs the same colour is simply creating more divide in the already divided community.The prejudice is unbareble.
    I would also like to advise you that a good article or news report shows and educates both sides of the story, perhaps throw in the current crime rate on Melbournes trains:

    “Over the year ending in June 2009, there were more than 7000 criminal offences reported on Melbourne’s train system — or 33 offences per million passenger boardings.
    Of the criminal offences recorded, the $280,000 report found that:
    – 17 per cent were assaults or robberies;
    – 62 per cent were property crimes, such as theft or property damage;
    – five per cent were drug-related, including possession and trafficking;
    – 16 per cent of other crimes included possessing an illegal weapon, or inappropriate public behaviour.”
    – TheAge June 9 2010

    Don’t be an idiot, pay your way and you will never ever have a problem with AOs.

  • Written by Janjosh on 30 March 2012:

    I understand that you have lot to say, but did anyone think of the signs posted “No Entry” and listen to warning lights or sirens sounding before a train come through to the station, dont forget there are express which comes through too. Its easy to sit and complain about Ao’S DOING their job. There are enough warning signs out there for peole to read and see, but people tend to ignore it and blame goes to the person who enforces it….

  • Written by Student on 24 April 2012:

    Hi there, I am a student doing a study on the, to be blunt, sh*t way Metf*gs “enforce” their “laws”. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I used your page as an example, and a source of public events and oppinions on the controversy of Merto Police?

  • Written by Mat on 24 October 2012:

    I have had numerous run in’s with the inspectors and can honestly say they have sold thier soles to the devil. Anyone who enjoys making a living out of making people unhappy is not worth a grain of salt in my books. I believe revenue raising is and creating a deterent just a bonus for them i believe the main objective is trying to make you upset. Take look around next time your on the train especially in peak times and i can assure you there will be only 1 person smiling in the carriage and thats me if i happen to be on the train. I believe public transport should be free and an amount be taken out of your tax. Now all the people winge about the people who dont pay tax will get to ride for free blah blah that factor is nominal and should not be even thought of what people should be thinking about is the endless millions being wasted buy government on trivial and mundane things like a desalanation plant that will most likely never be fully used but we will be paying for it for years to come. Or the stupid myki system which costs way to much and is way out dated already . Go to belgim or some country where the peoples money is used wisely and you will see people just streaming through no stopping no getting upset waiting for people to swipe cards that dont even swipe properly first time , its all on a key again that beeps like a etag. People from overseas laugh at us when they come here and see how out dated out new system is. Where are the yearly tickets gone you used to get discount buying monthly or yearly tickets and a generous 1 at that . Go to myki machine now and put money in for a month or a year and the figure is not discounted. Meanwhile when you put money into your account where does it go straight into to coffers of metro where they earn interest or profit off investments from your hard earned money, where is the thanks or discount for the customer. The consumer could have left that money in thier accounts earning interest for themselves and looking after thier best interests. . Now you have to show id to get a train ticket what a joke. Im sure metro would say its to protect customers and facilitate return of lost cards with credit on them if thats the case why if you have extra cash on your myki but have left yourself short this week can you not take that money back out to buy milk for your family. Im sure you can after a long drown out process with so much red tape taking weeks so that it deterrs you from actually doing so, they take your money instantly but make you draw blood from a stone to get it out . What happens to your travel information now that you have shown id to get a ticket, they know who your are when you travel to ect ect you cant tell me those data bases are not on sold to advertising companies. I mean come on seriously any 1 seen the vans driving around changing the posters at tram stops “add shell” i have even seen them changing the broken glass they obviously in charge of maintaining the stops as well at what price ? ? Every 1 should just be charged ten dollars out of thier tax that equates to about 300 or so million from the government to metro each year more than adequate if you ask me .

  • Written by Chris on 14 November 2012:

    Great article. I’m a student and I’ve recently given up on train commuting due to the predatory and unprofessional manner with which these inspectors conduct themselves. They like to strut around and demand things or abuse paying customers, but in reality they’re nothing more than glorified ticket-validating machines on legs. I understand some do their job properly, but the majority of them seem to feel that their fancy badge and uniform is a license to harass people with great contempt. An above poster got it right, although I don’t think it was intended. Yes, their job can be difficult and dangerous, which is exactly why Metro (or the private contracting companies) will hire anybody off the street. The simple, logical solution is free public transport, paid for through tax. No brash ticket inspectors, broken Mykis or bottlenecks at Flinders street station. That, or mass civil disobedience until we get it..

  • Written by BugsyPal on 13 December 2013:

    It should be an absolute certainty that if you have a valid ticket for your journey (or at least have made every reasonable effort to obtain one), and you abide by any other applicable regulations, you will have absolutely nothing to fear from the ticket inspectors. Regrettably, there is evidence to suggest that this is not always the case. It would seem that both the initial screening and training of prospective inspectors needs to be reassessed, as claims of general incivility, heavy-handedness, and failure to show due discretion are depressingly common. Yes, they have a difficult job to do, but that does not provide a licence to do it in an unprofessional manner. While I certainly don’t condone fare evasion, some of the tactics that have been employed in response it, as well as the fines that are imposed, are grossly disproportionate to the offence. To my mind, the only answer is for inspections to be sufficiently common that fare evasion is simply not worth the risk, coupled with a significant lowering of the fines so that they are more commensurate with the gravity of the offence. If the goal is to maximise compliance rather than revenue (which I certainly hope is the case), then surely this is the only sensible approach. Oh, and for goodness sake, bring back single-journey tickets. I shudder to think what tourists make of Melbourne’s counter-intuitive and user-hostile fare collection system. One key question that has never been satisfactorily answered is what a passenger is supposed to do in the event of ticket machine failure. The official position may well be a blunt “no ticket, no travel”. However, most passengers are not joyriders – they do genuinely need to be somewhere. My own opinion is that travel should not be subject to whether the ticketing infrastructure happens to be working on that particular day, but clearer direction needs to come from Metro on this point. If their position is that machine failure is no excuse, then knowing this some passengers may opt to walk to the next station, or even catch a taxi (which will invariably be significantly cheaper than a fine!) rather than risk an encounter with an inspector. Back in the Metcard days, I had the delightful experience of a vending machine gratefully accepting my money, but failing to dispense a Metcard in return. The droid manning the ticket barriers at my destination had absolutely no clue how to properly deal with the situation. Following a series of terse comments in response to my repeated requests for him to open the gate, he eventually did so and very brusquely directed me through. Fortunately I wasn’t fined, but I know that others have not been so lucky. As someone who has never fare evaded in their life, this is not something that I, as a legitimate paying customer, should have to put up with. If Metro are to rely on machines instead of human beings for ticketing, it should be recognised that these machines are fallible, and anticipated that they will break down from time to time. When a passenger claims that this has happened, I strongly believe that they should be accorded the benefit of the doubt. Granted, nine times out of ten the claim will be apocryphal, but the one out of ten who does the right thing should not be penalised as a result.

  • Written by m ward on 16 February 2014:

    the fact is on my many travels on metro trains around Europe i have ‘NEVER’ encountered a system of endemic thuggery like our ticket inspectors display, in fact some metro systems don’t have inspectors at all, as their systems are efficient, self-regulating and secure, go figure!!!!! melbourne ticket inspectors really are the lowest of the low, bullies, with some bordering on psychopathy.

  • Written by Mark on 16 October 2014:

    Here is the official Code of Conduct for Authorised Officers:

    It’s the closest thing that the public has to a bill of rights in their dealings with these people. You will note that it is explicitly specified that failure by an Authorised Officer to provide proof of identity upon request is an offence against an Act of Parliament backing the Code of Conduct.

  • Written by voula roumel on 22 April 2015:

    Hi everyone, my son was assaulted earlier this year in Melbourne when one of the 3 officers twisted his left arm behind his back lifting him off the ground. He has recently undergone shoulder re-constructive surgery to repair significant damage to that shoulder.

    My son now stands accused of assaulting the 3 officers… that’s 1 skinny tall kid against 3 large male adults of Samoan appearance that pinned him down simultaneously. My son now needs to present to a magistrate court to face these alleged “assault” charges. He is not charged with fare evasion as he had his school year ticket and presented it at the time.

    Has anyone had any previous experience with this? Can anyone recommend any solicitor or course of action we can take?

    I am truly sickened by these thugs and wonder whether it will take the death of a child to change the laws in this state. I am genuinely anxious every time he travels.

  • Written by The Phantom on 26 June 2015:

    They are arrogant and I they think they are the “law”. I can’t stand them! Low self esteem, biggest ego, obese, probably ignored their whole life so now they have a play badge to show.

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