Melbourne’s thuggish ticket inspectors
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.
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.