Melbourne Trams: Fare Evasion and Fines
It’s a cold Monday morning in Melbourne and I board a tram toward Preston and touch-on with my Myki card, only to find that it has receded into negative balance. Before I have time to react, the doors close behind me and the tram glides north up High Street.
I never fare evade intentionally but I have a 9am meeting and there are no facilities for balance-checking or topping-up near the tram stop or aboard. I sit down near the back and, like everyone else, become completely besotted by my little screen.
Soon, a woman sporting a badge and thick coating of makeup demands my attention and asks to see my Myki. I allow her to scan it with a handheld device similar to an EFTPOS terminal.
“Your Myki money balance is currently empty,” she says. I give her a blank look. “Even though you may have touched on, there is no credit on this card and therefore you are committing an offence by failing to produce a valid ticket. Do you understand that you’ve committed an offence?” Hesitantly, I answer in the affirmative.
“Okay, now, there are two options available to you today: you can pay an on-the-spot fine of $75 with your credit or debit card, and we won’t take any of your personal details, otherwise we’ll have to get you to provide some identification, take down your name and address and issue you a fine of $217 which you can appeal or pay at a later date, and will appear as a charge on your permanent record.”
“Ok…” I ponder, “and what happens if I refuse to give you any of my personal details?” I’m completely calm, dispassionate even, but she seems quite taken-aback by the question.
“Um, if you refuse to pay the $75 and refuse to provide your personal details we’ll summon the Victoria Police and they’ll have to come and arrest you. Then you’ll face two charges: travelling without a valid ticket and refusing to provide appropriate identification—two fines of $217.”
I find myself enquiring about the scope of her power and whether she will physically prevent me from leaving the tram.
“Yes, we do have a right to detain you,” she says, alerting five or six other officers just out of earshot who are manning the doors. “Look at those men over there,” she says pointing to the officers, “do you really want to try to run away from them?”
Like a scared little prole, I agree to pay them $75 there and then. The word “charge” has instilled a slight fear and it feels vaguely safer not to provide my name and address.
And that, dear hobos, is how the institutionalised thugs that patrol the Melbourne tram network threaten you into paying up. In prison, it’s called a standover job, but Public Transport Victoria (PTV) refers to it as an On-the-spot Penalty Fare.
I soon find out that it would have been wiser to have explained my mistake and made an appeal in court. Between January 2013 and August 2014, only six out of 109 Myki related court cases have resulted in commuters being fined, even though 80 per cent pleaded guilty, according to Fairfax Media. The fines didn’t hold up in court because of technological flaws within the Myki card reading system, and therefore PTV couldn’t prove that the commuter was at fault.
Perhaps this is why, in mid August 2014, PTV implemented the On-the-spot Penalty Fare policy. Commuters like me, who don’t really understand the punishment options, are far more likely to pay $75 on the spot for fear of heftier, more long-term penalties. As a result, PTV claims “freeloaders” are more likely to be caught than ever before.
So essentially, while you can’t buy a ticket aboard a Melbourne tram, you can pay a fine on one; but, if you bothered to appeal the fine, there’s very little chance you’d ever have to pay it.
I get off the tram, cross the road and walk down the hill feeling like the object of an absurd and badly contrived scam.
Cover via Weekend Notes