Thousands escape fare evasion fines
More than 21,000 people avoided paying a fine after being booked for fare evasion on Victorian public transport system last financial year – meaning almost 11.5 per cent of fines issued were not enforced.
Figures released to the Victorian Greens and made public on Monday reveal that people who challenge an infringement notice have a better than 10 per cent chance of avoiding the fine, despite high-profile advertising campaigns warning "there is no excuse".
"[Public Transport Minister] Terry Mulder's whole 'get tough, no excuses' line on fare evasion is hollow," Victoria Greens leader Greg Barber said.
"Ticket inspectors sometimes get it wrong. Special circumstances sometimes apply and the courts form their own view. That's why 11.5 per cent of all tickets aren't enforced – a pretty poor hit rate by any standards."
The figures show that 188,566 infringement notices were issued in 2011-12 and 21,674 of those were withdrawn.
Most withdrawals, 17,152, came with an official warning, with just 591 notices being withdrawn completely after being reviewed. A further 2417 fines were waived after being challenged in court.
Mr Barber said the state's system of using patrolling authorised officers to police fare evasion was inefficient. He called for a return of tram conductors and fully staffed railway stations, not seen since the 1990s.
"It's a pretty inefficient way to try and reduce fare evasion," Mr Barber said.
"You've got to make it normal to meet a human, buy a ticket, have your ticket checked, or you're never going to get any progress."
A Public Transport Victoria spokeswoman said everyone was expected to have a valid ticket, but that passengers had a legal right to appeal against their fine.
"By far the most common reason for fines being withdrawn is where a passenger travelling on a concession fare has forgotten to carry their proof of eligibility," the spokeswoman said.
"Where they can later produce proof of their concession entitlement, the fine may be withdrawn. Clear cases of fare evasion, such as those travelling with no ticket at all, will get fined and no excuse will be tolerated."
The fine for travelling without a ticket is $207.
Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said last month that much fare evasion was "opportunistic" because of the lack of customer service staff on the network.
"There needs to be a full staff presence at every station from first to last train ... it is simply penny-pinching to not provide that staff presence now," Dr Morton said.
"It is no doubt that some fare evasion on the train system is opportunistic evasion that might be avoided if there was a consistent staff presence on stations and people had an idea that they might get caught."