Commuters are set to benefit as a swath of changes to Myki and public transport fares were announced by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) this week.
The announcement follows a scathing review from the Victorian Ombudsman body of the current fare enforcement system, calling it “unfair and costly” while targeting the “vulnerable and innocently ignorant”.
The changes include the addition of “tap-and-go” card readers at top up machines, dramatic improvement of online top-up times and the abolishing of on the spot fines. Authorised Officers will also be given smart phones or iPads to assess offenders travel history, with the option to issue a warning rather than a ticket.
The removal of the $75 on the spot fine is aimed at discouraging serial fare evaders. A government report revealed repeat offenders are costing taxpayers roughly $53.9 million per year, contrasting only $4 million for first-time or accidental fare evaders.
This echoed Ombudsman Deborah Glass, who wrote that more than two-thirds of fare evasion is committed by only 1.7 percent of travellers. She criticised the “drift net” approach to fare collection and lack of discretion from Metro officers.
“(It) catches large numbers of unsuspecting tourists, students, homeless people and numerous other ‘one-off’ evaders,” says Ms Glass, “many of whom are left baffled, distressed and almost invariably poorer”.
The change also looks to tackle the growing number of appeals clogging the courts system. While the on-the-spot fine was designed to be non-appealable, inappropriate fines such as children clearly entitled to a concession have led to many dead-end court cases.
“If an infringement will eventually be withdrawn due to the ‘special circumstances’ of someone’s vulnerability, why waste bureaucratic time and money, and cause personal distress?” – Ombudsman Glass
The lack of discretion on issuing fines has led to tens of thousands of fines being challenged in the courts, where barely one in five is successfully prosecuted.
Many passengers however, do not have the time or inclination to pursue the appeal. Many simply cave and pay the fine.
These changes follow recent news that NTT Data (creator of Myki) has had their contract extended for a further six years, with the Victorian government snubbing Cubic, operator of Sydney’s Opal and London’s Oyster cards.
While there is no commitment to match features present in either system like credit card tap-on, the tender specified the chosen operator must “develop a clear road map for possible future system improvements”.
“PTV has high expectations for the new contractual arrangements,” the document said.
The tender was initiated by the former Napthine government in 2014, with the initial contract drawn over 10 years ago under Labour government. The $1.58 billion deal was beleaguered by delays and a $550 million cost blowout, and was poorly received by the public on release.
An ombudsman report was also submitted criticising the original contract, and the decision to contract “an unproven vendor to deliver a significant product in an unproven operating environment”.
Both the Labour and Coalition governments have committed to road expansion projects for the upcoming election, however neither has made explicit their public transport plans.