Fare Evasion?

This article by Brisbane city counsellor for the Gabba Ward, Jonathan Sri, gives a practical rundown on what is termed ‘fare evasion’ in his case for free public transport. I do not like the term ‘fare evasion’ (to be clear this is not Jonathan Sri’s term it is a term used by Brisbane City Council and Translink).

my main form of transport is the bicycle but I often use public transport in the form of buses and two or three times a week I use ferries which permit bicycles. On the ferries, because Brisbane is a river city, there is an air of friendliness and help by the very captain deckhand and ticket officer. Very workers may also be encouraged by their bosses to be particularly nice to tourists. As a senior my fares are reduced. There is a different rate for peak and off peak fares. The integration of fares via GoCards is a very good service because it means that people can get on buses, trains and ferries using the same card. The administration costs of this service would be considerable because it requires a website and a call centre plus administrators.

Another reason I do not like the term fare evasion is that most people who can’t pay their fare simply own up to the bus driver or ferryperson. They allow you to travel. So when the bus driver presses the button for ‘fare evasion’ what they are really doing is recording the people who can’t pay the fare.

I have been involved over the years in helping a homeless person who does not her fares on the train who was taken to court. This is a conscious protest. She has been arrested by the railway police and taken to court. Most magistrates were sympathetic but eventually they jailed her at the women’s prison. I find this to be ludicrous. She called the prison her country club because she told me one day in court that where else can a homeless person get a warm shower and lookout the window to see kangaroos. (The women’s prison used to be a Walston Park where there are a lot of kangaroos!)

I agree with Councillor Sri, Make Public Transport Free!

Ian Curr
7 May 2022

This might be useful information to the thousands of Brisbanites out there who struggle to afford current public transport fares but don’t have any other way to get around… (If any of this seems wrong or needs to be more nuanced, feel free to post up and correct me or send me a private message)

When someone gets on a bus operated by Brisbane City Council without paying/swiping their GoCard, the driver is supposed to press a button that logs a fare evasion incident. This data is captured in regular reports to identify routes that have a high rate of fare evasion and is passed on to the State Government.

Ordinarily, the standard instructions to drivers are that they’re not supposed to confront or argue with fare evaders. The driver’s job is to drive, not to be a ticket cop.

This makes a lot of sense to me. I think it would suck if the council or the state government tried to turn drivers into enforcers who have to argue with low-income people who just need to get home but can’t afford a ticket.

If a driver wants, they can proactively call through to the council bus operations centre to highlight their concerns about a particular fare evasion incident, but they are not required to do so. The only thing they are meant to do is log the incident by hitting the relevant button.

The Translink ticket inspectors (who are called ‘Senior Network Officers’) are controlled by the State Government (Translink is an entity within the State Government’s Department of Transport), not by Brisbane City Council, and have their own schedules and priorities in terms of which services they patrol for fare evasion.

It seems there is no direct process whereby a bus driver hits the button to log a fare evasion incident and Translink officers get notified to immediately attend and investigate whether passengers on a particular bus have paid their fares.

It would be very very unusual to have a situation where a driver sees that someone hasn’t paid, calls up the operations centre, the operations centre then calls Translink, Translink decides to assign officers to attend that particular service, and the officers have enough time to get onto that particular bus before the service finishes its route. (And obviously if you see some Translink officers waiting at a stop to get onto your bus and you haven’t swiped your GoCard, you can just jump off.)

From the many conversations I’ve had with bus drivers, a lot of them seem to think public transport should be free too, and they don’t have any interest in making life difficult for people on low-incomes.

Lately both the council and the state government have been saying that public transport patronage is really low due to concerns about covid safety, and that’s certainly true to some extent. But the main way that Translink measures patronage levels is by GoCard data.

I suspect that with housing costs rising and more people struggling financially, there are probably more passengers than ever before who are riding the bus or train without paying for a fare, so they’re not being counted in GoCard swipe data. Maybe part of the reported drop in patronage is that people who can’t afford to pay have just stopped swiping on?

Remember, if the major party politicians wanted to, they could easily afford to make public transport free.

A couple of years ago, Brisbane City Council introduced free off-peak bus travel for seniors (in large part due to pressure from the Greens) and it has been a roaring success. We also have several free bus and ferry routes in and around the CBD, but these are primarily used by tourists and inner-city residents who live around South Bank, Spring Hill and the northern end of Kangaroo Point.

Making public transport free and switching more people onto PT instead of driving saves governments (and thus taxpayers) HEAPS of money that would otherwise go towards building and maintaining wider roads and highways. Free public transport is also great for tourism, small business, social connectedness etc.

Most importantly though, free public transport is a crucial form of climate action.

We urgently need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to prevent worsening global warming.

In cities like Brisbane, private motor vehicles are one of the highest sources of emissions. So if the cost of fares is a major barrier for people to switch from driving to riding the bus or train or ferry (which it is), we need to slash public transport prices (or abolish them altogether) in order to reduce carbon emissions.

Of course, cost isn’t the only barrier to public transport usage at the moment. We also need dramatic improvements to public transport frequency, operating hours and route coverage. But for people on low incomes, the high price of bus and train fares can represent the different between being able to afford healthy nutritious meals, and skipping meals altogether.

Hopefully one day soon, public transport will be free for everyone…

(Edit: To be clear, I definitely do think there has been a big drop in patronage in general, and I agree that an increase in fare evasion would only represent a small fraction of that.)

Jonathan Sri
Councillor for the Gabba Ward
6 May 2022

Please comment down below