Fare enough: A systems view of
ticketing and fare evasion on Melbournes trams, from bell-punch
In 1989 the Cain/Kirner State Government was in financial crisis, after
the collapse of the State Bank of Victoria (SBV) and Tricontinental,
the merchant banking arm of the SBV, together with the failure of the
privately-held Pyramid Building Society. One of the areas that contributed
to the hemorrhaging of money was the ever-increasing subsidies to keep
Melbournes public transport operational, and the State Government
was desperate to achieve savings. It was estimated that annual savings
of $50 million could be achieved by the abolition of tram conductors.
From M&MTB days it was well known that staffing costs made up approximately
65% of the operating cost of Melbournes tramway system. The abolition
of conductors and use of one-man crews offered the opportunity to achieve
major savings. The only problem was that this initiative would require
a radical change to tram ticketing,
At the time, scratch lottery tickets were a popular method of gambling.
These were colloquially known as scratchies, due to the
requirement to scratch off thin foil coatings from the cardboard ticket
to reveal the gamblers winnings, if any.
The gambling industry had invested heavily in technology to prevent
forgery of scratch lottery tickets, both through the difficulty of reproduction
of the cards themselves, and inclusion of authorisation numbers hidden
behind foil as an additional security feature.
The State Government took the novel approach to introduce pre-paid
tickets using the same technology, whereby passengers were responsible
for validating their own tickets. These tickets would not be available
on trams, but purchased at various retail outlets such as newsagencies.
Depending on the type of ticket, validation occurred by scratching off
the month, day and time of first use of the ticket.
Selection of non-validated scratch tickets Adult Daily for
Zone 1, 3 Hour Concession for Zones 2 and 3 and Concession (60 Plus)
- From the Melbourne Tram Museum collection. Image by Russell Jones.
While conceptually an attractive solution for the State Governments
problem, the introduction of scratch tickets encountered a number of
- The public perception that the level of service was to be reduced
by the withdrawal of conductors established a negative relationship
with the introduction of scratch tickets. This is an important consideration
as conductors fulfilled functions other than collection and issuing
of fares, including providing information to passengers, safeguarding
passengers boarding and exiting tramcars, and assisting the elderly
and infirm to board and exit trams.
- Industrial action by tramway employees resisting the introduction
of scratch tickets reinforced the publics negative perception.
The Public Transport Authority (PTA) handled the industrial relations
aspect of the introduction with the delicacy of an elephant walking
on eggshells, through its inability to negotiate effectively with
the union, and requiring all employees to sign a document requiring
them to comply with management direction. The result was the scratch
ticket dispute, which left trams abandoned in the streets of Melbourne
for thirty-three days in January-February 1990, The State Government
and the PTA was forced into an embarrassing backdown, retaining two-man
tram crews, and displaying the weakness of their position. This failure
was a major contributing factor to the change of government at the
next State election.
- On their introduction, scratch tickets could only be purchased from
specific retail outlets, and were not sold by conductors on trams.
These outlets were often inconveniently located, or had restricted
opening hours, leading to a perception of reduced facility. Additionally,
there was no cost benefit for the public to purchase scratch tickets,
as they were sold at the same prices as standard tickets.
- The State Government was attempting to engineer a change in human
behaviour, by forcing tram passengers to pre-purchase tickets and
perform their own validation, when there was a perceived loss of utility
a difficult objective. Due to the low rate of ticket inspection
reinforced by a disaffected workforce, the public also perceived there
was little chance of being caught in evading fares. Many drew the
conclusion that the resultant cost-benefit equation did not support
the purchasing of fares.
- The later limited introduction of one man trams in February 1990
was a contributing factor to an increase in graffiti and vandalism,
further increasing the publics belief that service and facility
was being reduced by the State Governments actions, and establishing
a willingness to punish the Government by refusing to purchase tickets.
The State Government was successful in changing the behaviour of Melbournes
travelling public, but in an entirely undesirable although not unpredictable
direction. The end result was the establishment of a fare evasion culture,
creating an intractable problem with which public transport operators
are still struggling, twenty years later.
In short, the introduction of scratch tickets was bungled in almost
every possible way, serving as a stellar example of how not to implement
a revolution in public transport ticketing.
Scratch tickets were finally phased out at the end of December 2001.