Fare enough: A systems view of ticketing and fare evasion on Melbourne’s trams, from bell-punch to myki

Buy the ticket, take the ride

Research conducted by Transport for London (TfL) in 2010 shows that there are three main factors to be considered when combating fare evasion.

  • Social – increasing general awareness of the negative connotations of fare evasion through appropriate use of public relations. Fare evasion is largely perceived as a victimless crime, as the victim is the large, faceless public transport provider, in this case TfL. This perception is reinforced by consistently poor media reports highlighting the waste and inefficiency of TfL, together with the personal impact of late and cancelled services. Only through use of effective targeted public relations campaigns can this issue be reversed – and even then progress is difficult and slow.
  • Environmental – minimising the factors that support the ability of passengers to evade fares. This is much simpler for ‘closed’ public transport systems, for example at railway stations fitted with ticket operated automatic gates as a method of access control. It is much more difficult for ‘open’ systems such as trams and ‘bendy’ buses, where the prime method of enforcement is through random inspection of tickets by authorised officers rather than controlling access to the vehicle. The other key factor here is simplifying the process to purchase and validate tickets.
  • Personal – highlighting the risk and consequences to individual fare evaders. The penalties for fare evaders in London are harsh, with second and subsequent offences attracting criminal prosecution and fines of up to £1000 if found guilty. Placing this level of fines into context, in 2008 average UK annual individual earnings before tax were £20,801.

The introduction of Metcard did not initially address many of these issues, particularly with regard to environmental factors.

  • Tram conductors had provided the primary method of minimising fare evasion. Their removal significantly reduced the ability to enforce compliance with the ticketing regime, a major consideration in managing this issue in an ‘open’ system. Additionally, the absence of a human face and its replacement with an impersonal ticketing machine changed the relationship between the passenger and the public transport provider. In the minds of the travelling public, the effect was to change fare evasion into a victimless crime.
  • The removal of tram conductors also resulted in a loss of amenity to the travelling public, increasing the level of frustration with the public transport operator. This was not assisted by a prolonged media campaign opposing the withdrawal of tram conductors, nor by persistent media reports of unreliability of the service, and excessive payments to privatised operating companies.
  • The distancing of the relationship between the passenger and the public transport provider was underlined by the isolation of the tram driver in a separate compartment. This removal of the human factor was exacerbated by signs stating that the the driver had no ability or responsibility to address issues with the ticketing machine. Disconnect between driver and ticket machines was emphasised by signs stating passengers were not to bother the driver if the ticket machine was not working.
  • The removal of seats in trams in order to provide space for ticketing machines increased the level of resentment, providing another factor underlining the loss of utility. This was exacerbated in the case of Z class tramcars, where not only were seats lost, but the removal of raised conductor’s consoles was not used as an opportunity to increase the amount of available seating. Rightly, the public saw this cost saving exercise as a measure of the lack of concern by the Government for the comfort of the travelling public, fuelling the sense of loss of utility.
  • Ticketing machines deployed on trams only accepted coins. Intending passengers not carrying a sufficient number of coins were thus unable to purchase a legal ticket.
  • Observation of other passengers failing to purchase or validate tickets and the lack of apparent consequences increased the likelihood of evading fares by otherwise law-abiding citizens. The apparent risk/reward ratio was not assisted by the initially low number of revenue protection officers.
  • A program to reduce costs in preparation for privatisation saw a reduction in vehicle maintenance and cleaning cycles, impacting on service reliability and positive perception of the service, further increasing the tendency to evade fares.
  • Access to ticketing machines and validators on crowded trams can be difficult. In this environment, it is unlikely that passengers will exert themselves to either purchase a ticket or validate their ticket, particularly as they are aware that the likelihood of having their ticket inspected on a crowded tram is correspondingly low.
Fare evasion penalty (current prices, original currency)
Average daily earnings (pre-tax, current prices, original currency)[8]
Equivalent working days
Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company
Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board
Transport for London
Victoria (Metcard/Myki)

Table 1. Comparative fare evasion penalties and equivalent working days.

Fines for fare evasion have not been set at the draconian levels seen in London, the standard penalty as at 2012 being a fine of $180. A number of advertising campaigns have been run using a combination of print media, posters and television advertising to address the fare issue. However, in Melbourne fare evasion on trams has been consistently higher than on other forms of transport – as shown in the graph below – primarily due to the ‘open’ nature of the system, and the apparent risk/reward ratio.

Fare evasion rates for Melbourne public transport. Source Metlink Victoria. Fare evasion rates for Melbourne public transport by transport mode.
Source Metlink Victoria.

Clearly, the low risk of detection evading fares in combination with the value of fines in Melbourne as per Table 1 are viewed as sufficient reason by a significant proportion of the travelling public to evade fares on a regular basis, making a purely economic decision that the risk of occasional fines is cheaper than legally paying fares. This has been addressed in London by making fare evasion a criminal rather than civil matter, and by setting fines at a draconian level – over twenty times the level in Melbourne. The State Government is placed in an invidious position, where increasing fines to an economically effective level will be attacked in the media as a revenue grab. The relatively small increase of fines from $180 per offence to $207 as from 1 July 2012 is unlikely to materially affect existing levels of fare evasion.

In response, a group called Tramsurance was formed to ‘insure’ fare evaders against the imposition of fines, as reported in ‘The Age’ of 5 July 2012. While such schemes will no doubt be found illegal in the long run, it is a worrying development for the State Government. Until it is prepared to suffer the opprobrium of the press and public in setting fines at a cost that will truly deter evaders, fare evasion levels will not substantially decrease – even with the current ticket inspection levels and anti-evasion public relation campaigns.


[8] Note that MTOC figure for average daily earnings is based on minimum unskilled male labourer rates. M&MTB figure for average daily earnings is based on male rates of pay. All daily rates of pay are based on pre-tax earnings. Sources are as follows:

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012), Average Weekly Earnings, Australia, Nov 2011, catalogue number 6302.0, 23 February 2012

Australian Council of Trade Unions (2009) Harvester Judgement, 27 May 2009

Office of National Statistics (2012) EARN01: Average Weekly Earnings, last updated June 2012

Public Transport Victoria (2012) Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual (myki), 1 January 2012

Reserve Bank of Australia (2012) Australian Economic Statistics 1949-1950 to 1996-1997 – Occasional Paper No. 8, Table 4.17 – Wages & Earnings

State Government of Victoria (1883) Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company Act (1883), Hansard

State Government of Victoria (1958) Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Act (1958), Hansard