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On-the-spot penalty fares for public transport users caught without a valid myki are to be abolished, in an overhaul of Victoria's fare enforcement regime.
Following a review of the system, the Andrews government will give ticket inspectors the power to issue warnings instead of automatically handing out fines.
In an effort to better target repeat fare evaders, and to exercise some leniency towards people who make an honest mistake or get caught out by a system glitch, the new public transport fare enforcement system will begin next year.
It will give authorised officers the discretion to issue official warning letters to commuters before handing out a full, $223 infringement notice.
The system of on-the-spot penalties, which gives passengers the choice of paying $75 and walking away without any record of the incident, will be cancelled.
A systematic fare evader could currently pay 20 on-the-spot penalty fares in a year and still pay less than a traveller with a full-fare, yearly zone one-and-two pass. Photo: Steve Lightfoot
A number of improvements to myki that make it more convenient and less confusing are also planned.
These include processing online top-ups within 90 minutes, instead of 24 hours, louder beeps and anti-glare screens on myki machines, and new, faster myki readers on trams and buses.
Jacinta Allan, the Minister for Public Transport, said very few public transport users deliberately avoided paying a fare and the overhaul sought to make it easier to do this.
A new public transport fare enforcement system will begin next year.
"The system we inherited from the former Liberal government is confusing, unfair and inequitable," Ms Allan said.
"It penalises and intimidates the most vulnerable while providing an incentive to travel without a ticket."
A review found the state's transport fare enforcement regime is unfair, confusing and ineffective, in that it perversely punishes honest commuters while rewarding deliberate fare evaders.
A systematic fare evader could pay 20 on-the-spot penalty fares in a year and still cough up less than a traveller with a full-fare, yearly zone one-and-two pass.
They would also have no record kept of their serial fare dodging.
The government's review found that "the enforcement regime is not currently targeted towards high-risk fare evaders - ie those who deliberately and repeatedly cheat the system".
"Indeed, the anonymous nature of the penalty scheme prevents identification of recidivist offenders and the availability of the $75 penalty fare makes evasion more attractive to this group."
The review found commuters often feel pressured into paying on the spot, and are falsely told they have no right to complain once they have taken that option.
The system also penalises poor people who cannot afford to pay $75 on the spot, so are hit with a $223 fine and often forced to take the matter to court.
In one case noted in the report, Stephanie, a homeless woman who lived on a Newstart allowance, was fined five times in a year, including while travelling to a soup van for a meal, and ultimately dragged through a 34-month court process.
On-the-spot penalty fares were first trialled by the former Napthine government as a way to streamline enforcement and sidestep the growing number of court challenges by people who contested their fines.
Opposition public transport spokesman David Hodgett slammed the 90-minute processing time for topping up myki cards.
He said the system should allow for tapping on and off with mobile phones, tablets and watches.
Mr Hodgett said the government's announcement was a fine hike.
"We wouldn't be talking about this problem if people had greater flexibility in being able to pay their fares or top up their myki card," he said.
The Magistrates Court was straining under the weight of more than 40,000 challenges to myki fines when the government began its review of fare enforcement in December, with the number of successful challenges so high that it threatened to unravel the integrity of the revenue protection regime.
This issue, first revealed in The Age, was central to the decision to review fare enforcement.
But the review also found at least one innovation brought in by Labor, the free tram zone and zone one-and-two fare cap, have made fare compliance more complex and confusing, particularly for tourists and international students.
The new system will take effect from January 1.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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