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Time to scrap discriminatory penalty fares

It is time to scrap the discriminatory system of penalty fares on public transport, says the Victorian Council of Social Service, following today’s release of the Public Transport Ombudsman’s Annual Report showing a significant spike in the number of complaints about penalty fares and public transport fines.

“The one-year trial of penalty fares should not be continued beyond the end of this year,” said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

“The Ombudsman’s report makes it clear that most people aren’t in a position to make an informed decision about paying the $75 ‘fare’ because they’re worried they will be landed with a larger fine, even if they believe that they touched on in the first place.”

“VCOSS members report that people often feel intimidated or harassed into paying a penalty fare, even when they believe they have made a reasonable effort to travel with a valid ticket, and are led to believe they have no recourse to dispute the penalty.”

“There needs to be a balance between dealing with fare evasion and taking a heavy-handed approach that discriminates against vulnerable people and those who believe they’ve genuinely touched on.”

“The Ombudsman has also warned that people are not being given information to advise them that they do have an avenue to complain if they pay the on the spot penalty fare. At a minimum this needs to change immediately while the trial is still running to ensure people are made fully aware of their rights.”

“Furthermore, it is clear that these penalty fares discriminate against people on lower-incomes, as they are only available to adults who have capacity to pay $75 immediately using a credit or debit card, while those who cannot do so are required to pay a much higher fine.”

While people cannot appeal to the Courts about penalty fares, they are able to make a complaint to the Public Transport Ombudsman, and potentially be reimbursed for the cost of a penalty fare that was wrongly charged.