Public transport can improve social cohesion and inclusion. But as it stands, Victoria’s public transport system is inaccessible for our most struggling members. It excludes them from engaging in activities, appointments and daily life. It also penalises them for being unable to buy a ticket or produce proof of concession. Our Fair’s Fare campaign is fighting to change that.
Homeless Law’s position paper makes 11 recommendations for a fairer, more inclusive and more efficient public transport system. These include:
Accessible public transport comes with a lot of benefits. But the current costs of enforcement against people who are unable to pay are too high. We recommend the introduction of free travel on for people with concession cards.
The Access Travel Pass scheme is available to people with a permanent disability that prevents them using myki ticketing systems. Yet Access Travel Passes are under-utilised and not as effective as they could be. We need to ensure it prevents vulnerable people from entering the infringements system. Let’s strengthen this scheme and raise awareness to prevent people getting unfairly caught up in the infringements system.
We need to support officers to consider alternatives to fines and charges when dealing with people experiencing homelessness. A protocol for homeless people in public places (similar to the NSW Protocol) could prevent unnecessary interactions between people experiencing homelessness and officers. With training, leadership and oversight, we can ensuring that where interactions do occur they are appropriate and respectful. Homeless Law continues to work with a number of government and community agencies in reviving a protocol in Victoria.
We need to establish guidelines and mechanisms for oversight to ensure that the decision to issue an infringement notice is not a rubber stamp. Instead, the decision should be an effective juncture for identifying when people should be exited from the system. Let’s welcome clear, consistent approaches to support early exit via effective internal review, including transparent and rigorous policies. We need to swiftly implement these processes as part of Victoria’s extensive reform to fines and infringements.
The current special circumstances framework is less effective than it could be. Victorians experiencing homelessness, substance dependence and/or mental illness need ways to easily exit the infringements system. Too often, vulnerable people find themselves caught up in the infringements system, unable to access adequate supporting material and with a finding of guilt on their record. Homeless Law recommends amending the definition of ‘special circumstances’ in the Infringements Act, revisiting the current rigid approach to evidence and removing need to plead guilty in the Special Circumstances List.
Our public transport infringement framework needs to have a variety of options in place to allow disadvantaged people to address their infringements. There’s a huge disparity of incomes amongst public transport users. Concession card holders should pay reduced penalties. Homeless Law recommends setting infringement penalties for eligible concession card holders at 20% of the standard rate. In many cases, payment will not be the best option for Homeless Law’s clients (because a special circumstances application or work and development permit will be more appropriate). But some people may want to resolve their infringements through payment and, for this to be a possibility, the system needs to recognise that people on very low incomes cannot pay the same amount as people higher incomes.
We need to repeal on-the-spot penalty fares. They have a discriminatory impact, lack appeal rights, and Authorised Officers often fail to clearly articulate the impact of paying a penalty fare.
Justice Connect also endorses the submission of the Infringements Working Group. The Infringements Working Group is a joint working group of the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) and the Financial and Consumer Rights Council. It has 36 member organisations who undertake high volumes of work with disadvantaged clients dealing with fines and infringements. Read the IWG’s submission, On track to fairer fares and fines.