Public transport has a critical role to play in improving social cohesion and social 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, and penalises them heavily for failure to purchase a ticket or produce proof of concession.
Homeless Law’s position paper makes 11 recommendations for a fairer, more inclusive and more efficient public transport system. These include:
Recognising the benefits of accessible public transport and the current costs of enforcement against people who are unable to pay, We recommend the introduction of free travel on the Public Transport Victoria network for people with concession cards.
This scheme is currently available to people with a permanent physical or mental disability that prevents them using myki ticketing systems. However, Access Travel Passes are under-utilised and are not as effective as they could be at preventing highly vulnerable people from entering the infringements system. This scheme should be broadened and strengthened and there should be concerted awareness raising to prevent people getting unnecessarily caught up in the infringements system.
A protocol for homeless people in public places (similar to the NSW Protocol), accompanied by training, leadership and oversight, could play an important role in avoiding unnecessary interactions with people experiencing homelessness, ensuring that where interactions do occur they are appropriate and respectful and supporting officers to consider options other than fines and charges when dealing with people experiencing homelessness. Homeless Law continues to work with a number of government and community agencies in reviving a protocol in Victoria.
Guidelines and a mechanism for oversight should be put in place to ensure that the decision to issue an infringement notice is not a rubber stamp and is instead an effective juncture for identifying when people should be exited from the system. Clear, consistent approaches to support early exit via effective internal review, including transparent and rigorous policies, should be welcomed and swiftly implemented as part of Victoria’s extensive reform to fines and infringements.
The current special circumstances framework is less effective than it could be at providing Victorians experiencing homelessness, substance dependence and/or mental illness with an accessible mechanism for exiting the infringements system. To address the current ways in which vulnerable people find themselves caught up in the infringements system for protracted periods, 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 requirement to plead guilty in the Special Circumstances List.
Given the wide disparity of incomes amongst public transport users, concession card holders should be subject to reduced infringement penalties. Homeless Law recommends setting infringement penalties for eligible concession card holders at 20% of the standard rate. While 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), it is important that the public transport ticketing infringement framework has a variety of options in place to allow disadvantaged people to address their infringements. 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 on average to high incomes.
On-the-spot penalty fares should be repealed due to the discriminatory impact, lack of appeal rights and the failure of Authorised Officers 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.