Fairer fares and fines for homeless transport users

26 May 2016
Justice Connect Homeless Law welcomes the two detailed reports on Victoria’s public transport system released today

The Victorian Ombudsman and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) have each released reports that highlight the punitive impact of public transport ticketing on vulnerable Victorians.

Manager and Principal Lawyer of Homeless Law, Lucy Adams, said: “For too long homeless Victorians have been hit hard by fines for travelling on trains and trams without a ticket or not showing their concession card. A fine for these offences starts at $223, which is 85% of your weekly income if you rely on the Newstart Allowance. We see day-to-day what it’s like to be homeless, reliant on public transport and overwhelmed with fines you’re in no position to pay”.  

In March Homeless Law provided a detailed position paper, Fair’s Fare: Improving access to public transport for Victorians experiencing homelessness, to the Victorian Ombudsman and the DEDJTR. The paper contained 10 client stories, as well as detailed data and recommendations informed by 15 years of assisting Victorians experiencing homelessness to navigate the fines system.

“The majority of Homeless Law’s clients end up having the fines waived on the basis of their special circumstances – which include homelessness, mental illness and substance dependence – but not before significant resources of the government and services like Homeless Law have been injected into the system”, Ms Adams said. 

“The evidence of the community legal sector has been taken on board by the government and the ombudsman and we’re optimistic that the reforms will see less public money wasted on trying to enforce fines against people who simply can’t pay”.  

In particular, Homeless Law welcomes the recognition by the government, and express recommendation by the ombudsman, that a Protocol for People who are Homeless in Public Places would help authorised officers to exercise their discretion. “The protocol is a practical, preventative tool that can support authorised officers to make decisions other than fining people experiencing homelessness. Instead, officers will be trained and supported to make referrals to specialist services”.

Key changes recommended in the government and ombudsman’s reports are:

  • Scrapping the $75 on-the-spot penalty fares
  • Targeting “deliberate and recidivist fare evaders”, not vulnerable people or accidental non-compliance
  • Better training for authorised officers to help them make more appropriate decisions on the frontline
  • Guidelines to encourage early exit for vulnerable people through warnings and internal reviews so they don’t get caught up in the stressful and expensive court system.

The benefits of free travel for vulnerable people via the Access Travel Pass scheme are recognised in the government’s report and Homeless Law recommends that this scheme is strengthened and promoted to prevent highly vulnerable people from entering the infringements system. 

Homeless Law also calls for concession-based fines to be considered as part of ongoing reform of the fines system. “It makes sense that people earning 20% of the average income, should be able to pay 20% of the standard fine. This is a proportionate punishment that makes it realistic for the lowest income Victorians to pay”.  

Homeless Law’s ultimate position is that concession card holders should have access to free travel on public transport. “This would recognise the tangible benefits of accessible public transport for low-income Victorians. It is a critical part of a fairer, more inclusive community where all Victorians can get from A to B”.

“We congratulate the government on its commitment to a fairer public transport system for all Victorians. The real potential for change lies in the implementation, and we look forward to working with them as these positive changes take shape."

Justice Connect Homeless Law, Fair’s Fare: Improving access to public transport for Victorians experiencing homelessness

Infringements Working Group, On Track to Fairer Fares and Fines

Comment and interview - Ed Butler, communications manager 0408 620 385