• Sun. Mar 12th, 2023

Sydney train commuters evading fares risk huge fines despite industrial action

Authorities are warning Sydney commuters who are walking through rail gates without ‘tapping on’ to do so at their own risk, despite the Rail, Train and Bus Union banning its officers from issuing fines. On Saturday, the union’s three weeks of industrial action commenced over its claims the state government’s intercity fleet is unsafe.Gates at multiple stations are being left open as part of the protest action.“Perhaps it’s a good time to go travelling this weekend … Station staff are taking action by leaving all gates open at all times,” the union posted to Facebook on Friday. In line with the action, the union has banned ticket inspectors who are among its members from checking commuters’ Opal cards until September 6, giving travellers the green light to walk through without paying for their fare. But while the gates remain open, Opal readers are still in operation, sending mixed messages to commuters about whether they’re required to tap on.As a result, those failing to pay for their fare can still cop a hefty fine if caught by non-union public transport officers (PTO) and police who are permitted to issue fines for fare evading. One Sydneysider reported such a scenario in a post to Reddit, sharing a photo of a ticket inspector talking to a passenger who allegedly didn’t pay their fare on the weekend. “RTB Union: we leave all gates open at all times until 6 September. Transport officers: hold my beer while I check your Opal cards!” the caption accompanying the post read. More than 100 people have commented on the post, with some reporting that they’ve seen an increased number of public transport officers and police lingering at station gates.“I take the train at the same time every day, strike and no strike. The only times I’ve had my Opal card checked is when a strike is going on,” one Sydneysider commented. “These guys also usually avoid peak hour. But on strike days, they’re pushing through a crowded train checking Opals.”Another user added that they have noticed the presence of authorities “more in the last week”. Others have lashed out at the union and media outlets for the miscommunication regarding the idea of commuters receiving “free” travel.“The first time I will call (the) news fake. They advertise it’s basically free. The news should be sued for this,” one frustrated commuter said.“Seems a bit irresponsible to encourage people to not tap on if they can still get fined,” commented another.“All it takes is for a family member to say ‘hey did you hear, they’re leaving the gates open to travel for free this week’ and bam,” a third posted. Reddit users also suggested that staff at some stations were not partaking in the industrial action, with commuters commenting that gates at Parramatta, Kings Cross and Auburn stations remained shut. While NSW Police didn’t comment on how many fines had been issued since industrial action commenced on the weekend, a spokesman told news.com.au that fines would still be issued if passengers failed to comply with the rules. “Police may issue infringements if they detect passengers travelling without a valid ticket,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the passenger to tap on and off.”According to Transport for NSW, if a passenger is travelling without a valid ticket, not paying the correct fare or is travelling using a concession ticket without being in possession of their concession card, that passenger will be issued with a fine of $200.The maximum penalty for fare evading in NSW is $550. Fines can be contested in court or through a letter to the State Debt Recovery Office, but only 4 per cent of cases are overturned. Transport for NSW has also urged commuters to tap on as it assists in data collection so services can be adjusted to meet commuter demand.Matt Longland, chief executive for Sydney Trains, said opal gates and poles will continue operating as usual and passengers are required to tap on and off with their Opal or credit cards to have a valid ticket. “The data we receive when commuters tap on and tap off is used to plan and adjust services to meet commuter demand and assists us to communicate real-time capacity information,” Mr Longland said. “Tapping on and tapping off ensures commuters are charged the correct fare and can access Opal benefits, including daily and weekly travel caps.”The union has warned that industrial action will continue until the state government meets its demands by making safety modifications to the guards’ compartments in the new train fleet. Read related topics:Sydney

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