Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and Public Transport

There's been some interesting articles in the news of late regarding fare evasion on trams. Firstly, there was this article relating to the chances of getting your ticket checked on trams. 

Apparently the Transport Minister has "expressed his frustration at Yarra Trams about the loss of millions of dollars in revenue through high fare evasion...". This appears to be some sort of code for "we've spent millions of dollars and years preparing your contracts using very expensive lawyers which monitor trams down to the second, but we don't actually have any solid rules relating to the rate of inspection, so I'll just wag my finger at you in the media and do what every Transport Minister is expert at- pass the buck". This also adds to the confusion to the public, who now may think that either Yarra Trams runs the ticketing system or is trying to cut staff who inspect tickets (neither of which are true, but the subtlety of it all is from years of this crap).

You might notice over time that the various authorities, namely Metlink, are experts at campaigns to clamp down on fare evasion. If one were to perform a cost-benefit analysis on their work over the years, one would arrive at the conclusion that while we spend money, fare evasion is increasing. For an industry where money for basic infrastructure is sparse, it's amazing how much gets sucked into useless campaigns which make the suits and media types happy with the free lunch at the launch, but have not seen any impact. It would be interesting to go back over the years and see exactly how much money Metlink have spent on these campaigns and compare them with the rates of evasion. 

Then there are the questionable statistics. Apparently fare evasion can be monitored down to 0.1% accuracy, as there's been reports over the years about the rates decreasing.

Here, back in April 2011, it was 13% and Metlink Chief Dale Larkin said "inspectors would be checking as many tickets as possible from this week".

Here, October last year, yet another warning about a crackdown.

Here, in September last year, Metlink estimates fare evasion at 10%.

Back in July 2008, this article seemed hopeful. However, note the Metlink stats of fare evasion: 1996: 1.7%, 2000: 25%, 2006: 14.2%, 2008: 10.1%. The classic line in the article however comes from the Metlink Chief:

"...the return of tram conductors would not cut fare evasion to its previous levels because around 20% of the fleet's trams are now several metres longer than the older models"

Excuse me? Longer trams cause fare evasion? There's no explanation as to how this truly scientific method actually works or where this has been proven. It's just the usual "dodge, duck, dodge, duck" method of dealing with the media. Just looking at those basic stats over just a short period of time, you can see that fare evasion is climbing, especially in the last six months. 13%-20% is a huge leap worth millions of dollars. If I was responsible for a campaign to turn this around and in charge of millions of dollars of advertising and education and this was the result, would I expect to retain my job? No. But Even before Andrew Bolt and GASP, the Bolt Syndrome* has been perfected by public transport over many years.

*recently Andrew Bolt was found publicly guilty of racism, however his various employers are retaining him. Obviously this is condoning his illegal acts. If a regular person was found guilty of racism at their workplace, would their employer show such support? Same goes with GASP "customer service". This is the Bolt Syndrome: retaining and in some cases defending the actions of an employee which, to the ordinary person, has acted in a manner which would usually require termination.

Anyway, it seems interesting that they can measure fare evasion at such accurate amounts. Or is it? There are no counters on every tram, so right off the bat, the numbers are a guess. Those people you see sometimes at major stops with clipboards only operate during restricted hours, so again, take a guess. The rate of booking fare evaders is hardly scientific, as you get many runners as well as those who require the presence of a uniform to "remember" their ticket. At some point, in order to come up with these magical stats, the kind that managers and politicians rely on to make policies and spend money, someone has had to guess or make an estimate. This same logic is applied to patronage across the system, too. What a waste of time and money all this is.

Another interesting section of this article is the response from a Yarra Trams spokesman:

"A Yarra Trams spokesman said it had stepped up the number of inspections recently in line with Metlink's fare evasion crackdown - but did not say why fewer tickets were checked this year. Metlink said the crackdown was effective because monthly fines had increased across the network by more than 50 per cent."

The number of inspections has been stepped up recently? So what was happening before? As a tax payer and tram driver, I'm pissed. As a tax payer, the government is supposed to oversee this sort of thing and ensure that money handed over to private companies in this manner is accounted for and well-spent. As a driver, my working day is documented down to the minute. We get fifty seconds deviation at timing points and are under constant scrutiny. Our tables have been cut and chopped up so much that any recover time at the end of the line is almost always chewed up by late running. We literally spend hours and hours working non-stop in traffic. It would be nice if this performance was expected of everyone else working in the industry, including our union, the RTBU.

The second article is similar, but there are some rather interesting points if you read between lines here, folks. Bear with me.

The article states that the rate of evasion across the entire network of trams is 20.3%. Again, nice to have such a specific number. Twenty point three. However, the most interesting point comes at the bottom of the article, where the Yarra Trams spokesman makes some rather tasty information:

"Yarra Trams spokesman Colin Tyrus said the government was responsible for ticket inspector numbers on the network, with about 165 currently patrolling trams.
He said plain-clothes patrols had recently been increased, and announcements warning passengers of routes being targeted had been introduced. ''The vast majority of commuters … know they have to have a valid ticket and they do and they don't gamble on whether or not they'll be checked.''

Firstly, there's the famous "buck-pass", stating the government was responsible for ticket inspector numbers on the network. Wait, didn't we have the Transport Minister the day before wagging a finger at Yarra Trams for the rates of fare evasion? Who is responsible here? Don't bother wasting your time with such an important question, as this is standard operating procedure for public transport news. Here's how it works:

1. Newspaper digs up something unsavory, usually via FOI. If not, it gets released by whomever just in time to make Sunday's paper - the day with the least circulation. It's deliberate.
2. Comments are gathered from various sources, such as Government, Metlink, Yarra Trams, Public Transport Users Assoc. and RTBU.
3. At some point, someone will "pass the buck", blaming one of several targets: the previous government, the water-tight contracts (which, by the way, appear to contain very little about ticket inspectors!), the union, the staff. It's very rare that someone will respond directly or someone actually be named, as these "threats" are nothing of the sort. See below:
4. If the issue lasts longer than a day (which it usually doesn't), the buck may be passed again, but only in a way in which nobody directly is blamed. It's careful, well-crafted, and no more dangerous than the paper it's written on. Nobody gets hurt, the public are tricked into believing there's "conflict" and everyone wins. 

The second interesting point is the increase in plain clothes patrols. This IS news, but it's another one of those shitty tricks. When the recent version of Yarra Trams came into power, some genius saw plain clothes inspectors as damaging to the brand and had them removed. Everyone wore uniforms. Low and behold, fare evasion has increased and millions of dollars have been lost because of it. Fucking genius. If I pulled a move like that and cost the company millions of dollars, would I still be employed? No. Anyway, this "increase in plain clothes patrols" is not really an increase, it's just things going back to how they used to be. A bit like re-inventing the wheel - something which public transport is so expert at doing. This increase is the same as me taking out all of your teeth, giving them back, then telling you that you now have more teeth. And you can't claim it on Medicare.

The sad part about all this is that these clowns are all paid very well for their efforts. They will happily slurp from the trough of tax-payers and watch as the system is slowly ruined at a glacial rate: slow enough for nobody to really notice. Millions, if not billions of dollars are pissed away on re-branding, re-negotiating contracts, re-franchising, and so on. In this great system, everyone gets paid and nobody's accountable or responsible. The running of the system is fragmented into so many pieces, there is nobody there to oversee it, not even the Transport Minister. Each have their own narrow little world which they take care of, and that's it. The people who lose out? Front-line staff, the travelling public and tax-payers. This system, with the way it's been set up, cannot be changed from outside, and will not be changed from the inside.

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