Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Topical indeed

About a week ago, @Nordette99 asked me a question via twitter

"This might seem like an odd question, but why aren't there more female tram drivers? From the sounds of it, the job is well paid, pretty secure, etc... Just keen to hear your thoughts."

In light of recent federal events, it's a good question. While I'll attempt to answer it as best as possible, I know some people may get offended by the very mention of gender. I'm not trying to piss anyone off, further an agenda or indulge in some sort of post-modern, women-hating commentary. The fact may well be that there are fewer female applicants to the job for whatever reason. I'm basing this on the premise that recruitment is done based on merit, as opposed to "we need more chicks". Oh, and the whole "gender/sex" argument has no place here. I'm using the word "gender", so deal with it.

For starters, the transport industry traditionally has been male-dominated. Upwards of 90% of bus drivers in Europe are male (http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/jtrc/DiscussionPapers/DP201111.pdf , p. 12. Yes, I'm citing shit). The same article cites bias in recruitment testing (that tends towards "male" characteristics) and a number of other issues. It's an interesting read, especially considering that Australia is a member of the International Transport Forum (p. 2). 

Why would a woman chose to work in public transport, particularly Melbourne? Well, as @Nordette99 identifies, the position is secure, well-remunerated and with good conditions. What's not to like? Well, here's a list.

1. Working hours are shit. Yes, they are. But so are a number of customer service roles that seem to attract women, so this really isn't a valid reason. Think nurses. Besides, the job can be very taxing on anyone in terms of trying to score the right type of shifts. Most transport companies pretend to be family friendly, but that's bullshit. Longer shifts, longer hours, more time on the road and less pay. That should be enough to put people off regardless of gender. 
2. Actual security. All those drunken scumbag passengers, who happen to be mostly male, don't tend to hit on male staff. In my experience, anyway. Now and then, drivers need to leave the cabin to change points or change ends. The idea of a group of drunks harassing anyone's wife, daughter or partner would be enough to make me talk them out of it. I've heard horror stories from female staff involving stalkers and all sorts of shit, so before you call me on my stereotyping, this actually happens. If you're a woman who's traveled on public transport, you probably understand what I'm talking about.
3. If you see an industry that's mostly filled with men, you may chose not to work in that industry based on the amount of harassment you might encounter from colleagues. Yes, there are pieces of shit in any industry who will treat women poorly, and public transport is not immune. However, considering it's a "man's industry", why take the risk? Public Transport has an international history of being male-dominated. You could change conditions to make it appeal to more women, but that would cost money/reduce dividends. Having part-time staff was a thing of the past and these staff would only work between 6am and 6pm. 
4. 1975 was the year when women were "allowed" to drive trams (http://www.yarratrams.com.au/about-us/our-history/trams-in-melbourne/) . Yes, a whopping thirty-eight years ago. And this was after decades of fighting against it. The women who pushed for this put up with all sorts of shit. Yes, much of that can be put down as society at the time, but in an industry that lives on the mantra "that's the way it's always been done", you have to ask yourself how welcoming they might be. Granted, staff and policies have changed, but how many times have change been attempted, only to be thwarted by someone else because of that mantra? Oh, and as a reference point, Federation in 1901 gave women the right to vote (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/the-history-of-parliament/womens-suffrage-petition). One hundred and twelve years ago.

So aside from taking on the physical burden of shift work (that shortens your life), dealing with the public, driving in traffic, shitty government department and company policies, lack of state/federal government support and dealing with a company who considers you an expensive number, would you want to take on the challenges of a male-dominated industry?

The women I work with are for the most part wonderful people. They put up with even more shit that I do, but still manage to front up to work. They put up with some different cultural expectations from colleagues, as well as the usual stares and whispers men indulge in. If you're friends with a woman, you must be sleeping with her - that's the sort of attitude that sadly prevails in many sectors.

If you're pissed at some of the things I've said, please understand that I've had to consider the experiences of women I know who work in the industry. I'm not actually a woman, so forgive me if I've got something very wrong. If you feel these are outdated views, you need to consider the industry and the lack of change throughout the years. If you live in 2013, try to picture 1984-5 and you should have some sort of idea.

Feel free to comment here, especially if you're a woman who's considered working in the tramways. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


      Recently there's been a bit of a debate surrounding PSOs arresting drunk people on public transport. I've been quietly amused by it, considering the role of the PSO is fairly limited to train stations. There's been no mention of that role expanding, so the generalisation is actually quite false. Yes, trains are public transport, but so are buses and trams. Wouldn't it be better to have them roaming the entire network, as @mttb123 suggested? Sure, keep them at the trouble spots, but quiet stations could free up PSOs to move about. Yes, great idea. But then it got me thinking about the current arrangements.

      At the moment, there are now three groups of people who are used on public transport for the nitty-gritty law and order stuff. There are Transit Police. Horribly under-funded, rare to see yet amazing when they respond, they are cops. Police. Real police in a specialised unit. There are about 230 of them (according to lawstuff.org.au, that still lists Connex as an operator). I dare say this number would include managers, supervisors and admin staff who might not get out on the beat. Either way, if you take into account RDOs, leave and other such things, there aren't many of them considering the size of the network. I've met one in my entire driving career who managed to get a douchebag off the tram. He was awesome.
      Next is Authorised Officers. Once again, lawstuff.org.au cites around 600 of them. While their powers are somewhat different compared with police (and yes, people tend to listen more when the person speaking is armed), their jobs are similar, though with less emphasis on investigation. RDOs, leave, etc can also errode the number "on the beat". I've had AOs on my tram off and on. I can go for months without seeing them, then have them every day for a fortnight. They tend to end up wasting a heap of time with paperwork though.
      Finally, the new kids on the block are PSOs. They've been around for a while, but the decision to employ them at train stations saw 940 of them recruited. The decision to staff each and every train station from first to last was contentious. While it drew praise for having a uniformed presence on trains, it also exposed limitations. Could they provide assistance with regard to bus replacement services? What could they do? Were they really police? The same Age article where I got the 940 from says that of the two-hundred stations, 45% of assaults occur in ten of them. One hundred and sixteen stations reported no assaults. While this narrow view (assaults are but one crime in the veritable buffet that happens on public transport) does suggest a targeted response would be better value, having such staff provides security for travellers across the system. It's more than just a matter of surgical strikes, but it's tough convincing today's bean-counters that old-fashioned customer service should include protection from rape, assault and robbery.

      The point of this blog entry is this: why do we need (and pay for) three arms of service to effectively do the same job? You have nearly 1,800 staff. This will include managers, supervisors, payroll and all the other features that are duplicated in each arm. Each section will also have reems of associated legislation, legal teams, codes of practice, uniforms and everything else that adds up to a large chunk of cash that could be better spent. It seems wasteful that such finite resources (ie public transport funding) be diluted when one simple, understandable organisation can be established. I know the idea of having such a logical approach to public transport runs against the grain (what, with PTV, metlink, PTSV, Yarra Trams, Metro, numerous bus operators and so on), but as myki roll out has reminded us, keeping it simple and easy is a whole lot better than making it difficult, complex and having to teach each and everyone how to use it.

      And just a reminder - PSOs won't be arresting drunks on public transport. Trains and train stations, maybe, but don't let facts get in the way of a media beat up.