Comedy //

This is definitely not how to fare evade

This is definitely not the Sydney University guide to fare evasion

Artwork by Katharine Xu

Public transport should be free. The NSW government could get rid of fares with a mere 20 per cent increase to its current transport outlay. Even then they would still have a $3 billion budget surplus on 2018’s figures.

But until fares are abolished, we have to take things into our own hands. That’s right, public transport can be free—if you want it. Enter fare evasion. You’re not going to harm the state’s bottom line if you don’t buy a ticket: the government estimates it loses $80 million each year to fare evasion, which is a tiny fraction of the $1.2 billion it made from passenger services this year. That $80 million loss in revenue isn’t going to reduce the quality of transport either: the government already funds public transport to the tune of about $5 billion per year.

So how’s the game played?

1. Gates & mates

Let’s begin with trains, arguably the easiest mode to subvert. Some train stations in the suburbs have pissweak ticket verification systems, and if there aren’t gates, you can just walk out.

But sadly most train trips involve gates at some point. Sometimes you can jump over the weird, red triangly thing, but with NSW rolling out body sized gates this classic method is becoming obsolete.

Failing this, those among you with friends might find it exhilarating to rush through behind them before the fly trap ensnares you. But it’s positively exhilarating to do so behind a total stranger.

But, if none of these options will do, most stations have some way around the gates. At Wynyard, for instance, there’s a sneaky glass pane next to the gate, near the big fuckoff York St escalators. Since it’s less than a metre off the ground, people might be able to jump over it. Failing that, with enough force one can bust through the gap between the plastic pads, or, for those with a more deft touch, scale the gate.

2. Transport officers and coppers

The natural enemy in all of this are public transit staff. Most don’t give a fuck—it’s the Transport Officers (TOs) you have to watch out for.

Transport Officers are authorised under the Passenger Transport (General) Regulation to determine if riders have valid tickets, and may issue fines to punish offenders. They can approach commuters if they’re in the vehicle, in a station’s restricted area, or if they’ve recently left either. They can also compel you to provide your name and identification. Importantly, though, Transport Officers only have the same powers of arrest as any other citizen—that is, they have to be certain you are committing or have just committed a crime before they can detain you. They’re also not explicitly allowed to use force, so even if you are caught, if you run away it’s possible they won’t give chase.

Best make sure they actually are TOs though. In the past few years the police have begun to assume more responsibility for enforcing fares. That means they can arrest you if they have reasonable suspicion you’ve committed a crime and can compel you to give identification and your name. Most importantly, you can’t run from these guys without committing a serious offence, so be careful!

To avoid TOs and transport police, join one of the many private Facebook groups that provide regular updates on their whereabouts. [redacted] is a good one. Also if you’re on a train, you can normally see TOs as you draw up to the platform, and unless they walk onto your carriage it’s normally possible to avoid them before the next stop by moving through carriages. Finally, if they’re loitering outside the gate at your destination, wait it out in the toilets until they’ve moved on.

3. Bus fuss

Evading fares on buses can be a tall order, since drivers often deny access to free riders. The best approach is to ask the driver for the relevant fare, before presenting a note they’re unlikely to have change for (a $20 may do, but a $50 should guarantee it). They may well let you on for free.

Another strategy is to get a friend to ask the driver where the bus stops and then slip in unnoticed during the ensuing exchange.    

Or you could just walk on. You could even mime tapping your Opal card, letting out a falsetto bing as you do so. But for those out there who fancy themselves wordsmiths there is another way: attempting to persuade the driver to just let you on because a) you really need to get there (the empathy approach), b) you didn’t mean for this to happen and you normally pay (the law-abiding citizen defence), or c) they don’t get paid more for stopping fare evasion, so actually they’re increasing their exploitation by increasing their employer’s revenue without proportional compensation (the Marxian attack).

I have nothing useful to say to those who catch the ferry: you could always jump overboard and swim ashore. But, given you live by the harbour, I suspect you can just cop the fare.

No one should feel guilty about evading fares, especially those among us who have no other option. In fact, as you use the methods we’ve disclosed hopefully a different feeling takes hold: the feeling of defiant stingery.