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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Public Transport Shame

How about shame-based ads for our public transport operators and regulators? A red-faced mandarin in a chauffeured limo passes a broken down overloaded tram: "Do you keep your bonus if we get out and push?"

Do You Keep Your Bonus If We Get Out and Push?

Broken Tram Pushed by Commuters

6:30pm on Monday, 21st of November, 2005.

(Image Courtesy of The Age)


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Blogger Greg vented ...

While I meant the above facetiously, it appears it's finally happened: commuters had to get out and push a tram.

From Diary (backpage of The Age):

Off the tracks

Yes, we've never been more ready to host those hordes of visitors during the Commonwealth Games.

At right we see our famed rail transport in action, passengers alighting to ensure a City Circle tram makes it around a corner.

It happened at 6.30pm Monday and witness Nigel Carboon reports: "The driver and the passengers from the tram behind, a
Number 109, had to push it out of the way."

By the time the Games start, it is hoped the trams will be supplied with electricity.

Sadly, there is no photo of the hapless tram on the website. I will try to get in touch with Nigel Carboon to get a copy posted here.

In the mean time, I penned a letter to Transport Minister Peter Batchlor:

To: Peter Batchelor

Re:Impact of Commuter-Powered Trams

Dear Minister Batchelor,

As you may be aware, The Age is reporting that on Monday 21st of November during eveningin peak hour, commuters had to get out and push a broken-down tram.


This raises two legal issues and I would appreciate if you could clarify these for me:

1) Performance contracts. I understand that transport operators' performance is monitored as part of the privatisation arrangements. In terms of the contract, how is this event handled? Specifically, how is the distance covered (and time spent) by a tram when propelled by its passengers accounted for by the performance metrics, as laid out in the contract?

Can you guarantee that operators cannot claim bonuses/avoid penalties for any metres/minutes achieved by any tram as a result of commuters pushing it along?

2) Inspection powers. Given that tram inspectors have the power to inspect (and fine) people at or near tram stops, are people pushing a tram along liable under the relevant Act? While individual inspectors may choose to exercise discretion, I am concerned that helpful motorist may be exposed to the risk of a penalty for "doing a good turn".

Can you guarantee that no person will be fined for pushing a tram without a valid ticket?

I understand that these are technical points of law that have not yet been tested in court. However, in light of the present state of infrastructure investment, it seem prudent to get certainty on the issues now as the frequency will no doubt increase.

Yours sincerely,


I'll let you know of any responses.

Friday, November 25, 2005 2:12:00 pm  
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Blogger Greg vented ...

*** UPDATE ***

As you can see, The Age kindly made the image available, so I was able to realise my vision of shame-based advertising targetting the tram operators Yarra Trams.

While we wait for the Minister's office to respond to the legal query above, I'm open to suggestions for alternate slogans/captions for the advertisement.

Please post your quips below and I'll make sure they get the prominence they deserve.


Friday, November 25, 2005 2:48:00 pm  
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Blogger Greg vented ...

Just got word back from the Department of Infrastructure. Less than two months, which isn't bad considering this includes the Christmas/NYE period.

Apparently, Yarra Trams are denying the incident ever took place. Luckily The Age sent me a copy of the photo they ran (above). I've forwarded this to DOI in the hope that Yarra Trams will come clean.

Will keep you all posted on developments.

Friday, January 20, 2006 1:38:00 pm  
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Blogger Greg vented ...

Well, I had a long chat with the nice young man from DoI about this. YarraTrams have finally confirmed that this did actually happen, but insist that it's a non-issue since it occurred in their shunting yards.

What those passengers from the 109 were doing helping them shunt trams remains a mystery. Perhaps it was some sort of university prank, whereby people dress up as office workers and play Tetris with our city's rolling stock?

Further, the Transport Minister (through an offical spokesyouth) maintains that, since it was a city-circle tram, it operates under a much more lax agreement about punctuality and performance. The State Government is paying for it on our behalf, after all, and they've not proven themselves the most demanding or savvy purchasers of public transport services.

Who knows - maybe tourists appreciate being personally propelled by press-ganged Melbourne commuters? It's certainly quieter. Given the lengths we're gong to attracting the "experience seeker", perhaps seeing Melbourne by City Circle Giant Rikshaw could become a must-do experience?

With regard to my two questions, the nice young chappy informed me over the phone that:

1) Trams must be operating under their own power for it to "count" under their franchise contracts. Hence, distance covered by commuter-power would not qualify. I didn't ask about trams being pushed along by other means - tram recovery vehicles, other trams, disgusted motorists - for fear of getting bogged down in the kind of discussions favoured by second-year contracts law students. However, the young man did offer - pointedly - that wind and gravity-powered operations would also not count towards executive bonuses.

2) Ticket Inspectors and other Duly Authorised Officers are unlikely to fine citizens who help push broken-down trams along, even if they push them past a tram stop without a valid ticket.

You see, legally speaking, the Officers have to catch you alighting from a tram, so if you're just helping out you'll be fine. (Err, I mean, fine-free.) I suggested that, from a business point of view, YarraTrams could hand out free tickets to people who help out. He said - quite rightly - that that's a matter for YarraTrams.

The nice young man also suggested that direct people-power assistance was not official DoI policy, as it raises various WorkSafety, OH&S and - possibly - Workplace Relations issues. That said, individual drivers have discretion to make such requests.

Lastly, while he was very forthcoming over the phone, subsequent written responses were of the entirely vague and bureaucratical nature that all Bernards must master before becoming Sir Humphreys. Entreaties to answer in writing two simple propositions ("Will they get bonuses?" and "Will I get fined?") have gone unheeded.

I suspect he was worried I might use such responses to take the mick.

Thursday, March 02, 2006 2:24:00 pm  

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