Normally I don't bother whinging about Melbourne's public transport because, well, it's just too easy. Everyone does it and I don't want to be like everyone. And because at the end of the day I do love public transport and my train into work; I just wish there were more trains and they weren't so overcrowded.
Sadly I don't think we will ever return to the days of public ownership of our public transport because I'm sure it suits the government no end to have commuter anger directed at the faceless corporation Connex rather than having to take responsibility for decades of chronic underfunding of the system.
But Connex, those masters of unreliability, those servants of customer non-service have outdone themselves this time.
On Friday May 1 I received a letter and free daily ticket as "compensation" for the trains running late - in January. Yes, it only took those speed demons FOUR MONTHS to send that out. I can't wait to see when my compensation tickets for February, March and April arrive!
Let's set aside the fact that the "compensation" is only available to monthly or yearly ticket holders (who would have the least use for a daily ticket) and that one has to fill out a friggin bureaucratic form to get the damn ticket - which means that the majority of people entitled to "compensation" will never bother getting it, nothing says "we are slowpoke losers" like a corporation that takes four months to send out a letter.
Nonetheless I managed to hold it all together until I got to Hurstbridge station at 7.30pm last night. There were at least half a dozen ticket inspectors - far out numbering to number of passengers getting off at the end of the line - waiting to pounce on any poor sod who had forgotten to validate their ticket that day.
These ticket inspectors had no room in their life for a smile. Normally when I flash my monthly card I get a "we can see you are doing the right thing, thanks" smile. The woman who closely inspected my ticket, probably checking for forgeries merely grunted as she gave it back. I felt like a criminal who had somehow slipped under the radar.
In the olden days when I was a child, there was no such thing as a ticket inspector. Instead we had conductors who SOLD tickets to passengers, who made us feel good about catching public transport, whose presence dissuaded the majority of graffiti vandals and who could intervene - or at least radio for help - if violence occurred on public transport.
Apparently it cost too much to keep employing these conductors and the last lot were made redundant in the 1980s. Passengers had to buy their tickets from machines (which were often vandalised or broken) or inconvenient 'central' locations.
Surprise, surprise, fare evasion soared. So were the conductors reinstated? No. Instead we got the ticket inspectors whose job was to strong-arm anyone trying to scam a $3 free ride, arresting them and tackling them to the ground if need be. They were given no discretion to apply common sense - with 16-year-olds in school uniform but no concession card, the intellectually disabled and the poor sod with a half-used multi-trip card that hadn't been validated all being targeted.
In the last example, the inspector would confiscate your ticket as evidence (for the $140 fine that came in the mail) and give you a slip of paper to complete your journey. How someone in outer suburbia who was not within walking distance of a train station or "convenient central location" was supposed to buy a ticket to get into town the next day without getting a fine for travelling without a valid ticket was never explained.
I want to support public transport. I don't want to hate Connex. I don't want to have to drive because public transport is overcrowded and unreliable. I can't think of anything more stupid and wasteful than thousands of people all driving in their individual cars from point A to B when we have this big beautiful train line screaming out for more people to love it and take care of it and add a few more carriages during peak time.
What I want is a change of attitude from both the government and those running the service. I want my public transport to be run by people who care for it and the passengers they move around, who invest in the extra lines and carriages and staff required to make it a pleasure to ride and support.