The rollout of Sydney’s Opal public transport smartcard was always going to trigger a multi-million dollar refit of ticket barriers at high capacity railway stations, but the New South Wales government is using the refresh as an opportunity to crack down on fare dodgers.
NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has revealed new ‘jump-proof’ ticket barriers that will be gradually installed at train stations as older, slower machines are replaced by faster Opal-only gates.
The new gates are similar to those deployed in London and other overseas cities that have made a point of making it difficult for fare dodgers to leap across entry and exit points by using much higher ‘paddles’ … that’s the swinging barrier bits … to physically obstruct amateur gymnasts.
The trade-off is that while the barriers look more menacing, they allow more people through them much faster because the electronics in them are purpose built for smartcards. They’re also intentionally wider, making it easier to get through with prams, bikes and shopping.
According to Mr Constance the new barriers also make it “much more difficult to tailgate, where two people pass through the gate at once – a common tactic of fare evaders”
But as anyone who’s commuted in London will attest, you don’t want to get too close to the commuter ahead of you unless you want to be bounced back by the swinging arm of the law or given a firm and unloving embrace.
Mr Constance certainly isn’t making any apologies for upping security, saying that “customers who pay their way expect others to do the same.”
“This is another way to deter the dodgers who are taking everyone else for a ride,” Mr Constance said.
Even so, injuries from misbehaving gates are a real concern for Sydney’s rail authorities, especially given previous systems had an unpleasant tendency to give patrons a solid whack in the groin, a feature unlikely to be forgotten or forgiven in a hurry.
It’s probably one of the reasons that Sydney Trains is talking up the allegedly improved safety of the new machines that it says are fitted with “with additional sensors meaning the gates are less likely to close while customers are passing through.”
The first lot of new gates will be installed at Bankstown, followed by Parramatta, Central, Town Hall and Wynyard.
Older style gates, most of which are retrofitted with external Opal readers, will be recycled into stations where there are presently no gates; though obvious questions beg as to how long they will last before requiring replacement; or when lifts will be installed in many stations to finally provide access to people with limited mobility.
Either way, Mr Constance insists that the fare dodging crackdown is having a material effect on revenue losses, even if the numbers appear a little bit rosy.
“The most recent fare evasion survey showed an overall reduction, saving taxpayers $24 million last year,” Mr Constance said.
Just how much of that money was recouped from people being able to carry reloadable cards, as opposed to not being able to buy a paper ticket because of defective machines or lack of staff, is something we may never know.