Commuter wins, that's the ticket

Commuter wins, that's the ticket

Ticket inspectors will no longer be able to check commuters' tickets at tram stops after a Melbourne magistrate yesterday ruled that tram stops were public places.

In a legal first, Kew commuter Michael Orlowski took the Department of Infrastructure to court and won, after magistrate John Hardy ruled that the Transport Act did not give inspectors the power to inspect tickets once a journey had ended.

Mr Orlowski, 40, refused to hand over his validated daily ticket and give his name and address to M>Tram inspectors after he got off a tram opposite Melbourne University on May 10 last year. He was fined $100 on the spot but decided to fight the three charges "on principle". He was charged with failing to produce a ticket on request, failing to surrender a ticket and failing to give his name and address. But Mr Hardy ruled that Mr Orlowski was no longer in a carriage and that the inspectors were not authorised to request his ticket.

Prosecuting, Tony Burns said he agreed a tram stop was not a designated area under the Transport Act, but that Mr Orlowski was clearly on a public transport carriage.

M>Tram inspector Sinan Seren told the court that he had asked Mr Orlowski to show his ticket when Mr Orlowski stood on the tram's bottom step. Inspector Nick Polomarkakis said the inspection occurred at the tram stop, 1.5 metres away from the tram.

Mr Burns said Mr Orlowski's interpretation of the Transport Act made the law almost unworkable as "a commuter need only go to the back of the tram, look out for ticket inspectors, and hop off".

But Mr Hardy said it was not appropriate to determine whether the law was workable or not. He said where there was an ambiguous meaning, it should favour the accused.

John Cain, chief executive of the Law Institute of Victoria, said the magistrate's ruling was of great importance to public transport users given ticket inspectors' wide powers. "I think it's very important from the consumers' point of view that the rules are clearly articulated," he said.

Outside court, Mr Orlowski, who had represented himself, said he had nothing against ticket inspectors. "I even to some extent sympathise with the tram companies who try to cut costs," he said. "But in my opinion, no one can break the law or bend the rules for the purpose of cost-cutting."

Public Transport Users Association secretary Vaughan Williams said that returning tram conductors was the only way of successfully and fairly dealing with fare evasion.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said the minister could not comment until he reviewed the case. The State Government took over M>Tram on December 23 last year after the biggest public transport operator, National Express, abandoned its train and tram services following financial losses.

The Age - January 22 2003 - By Selma Milovanovic

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