Public fears train travel

11 August 2003 - WIDESPREAD concern about safety on public transport has been revealed in a secret report commissioned by the State Government.

The report said an unpleasant travel environment and perceived lack of service were feeding commuter fears about safety on the system. It said staff were worried about unruly passengers and rising vandalism.

Incidents included rock-throwing, blocking trains with shopping trolleys and fire extinguishers, urinating on vehicles and syringes found sticking upwards in seats.

Commuters saw safety measures as ineffective in stopping crime and wanted more staff and police on the system.

They rated night travel on trains as very unsafe and were annoyed by the lack of positive messages about using the system.

Prepared by consulting firm TNS for the Department of Infrastructure, the report said staff shortages and the lack of a visible security were crucial issues for improving safety.

The report's findings will raise pressure on the Government and private operators to hire more staff and transit police under privatisation contracts being negotiated.

But a Government spokesman said yesterday the priority was to fix the financial mess caused by the Kennett privatisation.

More than 60 per cent of the 210 metropolitan stations are unstaffed, with lines such as Broadmeadows and Frankston considered crime hot spots.

Vandalism and graffiti are costing the operators several million dollars a year, including a $2 million bill for two trains recently destroyed by fire.

A survey given to the Government's safe travel taskforce revealed extreme unease about safety on trains at night.

Asked to rate safety on a scale from 1 to 10, night trains scored less than two from respondents.

The TNS report, based on interviews with the public and transport staff, recommended a range of measures.

"This includes improv ing staff numbers, lighting, closed-circuit TV, duress buttons and communication, as well as initiatives and enticements to encourage more people on to the system,"it said.

The report said commuters wanted friendly faces, more security patrols and police booths, and clean stations only accessible with valid tickets.

Staff worried about lack of visible security, different safety policies among operators and public awareness of safety measures.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Trevor Dobbyn said the report highlighted the need for more staff.

"It confirms our view that commuters will only feel safer and more secure when they see frontline staff throughout the system,"Mr Dobbyn said.

The RTBU is campaigning for an extra 167 station jobs over three years, adding about $8 million to the annual transport bill.

Government spokesman Ben Hart said action had been taken, including 100 roving safety officers and 130 transit police.

Mr Hart said reported crime on public transport had fallen 5 per cent over the past year, with the Government, police and operators co-operating to improve safety further.

He said there was no funding available for big staff increases.

"Our major priority is to fix the financial mess inherited from the Kennett privatisation, with any money left over to be used for improving transport services in high-growth areas,"Mr Hart said.

Connex spokeswoman Lea Jaensch said the company had introduced security cameras, duress buttons, safe travel staff, music at stations and improved lighting.

"Regarding safety and security, research shows there's a difference between perception and reality -- crime is actually down on public transport,"Ms Jaensch said.

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the Government lacked commitment to safety by allowing Connex to dump some security upgrades under its original contract.

Mr Mulder said the Government was also responsible for the poor training of ticket inspectors and roving security staff.

Melbourne Rail and Train Transport Links

By JOHN MASANAUSKAS, transport reporter

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Public fears train travel 

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