Tuesday, 13 November 2012

On the trains in Melbourne

There are a lot of uniformed personnel on and around Melbourne's trains at the moment.  On the trains themselves, none of them are conductors, or people whose sole focus is to assist the travelling public.  Around stations there are many people who have this focus.  Here's what I've noticed this week.

Yesterday I was travelling to the city just before noon.  At Footscray station three Authorised Officers boarded the carriage in which I was travelling.  They each carried a hand held myki reader and their purpose was to check that every traveller had a valid ticket.  I haven't had a lot to do with Authorised Officers, but I have read some bad reports so I watched with interest as they went about their work.

The two men and one woman looked smart in their uniforms and had an air of congeniality about them as they interacted within themselves.  I heard that the passenger behind me was very politely asked for his myki.  The ticket was checked and they moved on to me.  This time I was acknowledged with a friendly greeting and a polite request for my myki.  As it showed my ticket as valid I was thanked and wished a good day.  The interaction was quick, polite and pleasant.  I wondered what would happen if - when - they encountered a fare evader.

As an afterthought to our conversation I mentioned that one of the myki readers at Seddon station was faulty and gave details.  They made a note and thanked me for the information.  That saved me a phone call.  (My station is an unstaffed station, so unless members of the community take responsibility for reporting equipment failures, problems can be left unaddressed for a long time.)

Further forward in the carriage, one of the two men was in a longer discussion with a male and female passenger who appeared to be travelling together.  I couldn't hear what was being said, but the body language suggested that there was a problem.  The level of engagement still looked polite and friendly from a distance.  It was my stop, so I wasn't able to observe this conversation for very long.

If every Authorised Officer goes about their work as this trio did, then they are excellent ambassadors for their organisation.  (I'm not actually sure for whom they work.)  With this kind of outlook the Authorised Officers are in a great position to educate the travelling public, rather than taking a punitive approach which focusses on "catching people".

From the train I went to the tram stop.  Two aqua clad myki mates were talking to each other.  As soon as passengers arrived at the tram stop, they approached each person at the stop to see if they had any questions about myki.  Again, I was impressed with their friendly demeanour and proactive approach to engage with the travelling public, rather than waiting to be approached.

At the end of the day I was back at Flinders Street Station for my journey home.  One of the signs in the pedestrian subway entrance (under Elizabeth Street) was impossible to read because of a combination of poorly placed lighting and a screen malfunction. The sign contained departure information for four lines, so was pretty important.  There was one person staffing the gates so I asked him if anyone had given him feedback about the sign.  He said no and walked towards me.  I pointed out the problem and he thanked me for letting him know.  He said that he never looks at the sign and that it was impossible to read.  He walked back to his post and made a note.  Again, he was proactive and interested in helping the travelling public.

I will admit that I was expecting a shrug of the shoulders and a "promise" to do something without any intention.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It will be interesting to see what action is taken in response to this feedback.

By contrast, as I walked across the main concourse at Flinders Street station this evening on my way home, I followed five Protective Services Officers.  They were an intimidating pack with their sunglasses (reflective?) and police-like outfits.  They were all men and their body language radiated authority.  They were going to the same platform as me and when I saw them looking around with purpose, I suddenly felt nervous.


A story from Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink" sprang to mind.  He talks about police behaviour.  In one police district in the US police brutality and police shootings occurred more often when police worked in pairs or bigger groups.  They switched to police working solo and saw a drop in these kinds of incidents.  The decrease was attributed to less instinctive, "blink of an eye" decision-making when police worked alone.  In this situation they were more likely to be cautious, wait for backup and not act in a way that escalated encounters.  (This is a very short summary, so read the book for the whole picture.)  Observing this group of Protective Services Officers brought this story to life at that moment.

I think it is good to send a message about safety on public transport, especially the trains and especially outside peak times.  As a committed, frequent and female public transport user, it is very important to me to be confident that I can travel safely.  I wonder if these intimidating men, presented as pseudo-police is really the way to achieve this?

So despite a crawl into the city this morning and a message yesterday telling me the service I had planned my day around "will not run", overall, I'm feeling a little more positive about the attitude of our public transport operators towards me, the travelling public.

How do you feel about public transport?  Do you use it?  Why?  Why not?

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