Posts Tagged ‘ miscarriage of justice ’

The #FreeAnnie campaign [VICTORY]

At the end of last month you might recall that I began the #FreeAnnie campaign. If you didn’t catch the post or if the details are a bit HB-pencil sketchy in your mind, you can find it here.

In the immortal words of Professor Farnsworth, “Who likes good news? Everyone? Then: ‘Good news, everyone’.

Annie sent me this message yesterday:

Haughty-Haught-Haught… Can I take a moment to thank you for your help? I’ve just received official notice that the robots who issued my infringement notice have been reprogrammed, rebooted and have come to their senses… (Or, at very least, the higher ups were not appreciating the #FreeAnnie campaign/ my incessant letters).

My infringement notice has been officially re-reviewed and Metro Trains’ plans for world domination (one $180 fine at a time) have been derailed!

Yep, #FreeAnnie led to free Annie. Well, that’s what I’m claiming.

So if you read and ‘liked’ the post, and particularly if you passed it on, used the #FreeAnnie hashtag on Twitter (@Jay3199 – magnificent!), talked about it with friends, gave a dirty look to a ticket inspector post-#FreeAnnie, or sent me any kind of correspondence re: the campaign, consider yourself a successful public transport activist.

There’s only one downside to Annie’s emancipation: the following email will never get put to practical use:

Dear Department of Transport,

In May, a commuter by the name of Annie [surname redacted] was booked by a Metro Trains Authorised Officer after she was unable to produce a valid ticket within an arbitrary period of time. Shortly after the ticket inspectors had left the carriage, Annie’s Metcard fell out of the book she was reading.

She wrote to you, detailing exactly what had happened and requesting that the $180 fare evasion fine be quashed. Instead of responding with the reasons why this was, or was not, possible, you chose to write her a letter listing the stock standard excuses fare evaders give you when hoping to have their fines overturned. It was like a David Letterman top 10, but with even more world-weariness and more than a small touch of the snide about it.

To me, this kind of response is incomprehensible, full stop. But when you add the fact that not one of the excuses had the vaguest relevance to Annie’s case, your effort goes from budgie-attacking-its-own-reflection silly to young-people-shrieking-for-no-apparent-reason-in-an-ad-for-bourbon farcical.

Imagine if all legal systems ran on the basis that the guilt of the accused should be determined by how fed up the accuser is with the defences offered by those previously accused of the same crime or misdemeanour.

Imagine if everyday life worked that way!

Think about what would happen if this strange new convention you seem to have created could be applied by those who use your rail network.

Dear Department of Transport,

Thank you for your questions regarding my non-payment of fares. 

You can probably understand that, as a commuter, I receive hundreds of excuses from Metro Trains and the Department of Transport every week. These include:

  • There was a signal fault
  • There was an ill passenger
  • There was a defective train
  • There was congestion at Flinders Street
  • One of the doors won’t open
  • One of the doors won’t close
  • Something about an overhead power line
  • One word: vandals
  • Melbourne is too small to make regular trains viable
  • There are too many new customers
  • There’s been a lack of investment (from both sides of politics)
  • We need more rolling stock
  • We need more stock that is propelled by electricity, in addition to having the capacity to roll
  • Overcrowding is slowing down trains
  • It was a very wet day
  • It was a very dry day
  • It was a very hot day
  • It was a very cold day
  • It was a mild day, but passengers were doing myki wrong
  • The system would run better without passengers
  • The system would run better without trains
  • The system would run better without the system
  • We were busy
  • We’re still getting the hang of this electrification of the network thing
  • We got distracted
  • It’s mostly your fault
  • The moon went behind a cloud
  • There was a gunman at the station
  • The dog ate our blueprint for improvement
  • Our performance statistics tell a different story
  • We thought we saw a wolf hiding in a bush and we got scared
  • Pardon our progress
  • One word: unions
  • There was a problem with the swirler thing that regulates the big machine that makes a noise like this: “brip brip”
  • Someone put an advertisement over the driver’s window and the train effectively became blind (on the plus side, we added to our monthly profit)
  • The on-board sundial was off kilter
  • Camels replaced trains at Clifton Hill and one of the camels bit some people
  • We’re moving backwards, but don’t worry, we wrote a poem about moving forwards
  • Research tells us people like sitting in the Jolimont Rail Yards for up to twenty-five minutes at a time
  • It’s the drivers’ fault
  • We thought we had enough trains, but we didn’t so we had to buy some old rattlers off a collector, who was mean and sold them to us at an exorbitant rate and now we don’t have any money left to improve the system
  • Our sextant was bent
  • A combination of factors, going forward, has meant that the system has become temporarily suboptimal across many of its key performance measures, going forward (but  we have got some good take outs from this situation and are implementing many of the learnings, going forward)
  • One word: jabberwocky
  • Our operations centre still uses computers that show chunky green text and possess 3 kilobytes of memory
  • We keep getting kerosene and paraffin mixed up
  • There are many many trains but only a few stations – you do the maths
  • A wil-o-the-whisp got into one of the engines
  • We thought we saw a wolf… again
  • Connex left the whole place in a mess
  • The Met left the whole place in a mess
  • The Indigenous people of what is now metropolitan Melbourne left the whole place in a mess
  • One word: wolves
  • Someone literally threw a spanner in the works
  • Well, hang on a second – could we at least finish our lunch?

In light of this, and having carefully read your submission, unfortunately, I cannot change my decision to ride on your trains for free at this time. 

Thank you for having me as your non-paying patron. 

Sincerely… etc


You can sniff and scoff at your customers’ “excuses” all you like, but let’s be honest, to any reasonable, fair-minded person,  “I didn’t have the correct coin change to pay for a fare that now costs $11.90” is far easier to accept than the circular logic of “Overcrowding is leading to late trains”.

Terrible things happen on your trains every single day. Passengers punch other passengers. Inebriates vomit all over seats and down aisles. Smart-alec little heroes ride between carriages screaming abuse at anyone who looks at them from inside the train. Fat slobs somehow manage to take up four seats. People barge on before anyone else has had a chance to get off. And you’re going to fine a woman because she forgot she was using her Metcard as a bookmark and not even extend her the courtesy of explaining why?

You expect as a kind of birthright an epic benefit of the doubt from Melburnians. How about giving it back once in a while?

Sincerely,

Jonathan Rivett

Or will I just send it, anyway?

Haught fact of the day:

I only made up two of those Metro/Department of Transport excuses listed above.

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The #FreeAnnie campaign

As The Age reported this week Metro Trains has, over the last year, gone into a fine dispensing frenzy.

One of the people they’ve nabbed during this period of sustained blame-shifting and misdirection is a Haught reader by the name of Annie.

Last week she wrote to me about her recent experience on a Metro train and her subsequent correspondence with the Department of Transport.

Her emails were charming, vivid and compelling. (They also included brazen raunch; during one paragraph I fainted.)

It seems that some overzealous Metro Trains Authorised Officers, followed by the Department of Transport, have got the delightful Annie mixed up with a  fare-evading black squiggle non-entity, as represented in this advertising campaign.

From her emails alone I can tell that Annie is not a scribble-based
organism. And if she is, she’s probably a vibrantly coloured one. Annie, told me in her emails to me that “I never forget to buy a ticket because it matters to me to have a healthy transport system – and the only way Melbourne’s shitty system will improve is through use and investment by the people (fares).”

With this in mind, have a read of Annie’s case:

  • Annie is on the train minding her business, reading high-quality Australian future fiction
  • Annie is interrupted by Metro Train Authorised Officers, who ask for her ticket
  • Annie can’t immediately find her Metcard and begins to search her oversized bag
  • The Authorised Officers put a very short time limit on the search, as if they’re game show hosts and Annie is a nervous contestant
  • When the time limit has elapsed, one of the Officers says “Bzzz” and the other one gets out a pencil, licks it like they did in the old days, and starts writing an infringement notice
  • As the Officers walk away, Annie makes an apologetic, I’m-not-a-black-squiggle face at some of the scowling busy-body passengers around her, composes herself,  then reopens her book and sees the Metcard fall out from inside the jacket – but it’s too late: the Officers have moved onto the next carriage
  • Several days laterAnnie receives a $180 fine

Pretty straightforward, is it not?

You’d think if Annie simply wrote a polite email to the Department of Transport explaining what had happened and providing the ticket as proof of her innocence, common sense would prevail and the fine would be quashed.

But no.

Not only was her appeal fruitless, the response email was a catalogue of irrelevant drivel. Rather than explaining to Annie why the fine would be upheld, the letter veered off onto a bewildering tangent,  listing the most common excuses the Department receives from those wishing to have their fare evasion fine overturned:

“I was running for the train”, “the queue was too long”, “I did not know it was a coin only machine”, “I was going to validate at the end of my trip”, “I forgot”, “I did not understand the zones or system”, “I only had a $20 note”.

What the Department of Transport appear to be doing is not only dismissing perfectly legitimate claims, but responding to these claims with about as much tact, professionalism and intelligence as the “Computer says no” woman from Little Britain.

Imagine if this approach to justice was conventional in the wider legal system.

Judge: “The prosecution’s case was flimsy and there is no substantial evidence to suggest that the defendant killed his mother. The defendant is obviously a model citizen and numerous people have, under oath, declared that they were with him in Melbourne at the time his mother was murdered in Brisbane. Here are some of the reasons convicted murderers have previously given this court for taking the lives of close family members: “I was acting in self defence”, “I slipped… repeatedly”, “I forgot that murder was a crime”, “I don’t know my own strength”, “I set fire to the house believing it was vacant”. I find the defendant guilty and sentence him to 35 years in prison.”

Now, I concede that I don’t know Annie personally. I concede that she may be telling fibs. I concede that she could have somehow acquired a Metcard valid in exactly the right time period and zone after being legitimately booked for fare evasion, and sent it to the Department of Transport as dodgy proof of her innocence.

That seems about as unlikely as Metro’s performance statistics, though.

Low blow? Yeah, well, here’s the problem: if Metro and the Government want to adhere to a policy of cynicism, mistrust and never giving the benefit of the doubt, they have to understand that two can play at that game.

If the best they can do when justifying individual fines is let out a great big sigh about how weary they are of bad excuses, they might want to think about tightening up their own material.

“Due to a signal fault…”, “due to an ill passenger…”, “due to congestion on the network…”, “due to a defective train…”, “due to an unprecedented surge in passenger numbers…”, “due to chronic underinvestment in the system…”

Are those ad nauseum excuses somehow less tiresome than the ones detailed in the letter Annie received?

If you can detect a little bit of hypocrisy here, and think a $180 fine for not producing a ticket hiding inside a book is excessive, start talking about it.

How good would it be if we could get #FreeAnnie trending on Twitter. How good would it be if we caused such a stir on Facebook that the Department of Transport were forced to withdraw their arrogant dismissal of her letter? How good would it be if, by sharing, commenting and discussing we made some change – however small – to the way train passengers are treated in Melbourne?

Want to give it a crack?

UPDATE:

The campaign worked!

Well, Annie has been freed and there was a campaign. And the campaign came before Annie’s fine was waived, so…

Read all about it here.