The astounding audacity of thousands of kids who step onto to Sunshine Coast buses knowing they aren’t going to pay is the ugly consequence of good intentions, writes Dr Jane Stephens.
The astounding audacity of thousands of kids who step onto to Sunshine Coast buses knowing they aren’t going to pay is the ugly consequence of good intentions, writes Dr Jane Stephens.

Kids’ free rides come at high community cost

OPINION

It is the audacity of it that is most startling: they just step on the bus like they own the joint.

Most meet the eyes of the driver, confident and steady.

And while the words they use might vary, their message is always the same – today, like yesterday, I am not paying to ride.

Thousands of teenagers every week are travelling on public transport without paying.

It is so prevalent that it is not so much fare evasion as fare desertion.

This is the ugly consequence of good intentions, an anti-authoritarian trend that is condoned if not supported.

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Sometime not long after teenager Daniel Morcombe vanished from a Woombye bus stop in 2003 after a full bus had driven past and left him waving, the “no child left behind” policy was brought in.

It was deemed a sensible, humane act to placate a rattled public.

Children are precious and vulnerable, after all, and it seemed like a way to reduce the chances of another young person coming to harm.

It was embraced and lauded.

It felt collectively right and good.

But almost two decades on, we have a generation that not only exploits the loophole, they dance through it with a shimmy and a shout.

Be clear: few are truly children, with burgeoning bosoms and baby beards the unofficial hallmarks of membership in this thieves’ club.

I am a relatively new member of the Sunshine Coast’s bus-riding commuter community, part of a New Year pledge to try to live a little more lightly in 2020.

I really like it.

It is enjoyable, reliable and quick – and a boon for a people watcher such as me.

But not a single one of my rides to and from work this year has been free of a freeloader. Not one.

The financial weight of fare loss can only be heavy for the bus companies.

To their credit, never have I seen a bus driver burr up.

Such is the constancy of the stream of junior fare evaders that those behind the wheel just wave them on without much more than a sigh.

Such illegality can’t be allowed to continue, as two decades of turning a blind eye has allowed the practice to blossom: it is now not just accepted but expected and that is appalling.

We have to want better for them and for ourselves.

We have to be brave enough to say no more.

Either free public transport needs to be funded for all children, or it is past time that a system of warnings and penalties be implemented.

Operators should be allowed to risk being called heartless and refuse to carry the brashest of recidivists.

It is only fair to expect a fare.

After all, giving adults-in-training an endless free ride just cements the idea that they were born deserving a free lunch.

Dr Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer and author


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