How To Dodge Fares When Using Public Transport

Need to catch a train but you've lost your wallet? Can't afford a new weekly bus ticket until pay day? Here are some sneaky emergency strategies that you can use to try and score a free trip.

Picture by Edwin11

As regular Lifehacker readers will already know, I'm a frequent user and fervent supporter of public transport, and I'm absolutely not advocating that anyone should use these techniques on a regular basis. Public transport is underfunded enough as it is, and failing to purchase a ticket deprives the system of revenue and usage data. These are emergency tactics, not suggestions on how to run your regular transport needs. If a ticket inspector gets on board, you'll face hefty fines and I will have zero sympathy for you. (Bear in mind too that there are free options available in many city centres.)

As with our other Evil Week posts, the key lesson is that knowledge is power. If you end up stuck somewhere unfamiliar with no money, having a fare-free option can be useful. If you're on your way to work and realise that you've forgotten your weekly ticket, knowing which stations aren't supervised and hence allow you to exit and buy a ticket for that one journey is a lot cheaper than being hit with a penalty fare from a grumpy railway worker. And a final point: these tactics are based on observation -- I've never tried any of them myself, because I'm majorly self-righteous like that.

Trains

As a rule, inner-city train stations have ticket barriers, which makes it hard to travel without a ticket. There's often one wide gate designed for prams and people with suitcases though, and sometimes this will be open and you can brazenly walk through it. Further, if you wave something that looks like a ticket, some station staff won't actually check the details.

Outlying suburban stations rarely have gates (though major interchange stations are usually an exception), which means you can travel between stations without a ticket. The big risk here is that there will be ticket inspectors on board. In Adelaide, where trains have ticket machines on board, you could try buying a ticket as soon as you see an inspector board, but you might well get spotted.

If you're travelling from a long way away on a regular basis, you can purchase a cheap weekly ticket between two city locations, rather than between the city and your destination. I had one colleague who calculated that even if she got busted and paid a fine every couple of months, that was cheaper than buying the official ticket. (That said, a demonstrable pattern of fare evasion could lead to a court appearance and much higher fines.)

Reminder why evasion won't always work: Railway operators are alive to many of these techniques. In Sydney, wide gates have a separating fence so you can't easily switch to them, and in the CBD they're almost always manned. In cities with a smart-card system, trying to use a cheaper ticket for a longer trip won't work, since if you fail to touch off you'll usually be charged the maximum possible journey fee.

Trams

In Melbourne, trams don't have conductors, so there's nothing stopping you getting on board without buying or validating a ticket. That said, inspections are fairly frequent. I often see people wait until inspectors get on board and then purchase or validate a ticket, or stand up and get off at the next stop (which will never be more than a block or two away). Sneaky, but functional.

Reminder why evasion won't always work: As I've mentioned, inspections on trams in Melbourne seem more common than with other forms of transport. In Adelaide and Sydney, there are conductors on board, so those strategies won't work at all. Picture by Geoff Penaluna

Buses

Evading fares on buses is difficult, since you have to go past the driver in order to get on board, which makes travelling ticket-free more challenging. Your odds are better at busier times, since drivers don't want to be delayed dealing with one person when dozens are waiting to board.

One popular strategy is to offer to pay, but only produce a $100 bill. Some drivers will wave you on rather than argue about their lack of change. (That said, sometimes they'll have change anyway.)

Another possibility on a busy bus with paper ticket readers is to use a non-valid ticket but then just keep walking after it is rejected from the validator. Especially if you use the non-driver-side validator, you may get away with it.

If you happen to look young, you could claim to be a student and say you've lost your free bus pass, though this depends entirely on the sympathy of the driver.

Reminder why evasion won't always work: In London, I once saw a woman get on the night bus and then immediately throw her ticket out the window to her friend who had loaned it to her. This didn't work, as I was the only other passenger on the bus, and the driver immediately threw her off. Picture by Ruth Ellison

Ferries

This is like the bus problem, only more so. In Sydney, you can't get onto a ferry at Circular Quay without a ticket as there are barriers. This isn't the case at any other stop, but you'll invariably be asked to buy or show a ticket by the staff on board. That's also the case in Brisbane. Short of trying to talk your way out of it, there's not much else you can do.

Got any other strategies for emergency fare evasion? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.

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Comments

    So are you also doing articles this week on how to shoplift, commit fraud, forge money and mug people?

      Nice slippery slope arguement there.

        I find it hard to condemn slippery slope arguments in a comment to an article by Angus. After all, he did once write an entire article claiming that there was no moral basis on which someone could simultaneously hold the positions that

        a) instructing people on how to rip off a popular internet book store was poor form; and

        b) downloading music from the internet illegally may sometimes be justified.

        Strained analogies are pretty much his stock in trade.

      I have lost 2 jobs due to Cityrail's constant delays and cancellations, and I aim to get to work 20 minutes early so I can have a smoke and a coffee! Quite frankly I feel entitled to take a little bit back! Not to mention Cityrail's "half fare", which is more like a 65%-75% fare. Toilets always being closed. Stations guards or cops ticketing you (but not the old lady walking in front) making you miss your train. Ticket machines out of order, then the issues at the ticket gates when you get off... (Been fined thrice! (THRICE!!!!) Had to take 3 days off work, unpaid, to explain to the court that the ticket machine was down, there was no operator at the counter, to prevent $600 worth of fines. I NEVER saw the $500 or so I lost over those 3 days. Cityrail owes me thousands of dollars, I can assure you.

    If you're low on money, walk. Don't just think just because it's your first time/only time, it's legal.

    Have you seen the people that have gotten caught? It's looks so embarrassing and you would lose all dignity as you are escorted to the local station.

      Taken off to the local station? Where does this happen? In Perth they write you a $50 fine and give you thirty days to put it through the lenient appeals process, no arrest nessesary.

        Well, most of the people who skip fares tend to not have ID funnily enough, so they take you off the train at the closest station and write a report. They don't arrest you.

      In what state to they take you to the cop shop? They don't do that in SA.

    I've had to use this in Perth, as the BPay system for TransPerth can be very slow, and even if it warns you when sub $5 is left on your card, and you fill up that night, it can take up to 3 business days for the top-up to appear on the card.

    If you're using the Armadale/Thornlie or Midland lines, you can just not tag on at the suburban stations, and then get off at McIver or Claresbrook prior to the CBD, as they don't have gates, and then it is a short 5 min walk to the CBD.

      ***Claisebrook. And what was stopping you from buying a paper ticket? Not a valid reason.

    When I was at uni I used to just push open the barriers and walk through. A weekly ticket was about $25 and I had $70 a week after rent to live on. I copped a fine afew times and didnt pay them until a few years later since SDRA suspended my license and I eventually needed it back.

    Having said that I would NEVER do that now. Age is wisdom I guess.

    And to the people who are about to say why didnt you get a job, I HAD a job and worked a minimum of 30 - 35 hours a week PLUS did uni full time. This was a loooong time ago, I recall my average weekly wage working those hours was less than $200..oh and I never got centerlink benefits either.

    This is probably one of the most dumbass things I've ever read on the internets. Allow me to contribute some more content for the article:

    HOW TO GET A JACKET IN AN EMERGENCY

    If you need a new jacket and you're out of cash, just wait until the shop assistant has their back turned. Now I'm not condoning shop lifting, but in an emergency, there's plenty of ways you can get your mits on a jacket without paying for it.....

      http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2011/10/welcome-to-evil-week-at-lifehacker/

      Yeah but fare evasion isn't stealing, it's more like piracy.
      The owners and such don't get anything out of you, but they're not losing anything either.

      Back when I was in high school I regularly had to jump on the train between a few outer suburb stations, no money for a ticket, got lucky.
      That all ended in 05 though when I started uni, and from then til now I've always had a valid ticket.

        "The owners and such don’t get anything out of you, but they’re not losing anything either."

        Don't be fooled: PT is propped up by taxpayers, but on most systems the fares also make a big contribution. If everybody dodged fares, in most cities enough revenue would be lost that services would have to be cut.

        The top of the article might claim these ideas are for emergency use only, but the suggestions to buy a ticket as soon as the Inspectors board to dodge a fine, or claim to a bus driver that you only have a $100 note in the hopes they won't have change, show otherwise. It's simple theft.

          It's not theft, it's fare evasion. You have not stolen something.

        Actually, they're losing plenty. Passenger train services cost more to run than they will ever get out of fares. Not paying fares only makes it worse.

      Fare evading is much more of a victimless crime than shoplifting. Especially if you were either going to fare evade or else not travel all. Like Metlink says " If you fare evade, you shouldn't be here!"

        shoplifting is not a victimless crime... are you dumb? you are giving a hard working individual a loss that they must deal with, or making someone life harder. public transport is supported by the government, and if an individual has the money they should pay, I myself have been fined 3 times for holding the wrong ticket, as I purchased a concession ticket and did not hold a concession card (all 3 I was in school uniform going home) but for many people paying $6.8 a day can really add up, and if they do or don't use the transport it has no effect on the system (unless the transport is full and a paying customer cant get on, which never happens lol...)

          It doesn't matter if you're in school uniform, you could have lost your concession card for misbehaviour so you would no longer be entitled to the concession fare. (This was the case when I was in school, anyway.)

      i condone shoplifting
      if you need it, take it
      if you want it, take it
      aint no capitalist thats got moral superiority

    Fare evasion is reverse gambling. If you win, you save $2.75, if you lose, it costs you $300+ - I'd much rather just not bother.

    But when stupidly broke, I have just gone through the gates at rushhour with the crowd by waving a card of some nature at the scanners. Getting lost in the crowd is by far the easiest way.

    wow...this article is wrong on so many levels...shame on you angus

    It's interesting how you make a big moral statement about the bit torrent/usenet articles from the US site but then condone this.

    You can travel between some smaller ferry stops without paying as there is no where to buy a ticket at either end. There's talk of closing them down due to lack of funds. I'd happily pay if it meant keeping the service

    For Sydney trains avoid the big stations during busy times cos there's always rent-a-cops waiting outside the gates.

    Also, if you can get on at a station with no gates, when you get to your destination, tell the worker at the gate that the ticket machine wasn't working, and you want to buy your ticket at that end. This has worked for me, even in front of 3 rent-a-cops.

    Um... This website is called " Lifehacker " guys. Hacker being the key word. In Brisbane if your getting the air-rail train. Swipe on when you get on, and "forget" to swipe off at the aiport. Max fee is something like $5 where as the airtrain is $15.

      Umm maybe you should read up on that
      http://translink.com.au/tickets-and-fares/go-card/fixed-fare

      $30 is the fixed fare for not swiping off an airtrain ride and $10 for trains.

      NOT $5!

        If you swipe on anywhere how are they know where you go if you dont swipe off. $5 for student (me) and $10 for adult. Still cheaper then the $15 they charge to get out there.

        So yes. $5.

        The return trip is a different story.

    This isn't a cool article life hacker... shame on you.

    Terrible article. Blatantly condoning crime. Part of the reason that public transport is underfunded is due to the huge rate of fare evasion. How could Lifehacker possibly promote this?

    This is the kind of shit I'd expect from the U.S. site. Shame on you, Angus.

    Although the info here is dubious in content it does have a place on "LIFEHACKER" I believe.
    This literally happened to me this morning in Melbourne on my way to work. Managed to forget my wallet, happens very rarely indeed. Fortunately I managed to get to a gate-less train station. I usually carry enough 'coinage' on me to make a phone call or alike but not enough for the all day ticket. Had to skip the big stations as suggested. *wipes brow*
    Thanks Lifehacker team!

      "this morning in Melbourne on my way to work. Managed to forget my wallet"

      So why didn't you go back home and get your wallet?

      Did you steal lunch today too?

        Apparently my getting to work on time was worth $500 to me. I'll be doing the same on the way home or borrowing a colleagues Miki. I guess people will have issues with that too?
        Again, thank you LIFEHACKER!
        P.S. No, didn't steal lunch. Finding myself rather hungry and noticing a STARK difference between fair evading and stealing another possessions.

          thank you I love you. also might add i know a few people fired for being late by as few minutes.

      Did you know you can be fined $500 for withholding your identity to inspectors? If you can't prove it either it's automatically escalated to $500.

    Presenting a $100 implies that you HAVE money, and therefore shouldn't be employing these dodgy methods of Transport rorting anyway.

    It automatically negates the "emergency situation" you suggested this advice be used in.

    What the hell is this crap?

    First off the subject matter is just downright wrong, you're talking about breaking the law. Simple.

    Secondly this isn't an article, it's a sentence, with "discus in the comment below" written after it. Why the fuck do I bother to come here?!?!?!?! lifehacker.com.au is getting worse than the disgusting crap gawker USA pulls.

      Dude. It's not breaking the law.

      Public transport in Sydney is extremely expensive, plus it's in horrible condition.

      Maybe if some more people did this, and told those so-called cops to shove it if they get caught? then there might be a change.

      PS: I've never done this myself, but I really dispise this rail workers who get dressed like cops to intimidate people.

      Spend money in making your trains better, and put your fares down like other 1st world nations in the world.

        Dude, it IS breaking the law. Poor quality of service doesn't justify circumventing payment systems.

    As a worker for Melbournes train system, it infuriates me when people brazenly fare evade.

    Forgot your ticket/wallet? Dont travel on the train. You knew you needed your ticket, why didnt you bring it?

    Smartcard doesnt work? Get a new one. Dont keep using the broken one as its not deducting money thus youre fare evading.

    A new way of fare evasion im seeing is where the customer buys a Zone 2 ticket, travels into Zone 1 and claims that they asked for a zone 1 and 2, but the bus driver must have misheard them.

      Thanks for the tip!

      Of course I'm joking - I rarely use public transport and can afford it on the occasions I do.

    Its funny. I drove busses for 3 years and quite a few times people came up with eitehr a $50 or a $100 note trying to evade fares. It very occasionally worked. One time I gave a guy $95.60 in coins.. he wasn't too happy but it wasn't going to stop me since I had plenty of change in my float bag.

    On the otehr hand with the girl trying to give her friend the ticket out the window.. here in Adelaide the machiens are set up so you can't use the same ticket on the same bus within around 15 mins so that won't work here.

    easiest way to do it in melbourne is carry a MYKI card. if an inspector asks for a ticket show it to them. There's a 99% chance they won't have a portable machine to check if the ticket is valid because these machines have about a 2 hour battery life; so consequently are seldom, if ever used (i've never seen one).

      Seen them plenty. 5 times in the last 2 months alone my myki has been swiped on those checkers.

      I believe if they are in large packs at least one of them will have a scanner.

    I don't like this article, lets encourage crime! "sneaky emergency strategies" doesn't make it ok.

    I expect better from Lifehacker.

    Nice article, I think it's pretty obvious that you don't condone fare evasion, yet every commenter still manages to call you a crook, don't listen to them.

    I once ran out of money and had to catch a last train before I could get to an ATM, I pretended to be asleep when the ticket inspector came and legally he can't touch me to wake me up (I'm pretty sure). Another handy tip for everyone out there.

    If I've forgotten to buy a new weekly ticket (it rarely happens but sometimes I will be sick or there's a long weekend or similar and I just get the days messed up), I just say I forgot and show them my previous week's ticket that is only one day (two at the most) out of date and I have never had a problem.

    If there is no ticket seller at my station, I can always use the "there was no way to buy my ticket at the originating station" excuse.. usually there is a guy there but somedays not.. automatic machines don't take EFTPOS/VISA/MASTERCARD and there are zero ATMs in my suburb...

    When I was a student, I would just chance it and not pay the train fare. The fines back then were only $50 and the checks were extremely rare, meaning you could ride trains the whole year for maybe one or two fines worth of cost. Once I was caught out at the station and just legged it away .. luckily the guards weren't bothered enough to run after me; they just shouted at me couple of times. These days though, what with the much bigger fine, its probably not worth it ... just pay the man and be done with it. ;-)

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