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

    Wonder how many condoning this article here pirate tv shows, movies, etc....

    This is *EXACTLY* the sort of article I expect from Lifehacker ... GOOD WORK GUYS, KEEP IT UP!

    Take the profit out of the system and I'll gladly pay, I shouldn't have to pay taxes as well as ticket fairs and some CEO is profiting billions while the system still fails on some levels.

      I pay regardless but yes, I would really like to get on the train and not recognise the same dirty floor as the carriage I rode on the day before.. and the week before.. over and over again.. I mean.. if basic cleaning is not getting done, let alone train maintenance, what is being done?

        Trains are ridiculously expensive to run and maintain. The ticket actually subsidizes only about 10% of the actual cost of travel. Buses are less so, the ticket prices here subsidize about 50% of the cost of travel. This are figures for Brisbane, I don't know about elsewhere.

      ??? - Public transport makes no profit, they run at a significant loss to the government and the fares offset the loss a little. I don't know if it's different where you are but our public transport is still public in Brisbane, no-one is reaping huge profits out of it as far as I'm aware.

        If that's the case, then where is the money going that Translink makes from their exorbitant fares? Or does the Qld Government/BCC just have a policy that people should buy/use cars to get around? Perth people, on the other hand, have absolutely no right to fare evade given public transport is friggin' cheap there - even if it does stop running after dark

    As an OH&S thing, the CityRail ticket gates have a feature where the left arm must be able to be raised manually. If you're smooth enough and skinny enough it's possible to get through unnoticed.

    Thanks to the morons as "transit officers" (ie rail monkeys) giving me a fine which 1) was unwarranted because I had a valid ticket (and have since confirmed this), 2) keep insisting I pay $50 to have it heard at court (and each time that money just disappears - never get it back win or lose) then not sending me a court date, and 3) cancelling my license and rego, I have not bought a single full priced train ticket or paid car registration/insurance for nearly 3 years now. There are plenty of easy tricks for avoiding fines on the trains without confrontation, and even if I got a fine now I've worked out I'm roughly $15,000 ahead ($3000 a year for rego and insurance, around $2500 a year for train tickets) so thank you CityRail, State Debt Recovery Office and Roads and Transport Authority for being collective a*ssholes and saving me a huge chunk of money in the process. If I get pulled over driving it's a different issue but I paid for my license for 5 years so even though it's void it's enough that it has gotten me through without troubles on the handful of times I've been pulled over for a breath test. Rego is trickier but I'm definitely not giving my secrets away here.

    One quick tip which doesn't hinder me by sharing (for Sydney anyway): when you buy a single ticket, the machine captures it at the destination. If you buy a concession, normally the orange light on the ticket gate lights up to indicate you're on a half-fare ticket but when it captures the ticket it doesn't matter. So if you're going somewhere with rail monkeys just get a single concession. Especially if you're travelling usual peak times, two single concession tickets is no dearer than a full-priced return.

      >because I had a valid ticket (and have since confirmed this),

      those scumbags! You couldn't show them a valid ticket at the time, so they gave you a fine? :o
      Life is unfair.

      >I paid for my license for 5 years so even though it’s void

      You're still driving around unlicensed and uninsured. You might be able to sweet-talk your way out of a fine occasionally, but you'll be in big trouble when you have an accident.

      You'll be pleased to know that most police cars are fitted with number plate recognition cameras now. If one of those spots your car, it will instantly alert the officers to your registration status

    One way of getting on board public transport which doesn't involve evasion or any kind of illegal activity is BEGGING. Kids and scruffy teenagers (and adults) do this all time. They see me coming and come up to me for a couple of dollars. One night I got cornered by three in a row.

    Not that I'd fare evade (considering I work in the outer suburbs and commuting there via public transport would not only be more expensive, but also take over an hour, plus if I do use the public transport system here in Melbourne, I'm more than happy to pay), but one thing a mate has told me is when you get caught by ticket inspectors on the train, is to say that you didn't have the opportunity to buy your ticket before boarding the train, but you will buy one as soon as you step off to your station.

    Hopefully, the ticket inspectors will accept this and let you go, and as soon as you step off the train you walk straight through the gates. There is the risk that they will still be on the train, and may see you walk straight out, or accompany you to your station to witness you purchase the ticket.

    "Next Time: How to Beat Someone to Within an Inch of Their Lives, and Avoid Sentencing!

    Now we don't condone violence, but we also know how important, and justifiable, it is when used on someone you think really deserves it. We're absolutely not advocating that anyone should use these techniques on a regular basis! LOL!"

      i would actually enjoy this in all seriousness so that i could use it on all the cry babies in this article.

    Pretty poor form to post this article.

    You can put whatever preamble you like regarding about how you support public transport and that these are 'emergency' techniques.

    But at the end of the day lifehacker is still encouraging individuals to break the law and avoiding buying a ticket. Essentially leeching off the system.

    Irresponsible journalism.

    I guess next time I can't find any money when I'm in the supermarket I might just walk out with a loaf of bread and it's ok because it's an 'emergency'?

      As ever, I wonder why no-one ever makes this kind of complaint when we publish guides to automating BitTorrent downloads.

        I guess it's because BitTorrent downloads *can* be used for legit reasons where as this is just fair evasion?

          I say that only because I'm concerned about the advice of bring a $100 note with the reasoning that they won't be able to break it while the article is supposed to be for those who have no money in an emergency situation.

          Not really in (say) the context where you are automating the downloading of a movie as soon as it becomes available on a newsgroup.

            So you are saying that statement justifies this article? That has to be some sort of logical fallacy in use.

              No -- just pointing out some evident selective ethics.

            Maybe because as already stated bit torrent itself is not illegal.

            Fare evading is illegal. This is very specific advice to commit an illegal act or acts.

            The same comment would apply if lifehacker posted specific instructions on how to use p2p networks to obtain illegal material rather than just use 'automated downloading'.

            Your defence of the article is really quite flawed.

    Only problem with doing this in Melbourne is ticket inspectors (or 'tram cops') are sneaky and wear plainclothes. They also don't announce their presence right away, but get on and sit down next to you and then suddenly pull out their badge and ask to see your ticket.

    Also in my experience bus drivers in Sydney are mean and will refuse to change even a $20, and rather than just letting you on they will tell you to wait for the next bus.

    Fare evasion, a new low for Lifehacker.

    How about a car hijacking and hotwiring guide for free transport.

    What a joke.

    OK, for starters, I have been a daily reader of Lifehacker for around a year and I have always appreciated Angus' thoughtful and insightful articles. This article is no different. As Angus mentioned he is a fervent supporter of public transport and I imagine this means a majority of the time he pays for his transport use. I believe this article is written in good faith and is there to legitimately help one if one forgets their wallet or money or whatever it may be. Everyone should just calm down.
    The one issue I have is that I am unsure of the legality of this article. I mean, I'm no legal expert, but I'm just hoping this article isn't seen as an incite into illegal activity or anything like that...
    It's also interesting to see that this article has so many posts compared to others.
    You're a great writer Angus; keep it up.

    I can understand a fare-evasion guide for emergency situations but there are a couple of suggestions in this article that go way beyond emergency situations.

    However, since LH appears to be cool with this, I'll share a couple of tips that I used way back in my impoverished youth.

    These apply to Melbourne - I have no idea about other cities.

    There is nearly always a gate that is not supervised. A subtle but firm knee to the gate will cause it to open due to safety requirements.

    You can usually get through an open but manned gate (such as Flinders St often has) by waving an expired ticket in the inspectors direction.

    I've never done this myself, but if you board at a station that is not manned, and sabotage the ticket machine (I'm told chewing gum or super glue works, or anything that jams the coin slot) then you can claim you were not able to purchase a ticket.

    That last one is pretty low in my opinion.

    But if you need to skip fares for whatever reason, then perhaps you don't need to make this journey at this time. Unless it really is an emergency.

    Nice work with an article that fits the theme of 'Evil Week', bit of a shame about the people getting all up in arms about it but people have to complain about something I suppose, keep up the good work Lifehacker!

    If I may quote a line 'these tactics are based on observation' so to all those getting their undies in a twist about this article, it's nothing that a week of astute observation on public transport will produce.

    Yeah, dodging train fares is a great idea. Especially when you're caught, issued a fine, pay it off via sper and then 5 years later they send you a final demand notice saying you never paid at all. Psssht

    If you've got several bus trips (that won't fall in the 2 hour expiry) and only one trip left on your multitrip (this is in SA with the magnety tickets), put your ticket against your phone and send a text. The magnety thing is broken, bus driver gives you courtesy slip for the rest of the day.

    This week on crimehacker...

    shame on you lifehacker for posting a relevant article for many people and in doing so upsetting all the people who think that you shouldn't show someone how to do anything because you might hurt someone with it. might I add that not using the public transport is the same as using it and not paying (exception being if you make it full and a paying customer is kicked off) think of it as car pooling.

    also to people complain get a fucking life and go dig a hole and bury yourself in it, Angus can write what ever the fuck he wants to. you don't have to read it.

    also I have been told by many people and read it in a few places that in Melbourne if you are caught on a tram with no coins and only notes its not illegal as they don't provide a proper service for payment.

      Nope.

      http://www.rba.gov.au/banknotes/legal-framework/

      "the provider of goods or services is at liberty to set the commercial terms upon which payment will take place before the ‘contract’ is entered into. For example, some toll collection points indicate by signs that they will not accept low denomination coins. If a provider of goods or services specifies other means of payment prior to the contract, then there is usually no obligation for legal tender to be accepted as payment."

    i've seen the "pull out a $50" trick before, 2 people got a free ride, the other, the bus driver said no and forced them to find change at a train station where it was midday (not too busy), so very unlikely to find change anywhere.

    As for trains, you'll never see the guards come on to check tickets during peak times (where trains are jam packed) and often they'll only check during "dead zones" during the day (areas on the train line where the next stop is far enough they can scale the whole train and you cant escape). So with planning and luck, you can avoid all the guards.

    Also if you have a smartrider and the ticket machine isnt working, i never tag on, as you can say the ticket machine wasnt working, and well, they have no reason to fine you.

    But as already said its only for a real emergency, and shouldnt be abused for free rides.

    O.K. I admit it I'm a serial fare evader whem I lived in Sydney I never paid for trains I would go to central station and exit by the state train termimal were there were no guards/gates.
    One warning though the last time I was in Melbourne I saw an undercover plain clothes inspector on a tram.

    This article is offsensive.
    I will no longer be reading this website.

    In Sydney, underpaying fare is rampant, particularly among certain ethnic groups who forget their english when caught. A MyBus1 does not mean valid travel between the city and Parramatta!!

      not just ethnic groups but bogans as well.

    I've taken the train without a ticket once. I was out at one of the unmanned stations and the ticket machine didn't work. I rode to Flinders St and just told one of the staff at the barriers so I could get out. I bought a ticket home though, which in terms of fare covered me for the other trip.

    I'd never intentionally fare evade on the train, the fines just aren't worth it and I'd spend the whole trip scared to death of being caught. I did however buy concession bus tickets for ages without a concession card. I take the bus all the time and I've only seen inspectors once and that was just before the bus left from the station.

    Now I have a concession card and a MYKI I have no reason to fare evade. I have gotten heaps of free bus rides from when the machines haven't been working though.

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