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.
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.
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
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
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.
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