In another case of opinion masquerading as journalism, The Sunday Age yesterday led with a story headlined ‘It’s time to bring back the connies’. By ‘connies’ they mean tram conductors.
This is a story that periodically crops up as slow-news day nostalgia in the Melbourne media, but this one uses ‘research’ commissioned by the newspaper to bolster its case. The net cost of $12 million a year is based on some very optimistic assumptions about higher fare revenue, through reduced evasion and increased patronage.
It’s true that conductors would encourage dishonest tram users to buy a ticket. But conductors would reduce revenue from honest tram users who want to buy a ticket but cannot. The main problem with the tram system is peak-hour overcrowding. You simply could not get to the conductor most of the time to buy a ticket – particularly in the very long newer trams with narrow passageways above the wheels, which would make it difficult for conductors to walk up and down. It’s hard enough for passengers to get to the validating machines sometimes, but at least there are lots of them and they are near the doors.
Just like there are people who still prefer to line up between 9.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday to see a bank teller rather than use an at ATM at their convenience, there are people who prefer transactions with conductors to a brief encounter with a validating machine. Mostly lonely elderly people with too much time on their hands, I’d suggest. For the rest of us, conductors are just a nuisance, interrupting conversations and making you fumble around for your wallet after you have already sat down. And if trams are already overcrowded, how does an extra person on board help?
If there is a spare $12 million a year, spending that money on some extra capacity in the system would be a much better investment than an expensive exercise in nostalgia.