To : NSW Ombudsman
Regarding : Smoking in Sydney Train Stations
- Lack of enforcement of non-smoking regulations
Seeking: Your help in correcting a case of appalling government inaction
List of contents by heading :
1. One page summary
2. My situation and perspective
3. The law as it stands
4. The current situation
5. Actions taken so far
6. Stations of shame
7. Who can and who can't act with authority
8. Conundrum big problem or minor irritant ?
9. White lies which cityrail and others would have us believe
10. What needs to happen
11. A comparable case which works
12. A pat on the back for cityrail
13. Looking further
1. ONE PAGE SUMMARY
No-one has yet been prosecuted for smoking in prohibited areas in or around Sydney Train stations. And it is not because of the lack of offences committed.
The evidence is clear to see for anyone who regularly takes the train in Sydney. People who pointedly ignore no-smoking signs can be found at all times of the day at any station, and in large numbers in busy stations. Thousands of people break the non-smoking regulations in Sydney every day. Perhaps a handful are fined, but none have yet been prosecuted.
Why, when many of these people are long-term repeat offenders ? Why, when the smoking bans enjoy overwhelming public support, including support by 80% of smokers ?
The answer is the gross and coordinated inaction of a number of authorities, mainly Cityrail. In the face of a situation which amounts to ongoing and low-level civil disobedience, the authorities are basically refusing to deal with the problem, except for a few minor cosmetic and educational measures.
This has astonished me from the first day I moved to Sydney. Cityrail's own stats record that about one million people use the train daily. Smoking in stations is an issue which is literally in the faces of a large percentage of Sydney's population daily.
And worse, Cityrail employees themselves break the non-smoking regulations daily, making no attempt to hide.
As someone who no longer owns a car, I am completely dependent upon public transport which, the vast majority of the time, is the train. To get to work, do the shopping, go places and see this wonderful city, it's trains trains trains nearly all the way. There are times when, because several people are smoking in the same area at once, there is nowhere to escape.
I have approached many responsible people and agencies over the past 18 months, in order to correct this appalling situation. Letters I sent to all responsible authorities generated responses which were either unhelpful, patronising or ludicrous.
In total frustration, I joined the Non-Smokers Movement of Australia last year. They have been fighting this particular fight for a number of years, and I shall be relying on their records to provide supporting documentation.
As I shall detail in the following pages, I seek measures to compel Cityrail to take real and substantial action against the thousands of Sydney people who choose to act as if non-smoking regulations do not apply to them.
As this report is being submitted by email, I will later send in some supporting documentation, such as letters to and from the named authorities. These letters are currently in storage in the custody of the NSMA, and may take some time to retrieve and compile.
I have been informed that reports submitted to the ombudsman receive a reference number within a week or so. I will await this reference number, and use it for the submission of this supporting documentation.
Anti-Smoking protests in Sydney Train Stations
2. MY SITUATION AND PERSPECTIVE
I moved to Sydney about four years ago. Before that, I lived mainly in South Australia. I have travelled on trains in several other Australian capital cities, namely Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. It is rare to see even one person smoking in or on trains in these cities, whereas in Sydney it happens all the time.
I moved to my current address here, in Lidcombe, just over two years ago. This move coincided with getting rid of my car, so my reliance on trains moved from high to total.
Much of the evidence and views I describe here start with observations of my local train station, Lidcombe, but nearly all of it applies to Sydney train stations in general.
As a law-abiding citizen who has never smoked, I am furious at those smokers who choose to act as if the laws do not apply to them, and absolutely fuming mad at those who are responsible for stopping them refusing to take action.
3. THE LAW AS IT STANDS
Three pieces of legislation are of relevance.
1. The Rail Safety Act (1999) provides Cityrail with extensive powers to deal with a broad range of situations. Regarding smoking, this act gives the authority (though not the obligation) to warn/fine/arrest/prosecute anyone caught smoking anywhere in or around a station, with the sometimes exception of completely open and uncovered areas.
2. The part of the Smoke Free Environment Act (6 Sept 2000) which applies to Cityrail gives similar powers, except it does not cover outdoor covered areas.
Sources I have spoken to have stated, apparently with straight faces, that having these two acts creates administrative confusion. The heart of this ludicrous but apparently widely-believed assertion (inside Cityrail management, anyway) is that the powers to enforce in covered areas exist under one act but not the other.
In the last few months, Cityrail has been updating all no-smoking signs. For those signs not already annotated so, a sticker has been added, citing the Smoke Free Environment Act 2000. In fact, this started around Sept 2001, twelve months after its passing into law. This is a puzzling development, as they are citing the weaker act when the Rail Safety Act is still in force. Many of these signs are in covered outside areas, where SFA2000 clearly does not apply.
3. Also of relevance is legislation about littering. I am not sure which act this relates to, but there is a current media campaign with posters and TV ads about it, including a direct reference to a $200 fine for cigarette littering. Cigarette litter is a huge and highly visible piece of evidence of how little action Cityrail has taken. Briefly, a visit to any major (and some minor) station clearly shows this situation. Cityrail staff confirm that cigarettes form the largest single category of rubbish which they have to clean up. Imagine how much could be done, if just half the effort of cleaning up cig trash was put into preventing it.
Perhaps the great failing of this legislation, as opposed to the failure by people who are responsible for carrying it out, is that the acts give the discretion to act. The practical effect is that the vast majority of those who have some or all of these powers use that discretion to NOT act most of the time.
If changes to the legislation were needed or useful (really and truly, we have good enough laws already - the main problem is they are not used), they could be changed to hold authorities accountable, especially for failure to enforce.
For instance, as far as I know, none of these pieces of legislation contain any sanction or penalty for Cityrail if they don't measure up. Again, this makes them voluntary codes by default.
What would be better, though perhaps hard to codify, is to set down rules under which enforcement must take place. A mild version of mandatory sentencing, perhaps.
For example, even as a campaigning anti-smoker, I would have no particular objection to the occasional solo smoker who is puffing away outdoors, well away from anyone else, and harming only himself and the immediate environment. But I'm very concerned when, as actually happened, eleven people in five minutes lit up in the same small area of Granville. Despite being an open air (though covered) station , there was nowhere to escape.
The blanket discretion given in the legislation draws no distinction between these two extreme examples. But there is clearly a distinct difference in the urgency of taking enforcement action.
I would like to see something like this. Decide upon a level at which enforcement must take place, with or without relying on a member of the public to request help. For instance, five or more people smoking in the same area at the same time, as a trigger for compulsory enforcement. That figure reduced to two people if it is in an underground or enclosed area.
As an ex-public servant, I clearly see the problems that such an approach could be fraught with. Defining terms, such as "same area", "at the same time". But you gotta start somewhere.
4. THE CURRENT SITUATION
Listing all the ways in which the smoking regs are broken would take many pages, so I'll pick a few which stand out.
* People who wander into stations, lit cigarette in hand or mouth, and are not challenged. At least once a week, I witness the disgusting sight of a smoker going through the ticket gates, observed by up to half a dozen Cityrail employees and contracted security guards, who are otherwise unoccupied. They don't even bat an eyelid, let alone point to (in the case of Lidcombe station) the large no-smoking sign directly in front of them.
* People who light up on the platform. The worst case is where an entire group, or several groups, light up at the same time in the same area. The worst instance I have directly observed was at Granville station last year, where no less than eleven people lit up within five minutes in the same small area, one of whom was an in-uniform Cityrail officer.
Stated plainly, people do this because they can. Smokers light up when Cityrail employees and guards are around, and even when RPOs (Revenue Protection Officers, more about them later) and Police around. They do so with impunity, in the full knowledge that the likelihood of even being noticed, let alone challenged or charged, is so close to nil as to be negligible.
The vast majority of these people, if challenged by someone in authority, would stop. Perhaps 90% of these people only do so because they know they can get away with it. A bit like naughty children. This leaves a small residue who would resist. This residue is the segment for whom the powers to fine/prosecute are necessary instruments to have ready.
Out of thousands who break these laws every day, there could be at least a few hundred every day who, if any level of proper enforcement was taking place, would be fined, and at least a few dozen eventually prosecuted.
The correct application of the laws, in such a way, would be a good start in convincing the bulk of the population that
1. Cityrail was, at last, taking the problem seriously, instead of just saying it.
2. People who break the regs have at least some chance of being nabbed, and will therefore opt not to even try it on.
There is a strange phenomenon, which can be seen any day at any station. The vast majority of people who smoke at stations will put out the cigarette before getting on the train. I'm not sure whether to describe this phenomenon as surreal or pathetic. It's as though there is, in Sydney, a weird group who agrees on a sort-of alternative law, that is, smoke wherever you like, but not ON the trains.
Many of these smokers still behave appallingly. Some will deliberately blow the last remaining cloud into the carriage and even into the faces of other commuters. Some desperadoes drag the last puff right up until the doors start closing.
Then, there is another residue, of people who smoke on trains. This is the one area where action (i.e. real action) is sometimes taken by security guards, or even Cityrail guards and drivers. There are people who try all sort of stratagems to pretend that they are complying.
* For instance, standing between carriages while the train is moving for a smoke. Problem is, it gets in via the windows.
* Holding the cig out the window and taking drags. Same thing - it gets in.
Some people don't even try to pretend. They just light up in crowded carriages.
5. ACTIONS TAKEN SO FAR
I sometimes approach authorised station staff to take action. Most often, the reaction is either being ignored, blank stares or shoulder shrugs.
Sometimes, they'll go as far as to press the button which plays a message over the loudspeakers about smoking. This is completely useless. I have never seen anyone prematurely extinguish a cig upon hearing such an announcement. The only people who take notice are annoyed non-smokers like myself.
Finally, a couple of ordinary Cityrail employees explained why they do nothing. I was amazed to hear that they do not have the powers to fine or formal arrest. To clarify, everyone in the state of NSW has the power of citizens arrest, and Cityrail officers are no different. If a passenger acts badly, they have to call the police.
What this means is that they have no powers to do anything if a smoker, suitably challenged, continues. The next step would be to hold the person and wait until police arrive. The vast majority of Cityrail staff want no part of this, and this is a contributing factor to their apparent apathy on this issue.
And I resorted to astonishment when I was told that contracted security guards, too, lack powers to fine or arrest. They, too, can only hold any offenders until police arrive. As an aside, this is not the case in all other states. In Western Australia, security guards were given the powers of special constables by act of parliament.
Meanwhile, I wrote letters to, among others
* The ministers of Transport, Health and Police
* Various department within Cityrail, including Public Relations
* My local MP
* Letters to the Editor of a number of major newspapers, including interstate.
I expected the tone of replies to be something like "yes, we know there are problems, and we're working on them doing x,y and z".
The replies I received astonished then disgusted me.
The worst was from Cityrail's PR department, which basically asserted that, because announcements were being played and signs were up, Cityrail was already complying with the regulations, and no more action was needed. This response is so far removed from reality that I wondered what mind-altering substance the writer was taking.
Letters to the Dept of Transport were answered by Carl Scully's parliamentary secretary, Kevin Moss MP. His replies used a technique of minimisation. That is, he would either not directly address my questions, or give such little detail as to be useless.
All my local member did was send a copy of my letters to the Minister of Transport. No personal representation, nothing. He was Peter Nagle, the member for Auburn who resigned under a cloud last year. Enough said.
The least worst reply came from the Dept of Health, which included a pamphlet on the SFA2000. I asked for more info about the special Health Inspectors which the pamphlet promised. Mr Knowles letter promised vague action, but was silent on how they would work with Cityrail.
The reply from the Police ministry came from a public servant in the dept, and the guy clearly had no idea what I was asking about. He suggested that if a smoker was troubling me that all I needed to do was ask the nearest cop to speak sternly to them.
This reply misses the mark on every level. Apart from some stations which have a permanent police substation (e.g. Strathfield and Cabramatta), police officers are not usually a daily presence at any particular station. And police officers I have approached have shown even less interest in enforcement than Cityrail officers.
Also, by the time a smoker has lit up, the battle is pretty much lost. Consider this. The average cigarette takes five to seven minutes to smoke a cig. If an authorised officer is not immediately at hand (the usual situation), then you go looking for one. When you find one, you explain the situation, where the person is, convince them to come along. In the unlikely event they agree to do this, and by the time you get back, the smoker has finished. I'll examine this in more detail below but, basically, it is better to create an environment where people are strongly discouraged from lighting up in the first place.
Alongside all this action, I began to submit detailed reports of smoking incidents to Workcover. I started this action upon a suggestion from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), on the possibility that part of the Workcover legislation covers the responsibility to provide a smoke-free workplace.
This leads to another one of the many things which puzzle me about this whole weird mess. The dramatic reduction of smoking in workplaces has been one of the great legislative success stories of the last decade. Yet Cityrail doesn't seem to have caught up. Staff smoke on the job with as much impunity as commuters do. I simply cannot understand why there has been not even a mention of a class-action of non-smoking Cityrail employees against Cityrail for failing to provide a smoke-free workplace. A source inside Cityrail has hinted at both subtle and obvious pressures placed upon anyone who gives the appearance of being an anti-smoking activist, for instance, edging them towards taking some of the many redundancies which have recently been on offer.
Anyway, I sent my first report to Workcover around Feb 2001. As advised, I recorded details of times and places where the smoking laws had clearly been breached and, in every case bar none, that no action at all had been taken. Of course, I was pleased to be reporting such info to somewhere outside Cityrail which may have some power to compel them to take action. The people I spoke to on the Workcover helpdesk confirmed that they, indeed, they received several complaints daily about people smoking at stations, as did the inspector whom I initially spoke to.
So I was disappointed when a senior inspector reviewed the case and ruled that it was not within Workcover's area to deal with. This officer forwarded my report to Cityrail. I groaned. This was shortly after I had received that ludicrous letter from Cityrail's PR dept.
I was contacted shortly after by, to the best of my memory, someone in the Operations area, with whom I had a long and very frank discussion. This was the beginning of my hearing about the restraints and restrictions which many of the staff are under. The chap I spoke to was one of many who honestly and convincingly wanted to do more against smokers, but felt hog-tied.
I continued to compile these reports, and sent them to Cityrail via email, and requested they be directed to the (I presume) Operations area. Incidents I recorded regularly included
* Staff smoking, often in the presence of other staff or police officers
* Passengers smoking in the presence of staff, including RPOs or police
* Instances of five or more people smoking at the same time in the same area
* Instances of people smoking in underground areas, where the two acts clearly indicate it is not allowed
and all of these where no action was taken.
These reports led to me being contacted by one Kym Finnemore, who explained that his job is Operations Manager for Cityrail, which I believe is an upper-middle management position. We had several long and detailed chats. Mr Finnemore was certainly the most helpful and understanding person I have dealt with. He explained quite a few strategies and plans, and he asked me to stop sending in the reports. I agreed to stop, pending evidence of real progress. This was around June 2001.
To date, absolutely nothing he mentioned has come to pass. For example, he mentioned that all security guards would be signing new contracts on July 1st, which would give them more specific instructions about their obligations to deal with smoking, and particularly to stop the guards themselves smoking. (Incidentally, they smoke far more than Cityrail staff). I expressed support, and asked for some detail of those contracts to ne released for public scrutiny. It would be interesting to see if the details of the contracts bore out Mr Finnemore's claims. Needless to say, such details have not been released. And, I can definitely confirm that the behaviour of security guards towards smokers at stations has not changed one little bit.
Also around June 2001, I heard about the Non Smokers Movement of Australia, and from a most unexpected source.
I never cease to be amazed at the total lack of media attention which smoking at train stations receives. In four years of living in Sydney, in all the media, I found only ONE report. For an issue which is in people's faces every day, this silence is simply staggering. But in early June, I heard a three-minute radio report at the tail end of PM (on ABC Radio National). It covered a protest action at Central station, where NSMA (Non Smokers Movement of Aus) was attempting to show how the laws should be put into practice, and was timed to happen on May 31st 2001, World No Tobacco Day.
This report prompted me to contact and join them. I've found out much since then, including that the authorities have been playing the same game for many years. That is, they deal with the large number of complaints by denial, evasion and minimisation.
Partly in continued frustration, I have recently re-started sending in the detailed reports, but this time, mentioning only cases where people who have the authority have not acted, and where staff themselves were smoking on the job.
6. STATIONS OF SHAME
NSMA chose this station for their protest action for good reason. Of course, it is the biggest and most visible station. But, in many ways, Cityrail's total failure is shown up most clearly here.
Stand on any of the suburban platforms (and some of the country ones as well). Look out onto the tracks. Layer upon layer of cigarette butts, nearly everywhere you look. Look along the platforms. Despite having one staff member almost continuously sweeping them up, there are cig butts everywhere. And the presence of numerous rubbish bins don't seem to help much.
Look at the commuters. There are nearly always several smokers on each platform. Many of them finish their cigs by throwing them on the tracks or on the platform. Cityrail staff, guards, sometimes police, are usually around, and often hanging around the extreme ends of the platforms, smoking as well. They affect to not notice all this low-level civil disobedience around them. No-one is challenged, for littering or smoking. Even worse, lots of schoolkids smoke. Isn't the law about supplying under-16s of relevance somewhere here ?
The evidence that the smoking laws are being broken is completely irrefutable, even just after a few minutes looking around this one station.
Smoking in Sydney Train Stations
Similar to Central, but possibly a bit worse.
There is a police sub-station inside this station, and I recently had a conversation with one of the officers there. This guy said that anytime he noticed someone smoking, he sternly told them to stop, though he admitted having never fined anyone for it. This is indicative of one of the problems. If all the action which is ever taken is the occasional stern warning, and no fines, this means that repeat offenders are not being tracked. And if such people are not tracked, there is no real basis for prosecutions. And, until a few people actually get hauled into court and be prosecuted, very few will take it seriously.
It doesn't mean all and sundry should be fined in all cases, but everyone involved are generally being either far too lenient (or too apathetic). In general, these people in authority have discretion, and are exercising their discretion to take no action.
One of my detailed reports was a summary of a 20-minute stroll I took around all of Strathfield station on a typical Saturday morning. With no effort at all, I witnessed no less than 25 smokers. This included several smoking in front of the below-ground timetable screens. Police and staff were well in evidence, but they did nothing except sweep up the butts.
A quirk of one of the timetables encourages extra smoking. The trains which go via Bankstown, for reasons which have never been made clear, often stop for nine or ten minutes at Platform 8 in Strathfield. Every time I see these particular trains, there are several people who are smoking while waiting for the train to start again, often this includes security guards, train guards and sometimes even the driver.
This is the station which I observe most often, and I go there nearly every day. When I first moved here, two years ago, I was delighted to read a very stern notice in the glass office at the ticket gates. It warned that any staff caught smoking on the job would be disciplined.
But that didn't last long. As I later found out from a source inside Cityrail, the manager was replaced shortly before the Olympics. This man was (and is) a smoker. The sign came down, and the staff have smoked on the job and with impunity ever since.
RPOs seem to be turning up more often lately at Lidcombe. The main job of Revenue Protection is, of course, to protect revenue. But, unlike other Cityrail staff, RPOs do have powers to fine and arrest. In theory, this means they nab smokers as they come through the gates. In practice, how many they catch, or if they even bother to try, depends on two things.
How busy they are and how many passengers are pouring through
The individual officers or, more precisely, the attitude of their supervisor.
When they are not busy, I sometimes ask these guys and gals how many smokers they've nabbed today. The numbers are always depressingly low. Count them on the fingers of one hand, if you're lucky. And every one of them never fail to point out that they can only nab smokers as a kind-of optional extra. If they have time. Or, more likely, if they can be bothered.
Allow me to emphasise. This small and mobile group are the only Cityrail staff who have the direct authority and responsibility to nab smokers. And it is not their primary role. To go further, all of the RPOs I have met or seen are highly focused on doing their job at the ticket gates only. I have several times asked a pack (they usually travel in groups of five or six) of RPOs to stop the people who are clearly smoking all around them. The response is usually the same as other Cityrail officers. Either to ignore the request, or to look around absently and ask "Where"?, in some cases when there were smokers both immediately in front and behind them.
As with other large stations, the tracks and platforms are littered with layers of butts. Smoking in the waiting areas is a frequent activity.
And, most annoying of all, smoking in the lifts. I have never once seen anyone smoke in any lift of the many large office buildings in Sydney. Only ever in railway station lifts. All sorts of people, too lazy or inconsiderate, leave the cig smoking as the get into lifts, often with several other people obviously in discomfort.
A fairly small station, but with a disproportionate number of smokers. Again, the tracks and platforms are covered with butts.
A kind-of miniature version of Central. During peak hours, an extraordinary number of smokers regularly light up. Tracks and platforms strewn with butts.
7. WHO CAN AND WHO CAN'T ACT WITH AUTHORITY
Although Cityrail has extensive powers from the relevant three pieces of legislation, only a few officers can actually exercise those powers. Ordinary Cityrail employees and contracted security guards lack the powers to fine and arrest, which are only available to Revenue Protection Officers, who are a small group.
Of course, police officers have these powers in full.
It is worth mentioning that there is nothing to stop individual employees taking action against smokers. However, if the offender makes trouble or threatens or actually commits a violent act, then the officer has to wonder what if any support his/her less motivated colleagues may provide. And there is a well-established culture of not making waves about this issue. And, the reasoning goes, there are so many smokers that, even if a few are dangerous, then why tempt trouble ?
Personal security is, of course, a real concern for every frontline Cityrail employee. I can't recall the exact figure, but recent stats released by the department said that about 1/3 of all such frontliners had been attacked about three times each in the previous six months by passengers.
8. CONUNDRUM BIG PROBLEM OR MINOR IRRITANT ?
There doesn't even seem to be agreement inside or between the authorities on this one. Here's two opposing views.
1 The policeman I chatted with at Strathfield said that regulating smoking was just a small part of the enforcement activity at that station. What he meant was that there was a broad range of crimes and misdemeanours to deal with, and smoking tended to be low on the list of priorities.
2. Cityrail employees I've talked with express helplessness. Not only that their hands are effectively tied (lacking the powers to fine or arrest), but at the sheer number of people who break the laws. One officer acting alone could not possibly keep up with all the fuming miscreants at a large or busy station, and it's unusual to find more than one (or, more often, anyone) at a particular station so motivated.
The former also hints at the problems in relying on the police to carry the burden of enforcement, which is effectively the current situation. The police have to cover the entire body of law. The under-resourcing and failures of the police force is the stuff of daily news reports, and is therefore well-known (unlike smoking at train stations, where there is as close to no coverage as makes no difference). Under such conditions, of course it is 'minor' crime which tends to be neglected.
The attitude of senior authorities seems to reflect a paralysis which result from the conflict between these two extremes.
9. WHITE LIES WHICH CITYRAIL AND OTHER WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE
Smoking is not a serious problem or a widespread occurrence on Cityrail property
Cityrail is serious about tackling the problem
* Ludicrous propositions, easily disproved by even the most cursory examination.
Smoking is gradually on the decline at stations
* This situation is, depending on who you listen to, either due to Cityrail's sterling efforts, or is occurring whether they take action or not. But it is clearly not the case. Smoking is on the increase at stations and, in some stations, completely out of control.
One reason, somewhat ironically, is the success of the anti-smoking measures in workplaces and, most recently, in restaurants. Partly due to the landmark Marlene Sharp case, pubs and clubs are now seriously in the firing line to become smoke-free. The vast majority of people who smoke at train stations do so because they can get away with it. Given that these smokers are gradually being shut out of workplaces, cafes, pubs etc, they are increasingly giving into temptation in the places where enforcement is lax or non-existent, including at stations. This trend, which is liable to continue, demands that Cityrail take increasing action to even stay at the same level, let alone taking less action.
Substantial enforcement action of any type requires increased resources
* It is easy to list many actions which would be effective, which rely on increased resources. More police to patrol the stations. Special inspectors. More RPOs. The list goes on. And, of course, it is valid to argue for increased resources for some measures.
But this is nothing more than another excuse. The line goes something like this. We, the management, can only think of two or three ways to deal with this problem. Each of these ways involve a budget increase or more staff. And in an environment of cutbacks, we simply aren't going to get more money, so it's pointless to even suggest it.
In a bureaucratic context, this argument can be very compelling, and it is typical of any closed system, where the bureaucrats listen only to each other.
In such a defeatist and tunnel-visioned environment, it is all to easy to lose focus. All to easy to forget that there are many ways to approach problems, not just two or three, and some of these ways do not require increased resources.
The most obvious way to make things happen without extra resources is to better utilise what they have already. Bring ordinary staff and guards into the equation. Empower them to act. There is more than one way to make this happen with no extra money.
Cityrail needs to be forced to examine more alternatives, perhaps even thinking outside the square. Maybe equip all staff with water pistols.
Signs and recorded announcements are effective
* To state the obvious, signs and announcements do not actually stop people doing anything. They can only inform. This furphy amounts to the idea that most people who break these laws do so because of ignorance. It is amazing how many people can repeat this line with a straight face. Perhaps a few even believe it.
However, this line really amounts to a red herring. Consider a similar situation speeding. Imagine if the police suggested that, to reduce speeding in particular areas, they put up more signs and leave it at that. No fines levied, no court appearances. Laughable ? Of course. But this is essentially what Cityrail are saying.
There is a way to make announcements work. They could say something like this
"Smoking is not permitted in the paid area of this station. During the next hour, authorised officers will be on the platforms asking smokers to put out their cigarettes. Failure to do so could result in a $200 fine. Also, disposal of cigarettes in other than the bins provided could result in a further $200 fine."
The hour could be as short as a half-hour. The authorised officers could be the police or RPOs or others. Of course, it would be vital to actually carry out the action, which may take some preparation. Also, if such an action were taken once a day, at different times without prior notice, regular passengers would soon get the idea that they just might get caught, and choose not to to try it on. Thus, the number of smokers would be reduce to the real hard cases, on whom maximum effort could be exerted.
The point here is that announcements are a useful tool, but only when used in coordination with other actions.
Some large stations at peak hour have up to a hundred smokers at a time. During such a sweep, the revenue raised from could even make such sweeps a revenue positive exercise. In this case, concern about wasting resources are simply irrelevant.
I am calling for the immediate suspension of the use of these recorded announcements, until such time as Cityrail can back them up with face-to-face enforcement.
10. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
First and foremost, the authorities must change the way smoking complaints are dealt with. Cityrail, the Dept of Transport, Police and Health, all handle the smoking issue with a mixture of denial, evasion and minimisation. Denial that the problem is even an issue, evasion of direct questions and requests and, when finally forced to admit to problems, playing them down to the max.
In short, the government and the departments are playing small target politics. They are evidently putting lots of resources into making the issue appear as close to invisible as possible. I will soon be supplying letters which the NSMA has received over the years, in which this strategy (if it can be called such) is clearly displayed.
In its place, honesty and transparency. Admitting to the problems, in detail. Going public with these admissions. Seeking feedback from the many people who are extremely annoyed but too shy to complain or not sure how to or too distracted. Even hearing from the non-complying smokers themselves, in striking a fair balance.
For example, when was the last time Carl Scully MP, Minister for Transport, made a media appearance which mentioned smoking at train stations ? If he ever has, I must have missed it. Mr Scully is rumoured to be a health nut, which makes his silence on this issue all the more deafening. And I realise it may be some time before Commissioner Peter Ryan and Michael Costa MP have enough space to discuss such an issue, but one hopes they'll get around to it eventually.
All of these authorities avoid like the plague any public discussion of this issue, and again and again will only talk about them when ambushed or cornered. For instance, the president of NSMA one day managed to question the Health Minister during a rare talkback radio appearance.
Imagine how much positive work could be achieved if all the energy which is currently wasted on denial, evasion and minimisation were spent instead on creative solutions.
And the first item on the transparency agenda is the release of statistics. The success of any law which levies fines is the fining and conviction rates. A low number of fines can mean only two possibilities.
1. That there are only a few offences being committed
2. That many offences are committed but only a few are being caught.
If the former can be disproved, it leaves only the latter. This is clearly the case here.
While there is much truth in the maxim of lies, damned lies and statistics, the lack of them is far worse. It is difficult to have a clear discussion about the extent of the problem without figures. The ill-informed and vested interests have more to confuse things with when those who know claim that thousands smoke at stations every day.
The figures will tell a story. Of pathetic lack of action, for instance. I estimate that far less than one percent of those who break these laws are fined, and they are probably not even challenged, but it would be useful to point to figures which prove this. Though misled, the people who suppress these stats are not fools. They conveniently hide behind the oxymoronic FOI act. Separately, myself and NSMA and even some concerned MPs have been pushing for the release of these stats for years.
And the figures are being collected and kept. The handful of fines levied by the RPO are collated at Cityrail headquarters. Fines levied by the police are similarly collated. They need to be published, and perhaps the release of police crime statistics could be used as a model.
There are no commercial or security considerations in keeping these figures suppressed. And that so much pressure has been exerted, and that they are still suppressed, means that laziness or lack of motivation or interest is clearly not the reason. So that leaves either embarrassment or coverup?
A co-ordinated effort, blending top down as well as bottom up involvement, should be the next step. Inertia will be a big stumbling block to any solution. The laissez-faire approach, of allowing anyone to smoke anywhere they want to, has continued for so long that sporadic local efforts to break it are likely to meet very active resistance. A better way might be the following.
Begin with an ad campaign. It wouldn't need to be a new one. The current Training Sydney campaign could have a single ad added. As well as the ad about more trains being cleaned more often, another could point out that smoking is not permitted at stations and, for the comfort and health of passengers, that the laws will be enforced from now on. Pictures could be shown of how and where this enforcement could take place.
This would also have an effect which senior authorities seem to be unaware of. There are many reasons why a lot of people do not use trains. One of them is the dirtiness associated with smoking. Establishing a public trust that smoking will be dealt with could have the effect of more people taking the trains, and taking some of the pressure off Sydney's highly-stressed road network. The system would lose a few die-hard smokers, but this would be a benefit rather than a loss. Most smokers already accept the restrictions as a fair cop and, with greater enforcement, an even higher percentage would simply go along with it. If, and only if, the resolve to enforce in a fair manner was seen as credible.
Of course, such a campaign must be followed with action. And action on this scale must therefore involve more people enforcing. Even if all RPOs did start enforcing to their full potential, though a good start, their total effect would still be minor. It is unrealistic and silly to expect less than 5% of the staff to carry this burden, along with occasionally calling in the police. Therefore, a way needs to be found to bring ordinary staff and guards in.
Bestowing the powers of fine/arrest upon all staff and guards has been suggested. However, management resists this call, stating that such powers would give the staff claims to a pay rise for extra duties and, therefore, come under the category of an "increased resources" solution. This is, in part, just another excuse to do nothing, but it does contain some validity. However, to dismiss the idea purely on this basis demonstrates lack of will to succeed.
More than one solution to this conundrum is possible, even within the constraints of bureaucracy and budget cuts. They could invest fine/arrest powers in one person per station. This could be the station manager (I find it hard to believe they don't already have such powers !), or the other staff could share around the responsibility, perhaps on a roster.
As mentioned above, the WA parliament gave special constable powers to rail security guards. Such a measure has fairly much no cost, and is unlikely to the a partisan political issue.
A more radical solution, which I realise is unlikely, is to save money by sacking Cityrail staff who are repeatedly caught smoking. This would easily raise enough revenue to pay the extra for the powers of fine/arrest for all staff.
This dreamy suggestion raises a darker issue. Some way must be found for more action to be taken against staff who smoke. Mr Finnemore's expressed attitude is to say that they must get this problem under control before seriously trying to enforce the law for commuters. While this sounds fine in principle, and would make a good line in a speech, it is simply not practical. Unfortunately, there will always be staff members who get away with this.
But much can still be done to reduce it. Station managers know perfectly well who of their staff smoke and, more importantly, who are the smokers who don't give a stuff about the laws. Any station manager who doesn't know this would be automatically admitting to being a liar or completely incompetent. Again, the numbers tell the story. As an example, there are about 20 staff at Lidcombe station. Seeing them every day, it is clear that they are a pretty matey lot. Like any small group that spends a lot of time together, they clearly know a lot about each other.
Some way needs to be found to get staff complying or, if not, punished. As far as I understand the current situation, it is pretty much up to the manager to discipline staff. In the case of Lidcombe, this means smokes for anyone who wants to. The manager himself is a smoker and, having been given a commendation from the Premier for the great job he did with the Olympics (which briefly turned Lidcombe from a moderate station to the busiest in the nation), he can pretty much do what he likes. A situation like this seems to require outside intervention. Cityrail does have inspectors, and they should be sent to stations like Lidcombe.
Even if the only action was to fine staff members for smoking, just like any other people, and if necessary garnish the fines from their pay. Of course they should be disciplined as well. I'm not sure what sanctions exist, but proven repeated offenders should certainly be sacked.
But here's a story which doesn't give much hope along that line. A sympathetic source inside Cityrail told me of an unusual case. Against the clear wishes of his superiors, a police officer last year actually fined a Cityrail worker at Lidcombe who was smoking inside the station. Hooray for him ! The Cityrail man was clearly breaking the law, but he complained to his boss, the commended manager mentioned above. After a quiet word between the manager and one of the cop's bosses, a gentleman's agreement was reached, and the fine was withdrawn. These sort of incidents need to be exposed and stopped !
An immediate suspension of recorded announcements, as detailed above. They are worse than useless.
Last of all, a higher public profile. As ombudsman, I urge you to seek public submissions about this issue. Get some media attention ! Let's have the sort of vigorous public debate befitting an issue which affect so many Sydney people. Members of the NSMA and ASH have been slogging away for years, having at best only small successes along the way. I'm not sure about NSW, but in SA where I'm from, I've seen much good work which various Ombudsmen have achieved where others have failed. As a former (Commonwealth) public servant myself, I have seen first-hand how the Ombudsman's communications can be dealt with, and of course I have handled many written complaints myself.
11. A COMPARABLE CASE WHICH WORKS
Westfield shopping centres are a showpiece for what the proper implementation of the Smoke Free Environment Act can achieve (though their success in this area significantly predates the act). It is unusual to see anyone smoking in any Westfield (or any other large shopping centre). Anyone who tries is given short shrift.
This high level of compliance is largely due to security guards. These guards are sourced from the same companies who supply guards to Cityrail. They operate under the same rules and legislation. In some cases, the same actual people do duties at these shops and at Cityrail.
Security on Sydney Train Stations
So, how come Westfield succeeds where Cityrail fails ?
This example was first pointed out to me by Mr Finnemore, from Cityrail management, as something to aim at.
12. A PAT ON THE BACK FOR CITYRAIL
Please don't be misled by the complaining tone of this report. Cityrail gets a lot of bad press. Rarely has a day gone by in the last four years when I haven't travelled by Sydney train, often more than once a day. I occasionally get annoyed when trains run late, but it's not the big issue for me that it is for apparently so many other commuters. I think they do a great job, particularly considering the limited resources and the conditions under which they are expected to perform. The only area in which they suck is in dealing with smokers.
13. LOOKING FURTHER
One puzzling omission is complaints by smokers about being stopped. This is damning evidence of the legislation not being enforced. If it were, there would be at least a few smokers loudly grumbling about their 'rights' being infringed. The fact that there are no such reports means, of itself, that nothing is happening. It would, and this is something to aim for as a measure, be better for a few smokers to whinge about infringement of 'rights' than for the silent majority to be inconvenienced and harmed.
If some of this were to happen, we could finally get down to the important job of fine-tuning the implementation of these laws.
For example, a person with cigarette in hand who has just flicked on a lighter and nearly has it at the cigarette tip. This situation absolutely demands that the person be warned to stop, and fined if they proceed. This much is clear. To wait until the person actually lights a cigarette (if the leading steps are observed) before warning them is just making the process more difficult.
But there is a sliding scale of situations leading up to this. At what point should a person be formally warned ? The legislation requires a person be warned, and therefore have the chance to comply, before a fine may be levied. If a person has a cigarette in mouth only ? In hand only ? If they have a cig behind the ear and are playing with a lighter ? If a person is loudly talking about having a smoke and clearly means it (a surprisingly common occurrence in Sydney) ?
Working out where to draw the line is an important point of discussion in the planning of longer-term enforcement measures, at some time when the bulk of the non-hard-core smokers have been kept and are staying under control, and there are only the really hard cases left.
But such fine-grained questions as this cannot even be intelligently broached in the current free-for-all.
Pro-health protests at Sydney Train Stations
Pro-health protests on Sydney Train Stations