Well good morning. How is your Monday going so far? Have you already arrived at work, ready to start a brand new working week? Good for you.
How was your trip into work this morning? Did you catch public transport like 1.2 million Sydney people do each and every workday? It definitely is painfully public, though I am not sure it can really be called a form of ‘transport’ when our buses and trains are regularly cancelled or arrive thirty minutes behind schedule. And it always seems to happen on the day your boss somehow gets into work early and comes looking for you.
Keep quiet, anyone that is lucky enough to catch a ferry. We know you have it good, or at least better than most, so just enjoy your scenic float to work and show some sympathy for those that have to use other, more terrestrial, forms of public transport.
My beautiful Sydney readers will not be shocked to learn that Mondays are the worst day of the week for train delays on the Sydney rail lines. Sydney Train statistics show that, in March of this year, 8.5% of people catching a Sydney train during peak times were late to arrive at their station, getting there an average of 9 minutes after the scheduled train arrival time. That might not sound like much, but it can be the difference between you having time to grab a quick coffee on your way into work and being a few minutes late, and not grabbing a coffee on your way into work and being a few minutes late. And if you are going to be a few minutes late, coffee will help ease the stress because everyone knows that coffee is a stress reliever, and the more you drink the less stressed you feel. Now I want a coffee.
All of this got me thinking, as I sit here in my living room with that cup of coffee in my hand and my feet gently resting on our older, softer, tubbier and more tolerant cat: is it possible to claim a refund on the cost of a trip on public transport if it arrives late at your station? And how long does that delay need to be before you can claim a refund? Arriving late at your station by that average Monday delay of 9 minutes is probably not enough to justify you getting a refund on your fare. Arriving 90 minutes late should, in my view at least, justify a refund.
But just because I think something is right does not mean that it is right. Just ask anyone that has ever worked with me. So what is the true legal position? Can you legally ask for a refund on your fare if you catch public transport and it arrives at your destination very, very late (or not at all)?
Well, you can certainly ask for one, but the response you will get from the nice call centre people at the bus, train or ferry operator will either be silence or a very polite but firm ‘no refunds’.
That does not seem fair, so I went to check the terms and conditions of my Opal card to see what it said about refunds. Whoever put those terms and conditions together clearly knew, or was told, that commuters might come looking for a refund when they experienced massive delays in the public transport system. Opal’s terms and conditions make it clear – very clear – that the only circumstances in which you can get a refund of your travel fare is if you cancel your Opal with a balance remaining on it (in which case you are sent that balance in 4 to 6 working weeks), or if you are charged the incorrect fare because of a fault in the Opal card reading system (in which case you are sent a payment to compensate you for the additional fees charged to your card in, you guessed it, 4 to 6 working weeks).
I then thought about trying to submit an action with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, on the grounds that the State government was breaching consumer protection laws. After all, have they not advertised that trains and buses will arrive at a station at a certain time, yet know from their own statistics that there is a good chance that the actual arrival time will be much later than advertised. Surely that is misleading and deceptive conduct, right?
Sadly this is another example of me thinking, but not thinking correctly. While Australia has some pretty strong consumer protection laws, these laws expressly say that they do not apply to activities of governments and government authorities, like our bus, train and ferry operators. Seems rigged, but that is the law for ya.
That means I have the unfortunate duty to tell you that it is not legally possible to claim a refund on your travel fare if you arrive late at your station. I wish I could do more to help you with the frustration that these delays cause you. I promise to give you a big hug and kiss next time I see you. Just like that strange smelling person that will no doubt sit next to you on your train or bus ride home this evening will do to you too.