From the Archives, 1990: Melbourne’s tram blockade

First published in The Age, January 2nd, 1990.

Rebel drivers block the city with trams

It’s 12.30 am in the Bourke Street Mall, and the trams line up two abreast from end to end.Credit:Stuart Hannagan

Nearly 250 trams were being driven from their depots and parked through the centre of Melbourne early today in protest against the new MetTicket system.

The move came as the Met prepared to turn down the power to halt all tram services. It wants to stop trams running today because it says it cannot guarantee the safety of the system.

Early today, trams were parked two abreast along Elizabeth Street, between Flinders Street Station and La Trobe Street, and dozens more were parked along other central-city tram routes.

Tramways union officials, meeting at 1 am at the Essendon depot, agreed to set up picket lines today, including one in Elizabeth Street, to try to prevent any attempt to clear the parked trams.

A Met spokesman said last night: “This is just crazy. We’re trying to secure trams this evening to ensure there is no further unauthorised use of them.”

But the state secretary of the tramways union, Mr Lou Di Gregorio, said today: “We did not shut the system down, they (the Met) did. It is up to them when they want to run the system again.“

The developments follow a collision yesterday between two trams that the Met said were being operated by tramways union members without authorisation.

Senior Met management last night advised the union covering its technical officers, the Municipal Officers Association, that it wanted to reduce the power available in the tram system today so that no trams could be driven from the depots.

Buses and trains would run normally today, the Met said.

Yesterday’s collision happened during a day of confusion and chaos on the tram system.

  • Police were called to three tram depots to protect management when threats were made and scuffles broke out.
  • The union faced internal problems when its bus driver members and tramways members from one depot broke ranks and agreed to cooperate with the new system.
  • A Public Transport Corporation spokesman said union members had tipped buckets of water and turned fire hoses on management staff at the Essendon. Glenhuntly and East Preston depots.

The disruptions began soon after the Public Transport Corporation asked tramway workers to sign undertakings that they would cooperate with the State Government’s new ticket system.

Ms Julie Di-Mieri makes her protest on board a tram in the Bourke Street Mall during a public transport stop work.Credit:Stuart Hannagan

At the beginning of the first shift yesterday, the workers, members of the Australian Tramways and Motor Omnibus Employees Association, refused to sign the undertakings.

At several depots workers who had not been issued with ticket kits took over trams and ran free services. The Met said about 35 trams were operated without authority, but the union said its members operated about 70 trams.

The executive of the tramways union, which met last night, decided to continue operating tram services today without management authority.

The state secretary of the Municipal Officers Association, Mr Neil Campbell, said last night that he had been told that technicians in the Met’s Carlton control centre would be asked to reduce the power in the system today.

He said there were some technical doubts about whether this could be done. “They told me they are going to attempt to reduce power to each of the tram depots so there won’t be sufficient power there to run the trams out.

“There is no doubt they will be trying to do that. The only question is whether the system can cope with it.”

Mr Campbell said cutting all power to the system was not being considered by the Met because it was too dangerous. “If you shut down the power altogether, you have to be very careful when you eventually turn it back on in case any lines have gone down.“

A spokesman for the Met, Mr Pat Wilson, said last night that the Met would take “whatever steps are appropriate” to ensure that no trams were run today without management supervision.

He said the trams involved in yesterday’s accident were two of about 33 trams that had been taken over by members of the tramways union and operated on several routes without authority from the Met.

Nine people were injured in the accident, in which one tram hit the rear of another In Elizabeth Street. Most of the injuries were minor, although one elderly woman passenger was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital.

Mr Wilson said that after the accident the union leadership had refused to give senior corporation management an undertaking that its members would comply with management instructions today.

“In the light of that, we are unable to guarantee the safety of the tram system and so we are not going to allow any trams to run,” Mr Wilson said.

The Minister for Transport, Mr Keenan, warned yesterday that any drivers or conductors operating unauthorised services would not be paid and would be personally liable if involved in an accident.

But he said that the corporation would “ultimately stand by” any member of the public injured in an accident on an unauthorised tram service.

The state secretary of the tramways union, Mr Lou Di Gregorio said: “As long as the trams go out, it is the PTC’s responsibility.”

Scratch ticket.Credit:The Age Archives

He said last night that the Government was using yesterday’s accident as an excuse to shut down the tram system.

Met still confident that new ticketing system will work

The Met was confident yesterday that commuters would accept the benefits of the new ticketing system by the end of the month, despite resistance to its introduction by some travellers and public transport employees.

A Met spokesman said adverse publicity fuelled by some Met workers was largely responsible for concern about the system. But after using it for a few weeks commuters would realise that it was more convenient than the old one.

“Instead of just being able to buy weekly, monthly and yearly tickets at stations and depots, commuters can now buy them at 800 outlets, including 7-Eleven stores, Amcal chemists, newsagents and some mixed businesses,” he said.

The daily, three-hour and 60-Plus tickets are the only ones that have become scratch tickets that should be bought in advance from the outlets. If they are not bought in advance, the commuter can buy an emergency ticket from the bus or tram driver at extra cost.

The onus is on the commuter to validate a ticket by scratching out the appropriate day and month. There is a $50 on-the-spot fine for travelling without a valid ticket.

Only W-class or old-style trams will have a conductor from whom the emergency scratch tickets can be bought.

Despite the chaos surrounding the official introduction of the system yesterday, during which tramway workers commandeered trams and battled with depot managers, the Met spokesman said there had been a steady sale of the new tickets. “We have no official figures but by all reports commuters have been buying their tickets from the outlets in readiness to use the new system. We expect, although there have been some teething problems, it will be fully operational by the end of the month.”

The new tickets have been available since 1 December. Their release was accompanied, by a $1.3 million promotional campaign.

The Met spokesman said that most tourists would have no problems with the new system because it operated in many countries overseas.

is a $50 on-the-spot fine for travelling without a valid ticket.

Only W-class or old-style trams will have a conductor from whom the emergency scratch tickets can be bought.

Despite the chaos surrounding the official introduction of the system yesterday, during which tramway workers commandeered trams and battled with depot managers, the Met spokesman said there had been a steady sale of the new tickets. “We have no official figures but by all reports commuters have been buying their tickets from the outlets in readiness to use the new system. We expect, although there have been some teething problems, it will be fully operational by the end of the month.”

The new tickets have been available since 1 December. Their release was accompanied, by a $1.3 million promotional campaign.

The Met spokesman said that most tourists would have no problems with the new system because it operated in many countries overseas.

For over 70 years tram conductors issued paper ‘flimsy’ tickets. The tickets were printed on thin paper and stapled into blocks of one hundred tickets. Validated by ticket punches, each of which made a unique hole pattern.Credit:John Woudstra

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