Ticket inspectors on Auckland trains are to be armed with small CCTV cameras on their jackets to combat fare evasion and violence.
Video and audio footage will be used as evidence for police prosecutions in the absence of any direct financial penalties are able to be imposed by inspectors on those caught riding trains without paying.
Lapel-mounted cameras smaller than a cigarette packet will help ticket inspectors to issue and have police enforce trespass notices banning frequent offenders from catching trains for two years.
Rail operating company Transdev will train a small group of staff over the next few weeks for a three-month trial before deciding whether to roll out the new technology to the rest of its 50-strong ticket inspectorate.
It sees security as an added bonus of the scheme -- providing a strong deterrent to any fare evaders threatening to assault staff who challenge them, as has happened frequently this year.
But the rail workers' union views security as paramount, after what it claims have been at least 14 assaults on staff since January 1, and says the rollout cannot come soon enough.
Transdev managing director Terry Scott, confirming the trial yesterday, acknowledged that the scheme was designed to make up for a lack of other fare-enforcement firepower.
"Currently, as you know, ticket inspectors don't have a lot of -- well they don't have any power really," he told the Herald.
"This means at least we can give them something."
Mr Scott said that if fare evaders refuse to pay up when challenged, they will be asked to leave a train.
And if they refuse to do that as well, they will be issued with trespass notices, and caught on camera at the same time.
I they are seen again on a train within two years, they will be filmed once more for the footage to be passed to police to prosecute them under the Trespass Act.
Although the Land Transport Act provides for spot fines of $150 and court penalties of up to $500 for fare evaders on any form of passenger transport service, that requires police intervention.
The Trespass Act provides for fines of up to $1000 or up to three months in prison.
Mr Scott said most overseas states had laws allowing transport authorities to take action against fare evasion, which is punishable in his native Australia by fines varying from A$100 ($107) in Perth to A$217 ($232) in Melbourne.
"It was a surprise coming to New Zealand to find there were none here," he said.
Asked how important the cameras would be in combating violence against train staff, he said that problem "fallen well way" since April, when the Rail and Maritime Transport Union reported 12 assaults in under four months.
But union organiser Stuart Johnstone said assaults, verbal abuse and fare evasion were often intertwined, and as far as his members were concerned, the cameras were "a security measure."
He said there had been at least two more assaults on staff since April, but fortunately none involving any serious injuries, such as an incident before Easter which put a ticket inspector off work for a week.
The union had been pushing for the trial for several months and was disappointed it had take so long to prepare, he said.
Mr Scott said the company had needed "to ensure we tick all the boxes to conform with privacy legislation."
An Auckland Transport spokesman said the council body had prepared draft legislation to allow ticket inspectors to act against fare evasion, and was in talks with the Government about having it introduced to Parliament.
Penalties for fare evasion on trains:
Britain - $39 plus the value of the trip taken; or up to $1937 for free-loaders taken to court for failing to pay a penalty fare.
New Zealand - spot fine of $150 or up to $500 on conviction, but any action has to be initiated by the police