The introduction of Protective Services Officers has led to a greater sense of passenger safety, according to a survey of rail users.
Swinburne University students surveyed more than 160 commuters and found that 86 people, or over half of those questioned, believed that train travel had become safer over the past four years. Of these passengers, 73 – or 85 per cent – said they believed PSOs had made a difference to the level of safety.
A further 66 passengers – or 41 per cent – reported that rail travel is just as safe as it was when the Coalition was elected in 2010, meaning that 152 respondents – or 93 per cent – believe rail travel has become more safe, or is just as safe as it was four years ago.
Even amongst those who believe that train travel is just as safe as it was four years ago, there is widespread acknowledgement that PSOs are a positive influence. Thirty-six people in this category – or 55 per cent – credited the PSOs with making a difference.
The survey was conducted mostly at Glenferrie Station, but also at Southern Cross, Richmond and Flinders Street stations between 23 and 25 September.
Only six people claimed that train travel is now more dangerous than it was four years ago.
Thirty-one passengers – or nearly one in five, -claimed that they have been threatened or assaulted while using the Melbourne rail network at some stage. Of these, 13 claimed the incidents were on a train, 10 on a station platform and eight on both a train and a platform.
These incidents ranged from verbal abuse, intimidation from drunk or drugged passengers and abuse by beggars, through to physical assault, robbery and cases of sexual assault. Several passengers reported that they had been intimidated or mugged by individuals or groups with knives.
The introduction of PSOs has been controversial, since the Coalition promised at the 2010 election to provide 940 officers on platforms by November this year. Despite concerns about the $212 million cost of recruiting and training and reports about high drop-out rates by recruits, the public appears to value the presence of the officers.
Student Mason Taggart told UniPollWatch he appreciated the PSOs. ‘You know there is someone there to protect you just in case someone decides to do something stupid,’ he said. Twenty year-old labourer, Beau Hunter, said ‘people feel safe with authority around.’
Lionel Bersee regrets that there were no PSOs around on the night he completed his Year 12 legal studies exam last year.
On that night the current Swinburne University computer science student was robbed of his mobile phone at knife-point.
He says he was shaken by the unexpected attack by three assailants, who had followed when he and a friend stepped off a train in Melbourne’s inner west.
‘I was really unnerved because it was only 7 o’clock and it was summer,’ said Mr Bersee, 19, who works part-time at a supermarket near Seddon Station where the attack took place.
‘So it wasn’t that dark. It was pretty rattling. This was at the train station I always get off at. It had never happened before.’
Though wary at first, he had since come to appreciate the presence of PSOs at a station he said was ‘known as a hot spot…a bit of a dangerous spot to be’.
‘Being a cigarette smoker I resented not being able to smoke at the station,’ he said. ‘But I guess my attitude towards them has softened a bit because I wish they had been there at the time.’
‘Now that I see them at the station a lot at night, since I’m travelling to the city, I do feel a bit safer. I know something like that wouldn’t have happened if the PSOs were there.’
The incident had occurred after the three he believed were aged 17 to 19 had asked him for a cigarette. As he stopped to oblige, other passengers who might otherwise have intervened had walked on leaving him and his friend alone with the assailants.
‘I rolled them a cigarette and as I walked around the corner outside the station…they grabbed my friend in a headlock. They had a small knife and said, “give us your phone or we will stab you”.’
Mr Bersee said the three had left after he had handed over his phone. He said he had recognised one of the attackers and police had later apprehended him.
Tayla Brent-Lynch, thanks PSOs for saving him ‘in the nick of time’ after an older drunk man attacked him at Croydon station late one night earlier this year.
The 19-year old nightclub worker said he would have been on his own without the aid of the two PSOs who were not visible on the empty platform before the attack but appeared from nowhere seconds after it began.
‘They got in there, they got it under control and I was able to board my train and go home,’ he said.
He said he now feels safer travelling on trains as a result of the PSOs. ‘People see the authority and think twice about breaking the law.’