Recently there's been a bit of a debate surrounding PSOs arresting drunk people on public transport. I've been quietly amused by it, considering the role of the PSO is fairly limited to train stations. There's been no mention of that role expanding, so the generalisation is actually quite false. Yes, trains are public transport, but so are buses and trams. Wouldn't it be better to have them roaming the entire network, as @mttb123 suggested? Sure, keep them at the trouble spots, but quiet stations could free up PSOs to move about. Yes, great idea. But then it got me thinking about the current arrangements.
At the moment, there are now three groups of people who are used on public transport for the nitty-gritty law and order stuff. There are Transit Police. Horribly under-funded, rare to see yet amazing when they respond, they are cops. Police. Real police in a specialised unit. There are about 230 of them (according to lawstuff.org.au, that still lists Connex as an operator). I dare say this number would include managers, supervisors and admin staff who might not get out on the beat. Either way, if you take into account RDOs, leave and other such things, there aren't many of them considering the size of the network. I've met one in my entire driving career who managed to get a douchebag off the tram. He was awesome.
Next is Authorised Officers. Once again, lawstuff.org.au cites around 600 of them. While their powers are somewhat different compared with police (and yes, people tend to listen more when the person speaking is armed), their jobs are similar, though with less emphasis on investigation. RDOs, leave, etc can also errode the number "on the beat". I've had AOs on my tram off and on. I can go for months without seeing them, then have them every day for a fortnight. They tend to end up wasting a heap of time with paperwork though.
Finally, the new kids on the block are PSOs. They've been around for a while, but the decision to employ them at train stations saw 940 of them recruited. The decision to staff each and every train station from first to last was contentious. While it drew praise for having a uniformed presence on trains, it also exposed limitations. Could they provide assistance with regard to bus replacement services? What could they do? Were they really police? The same Age article where I got the 940 from says that of the two-hundred stations, 45% of assaults occur in ten of them. One hundred and sixteen stations reported no assaults. While this narrow view (assaults are but one crime in the veritable buffet that happens on public transport) does suggest a targeted response would be better value, having such staff provides security for travellers across the system. It's more than just a matter of surgical strikes, but it's tough convincing today's bean-counters that old-fashioned customer service should include protection from rape, assault and robbery.
The point of this blog entry is this: why do we need (and pay for) three arms of service to effectively do the same job? You have nearly 1,800 staff. This will include managers, supervisors, payroll and all the other features that are duplicated in each arm. Each section will also have reems of associated legislation, legal teams, codes of practice, uniforms and everything else that adds up to a large chunk of cash that could be better spent. It seems wasteful that such finite resources (ie public transport funding) be diluted when one simple, understandable organisation can be established. I know the idea of having such a logical approach to public transport runs against the grain (what, with PTV, metlink, PTSV, Yarra Trams, Metro, numerous bus operators and so on), but as myki roll out has reminded us, keeping it simple and easy is a whole lot better than making it difficult, complex and having to teach each and everyone how to use it.
And just a reminder - PSOs won't be arresting drunks on public transport. Trains and train stations, maybe, but don't let facts get in the way of a media beat up.