Facebook group organises against ticket inspectors

Swedish commuters are using smartphones and social media to avoid paying public transport fares, in protest at ticket prices and the costs of what they consider to be extortionate fines.

Commuters in Gothenburg are employing crowdsourcing to assist each other in avoiding ticket inspectors on the city’s tram network.

A Facebook group has been set up to out the locations of the biljettinspektör, with over 18,000 members signed up to post sightings of ticket inspectors in real time, to inform others on the tram network of their presence.

Each day there are numerous posts as commuters with smartphones detail where a group of inspectors have entered a tram, and in which direction they are travelling, warning other passengers of routes to avoid.

In Gothenburg, as well as in other parts of the country, there is a strong sentiment among many citizens that both fares and resultant fines, around £120, are too high. By comparison, a Tube fine in London is usually £80.  A recent video of one female tram passenger being physically restrained by a group of ticket inspectors caused widespread condemnation of the tactics used to enforce fines.

According to one Gothenburg resident, the predominant that members of the public go to such lengths to avoid paying is to protest fare prices. 

“The prices for tram tickets are ridiculously high,” the resident said, adding that taxes should be used to subsidise lower prices, or even make travelling free.  

Many residents argue that it is a legitimate protest, which only incidentally makes use of modern technology.

“It is absolutely legitimate,” the resident said. “Now, when you can avoid the inspectors through social media they have to find some other way to get people to pay, like lower the fares and get rid of some inspectors that cost lots of money.”

“It is most useful if you have a smartphone so that you can look up where they are when you are on the tram,” TechEye heard.

“Most people that put in so much work to help others avoid being caught and write at the page where the inspectors are, they are people that have more thought behind why they aren’t paying, they want to protest against the fares and use of inspectors,” the resident said.

Residents who have strong views on the cost of public transport – for example, that taxes should be used to ensure that people pay a  proportion of their income rather than a flat price – often join up to Planka, a Swedish organisation supporting free transport.

Planka, with offices in numerous cities across the country, has been running a ‘freeriding’ insurance scheme called P-kassan that assists in avoiding public transport costs. Those who sign up pay a fee to the organisation – for example, 10 kronor a month (around £9) – and when they are caught by ticket inspectors the organisation pays the fine on behalf of the commuter.

Planka has its own Twitter feed and other social media with the purpose of informing commuters of the whereabouts of ticket inspectors.

Anna Nygard at Planka told us that social media and mobile devices are supporting the protests of Swedish citizens.

“In order to maintain this solidarity fund we have to warn each other, that is why we have Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags and SMS services sending out warnings to people about where to be careful,” Nygard told TechEye.

Nygard notes that Planka has been attempting to inform citizens for many years, but the technology has not always been up to task.

“When we first started up we set up a website, and we also started a text message service, which was kind of high tech at the time,” Nygard said. “With social media it is so convenient and easy to set these type of groups and warning systems, so it is natural that people are using them.”

Nygard says that income tax could be used to ensure fairer costs throughout society, so, for example, students or the unemployed could travel for free while those on high salaries would pay more.

As the Planka website states, public transport “should be like the sidewalk – paid by all, free to walk on”.

Authorities in Gothenburg do not agree and continue to deal with many tram passengers avoiding paying fares.  

According the Gothenburg resident TechEye spoke to, ticket inspectors have apparently been responding to the tactics, but it seems that, with smartphone ownership continuing to rise, they will have their work cut out.

“The inspectors have already changed their tactics, before they were a massive amount of inspectors at one place and they caught everyone on a tram without a ticket but now they are in smaller groups and more visible everywhere to scare people into paying but you can easily avoid them if you try,” the resident said.