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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Facebook Group Organizes Public Transport Protest

Swedish commuters continue using their smartphones and social media in order to avoid paying public transport fares. This is done in protest at ticket prices and the costs of “extortionate” fines.

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Commuters in Gothenburg are helping each other to avoid ticket inspectors on the tram network: they set up a Facebook group to out the locations of the ticket inspectors, where more than 18,000 members signed up to post sightings of ticket inspectors in real time, in order to inform the others of their presence.

Every day the commuters with smartphones post numerous messages to detail where a group of inspectors have entered a tram, and in which direction they are going, thus warning other passengers of routes to avoid. The matter is that there is a strong sentiment among many citizens that both fares and resultant fines are way too high. In addition, a recent video of one female tram passenger being physically restrained by ticket inspectors also led to widespread condemnation of the tactics used by the authorities to enforce fines.

One of the Gothenburg residents explained that the reason for the members of the public to go to such lengths is to protest fare prices. The locals complain that the prices for tram tickets are ridiculously high, adding that taxes are supposed to be used to subsidize lower prices. In the meantime, residents argue that the move in question is a legitimate protest, regardless of using modern technology. The idea is that when ticket inspectors can be avoided through social media, they will have to find some other way to make people pay, such as lower the fares and cut the staff.

Citizens who have strong views on the cost of public transport – for instance, that taxes are to be used to make sure residents pay a proportion of their income rather than a flat price – tend to join up to Planka, a Swedish outfit that supports free transport. This organization has numerous offices across the country and runs a “free riding” insurance scheme. Its idea is the following: people who sign up pay a fee to the outfit - around $15 a month – and when they get caught by ticket inspectors Planka pays the fine on behalf of the commuter.

The organization has its own Twitter feed and other social media to inform commuters of the whereabouts of ticket inspectors. At the moment, ticket inspectors started to respond to the tactics, but apparently they will have their work cut out.

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