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Concession travel and privacy in NSW Nicole Walker
1 February 2017

public transport

Many people in New Zealand - such as students and the elderly - use a concession that gives them a free or subsidised fare on public transport. In order to assess whether someone is eligible for these concession cards, the transport provider collects personal information. This information includes things like student ID cards, tertiary student ID cards or other photo ID. 

Also, registration is usually compulsory when applying for a concession card so anonymity is not an option. The result is that you have to give some personal information in order to travel with a concession card.

But what if the transport provider is collecting other personal information such as the travel history of a person travelling using a concession card? Is that a step too far? These are questions that are being asked in the Australian state of New South Wales.

Ongoing collection of transport data

Nigel Waters, a Research Associate of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Community at the University of New South Wales, discussed this issue at the Asian Privacy Scholars Network (APSN) International Conference at the University of Auckland in December 2016.

Mr Waters spoke about his experience in Australia with the public transport ‘smart’ ticketing system. In particular, he talked about a legal challenge to the system as it affected senior citizens using concession cards for travel. You can find his presentation here.

In New South Wales, personal information, including travel history, is collected from the transport companies about those who hold a senior concession ticket. Mr Waters has brought a case in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal on the basis that the routine collection of travel movement information about concession card holders is not “reasonably necessary”. He has brought a representative complaint on behalf of all senior concession card holders. 

One of the remedies he seeks is an anonymous travel option for senior concession ticket holders. This is available to full adult card holders and some youth/child concession card holders, but is not available to those with a senior concession ticket.

One of the arguments against the complaint is that travel movement is not “personal information” because it is held in a separate database without personal identifiers. The transport provider also argues that the collection of this information is necessary for efficient ticketing and the protection of public revenue, due to the claimed loss from abuse of concession entitlements.

But the arguments don’t seem to address the issue of why senior concession card holders are treated differently to other concession card holders.  

Nigel Waters is arguing that routine surveillance is a major detriment, even if not accessed. The proceedings in NSW are ongoing and the outcome will be of interest for many people who travel on public transport both in NSW and other cities where concession travel is available.

Image credit: By Unsplash - Creative Commons Licence

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