Though many travellers suspected something nasty was happening on the trams, the evidence produced at a Royal Commission into the illicit ticket trade soon had Sydney citizens gasping, and running for their morning newspapers asking ‘what next!’
A piece of underhand doggerel that went ‘One ping for the Department, Two pings for me …’ described how certain conductors were fiddling the books, for each ‘ping’ made on their bell recorders indicated when a fare or a ticket was taken.
The rule went much as was sung in an Auckland tramways ditty –
Punch, brothers, punch with care.
Punch in the presence of the passengaire.
However, dishonesty found fertile ground in the old practice of selling tramway tickets at certain booths and shops, while the conductor’s role was to take the ticket, ring it up and then destroy it. Evidence heard at the Royal Commission of 16 August disclosed that certain unscrupulous conductors were retaining the collected tickets and reselling them to various shady blackmarket middle men. While a ticket might be worth twopence or threepence, perhaps by interfering with the bell punch innards only one penny would be registered to find its way into Government revenue.
We have had to deal with a number of witnesses of a highly unsatisfactory class’, said Mr Richardson, President of the Commission of Inquiry. ‘The conductors’ bell registers have been tampered with by manipulation of the spring inside the register’.
Mr Richardson noted that the Sydney steam trams at certain times of the day, were probably more overcrowded than those of any other system to be met with elsewhere, which made it easier for a crooked conductor to mask the operation of his bell recorder amid scenes of crush and confusion.
He continued: ‘People are jumping on and off trams. Selling 10/- worth of tickets for 7/6d. One man had 5000 tickets in his bag …’.
Pietro Gaspardo alleged that Messrs Pappadocci and Masoora, who ran an oyster shop at the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets, had been carrying on a large traffic in second-hand tickets, defrauding the colonial government out of thousands of pounds of revenue.
No wonder that people asked how the shopkeepers could take such well funded holidays back to their native Athens.
This article is courtesy of the great book called ‘Juggernaut’, by David Burke’ and is brought to you by Tram Scrolls Australia, specialists in premium quality replica tram and bus scrolls, tram banners and bus destination blinds.