GETTING TOUGH: New transport operator Keolis Downer wants to change the culture of ticket compliance in Newcastle. Picture: Simone De PeakNEWCASTLE’S new transport operator is getting tough in a push to curb fare evasion on the city’s buses.

TheNewcastle Heraldcan reveal Keolis Downer – the French company that took over the Newcastle buses and ferries contract last week – will hire compliance officers to enforce the purchasing of tickets and to nab fare evaders on its buses and the Stockton ferry.

And it is understood bus drivers have become stricter in enforcing passenger use of Opal cards under Keolis.

It is an attempt by the new transport operator to change the culture of passenger travel on public transport in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

According to the latest statistics, Newcastle has one of the worst rates of compliance in the state, and is the state government’s biggest loser in terms of lost revenue outside Sydney.

The last Transport for NSW analysis of revenue loss in Newcastle revealed government coffers were deprived of a staggering $397,000 in unpaid fares between July and December last year –more than $2000 per day.

An average83 per cent of Newcastle passengers did the right thing by paying the fare in May last year.

This improved slightly to 85 per cent in November, according to the figures.

However, Newcastle was still in the bottom three for passenger compliance –only slightly better than Penrith and Wyong buses.

Keolis Downer Hunter chief executive Campbell Mason said passengers would start to see ticket officers on board Newcastle buses.

“Newcastle Transport will have authorised officers patrolling buses and ferries to check tickets and ensure compliance. We will also work closely with Transport for NSW and NSW Police,” he said.

“Our drivers and customer service officers will play an important role as we work to improve the compliance culture among the Newcastle travelling community.”

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union blamed the state government for Newcastle’s record on fare evasion.

“Reports of a stronger presence of ticket inspectors is not surprising, as we believe that Transport for NSW did not even bother to provide ticket inspectors in Newcastle for the past six years,” RTBU secretary Chris Preston said.

On Wednesday, the Heraldtested the new transport operator on a handful of city buses.

The stricter approach to compliance was witnessed on a city-bound bus after a free ride was refused to a passenger who was one stop short of the fare free zone.

“I’m under orders, mate,” the bus driver told the passenger.

Keolis has promised no major changes to bus timetables and routes this year.