A V/LINE conductor has been accused of bullying a girl with Downs syndrome by a Latrobe Valley commuter, who averted attempts to eject the girl from the train for not having a valid ticket.
Traralgon resident Gary Vagg said he was “disgusted” by the incident late last month, and was yet to hear the results of a formal complaint made against the conductor.
Mr Vagg said if it were not for the interjections by himself and another passenger, both of which paid for the girl’s ticket on the spot, the girl would have been left on an outer suburban platform without assistance.
“Her father settled her down (on the train from) Southern Cross Station with music and made sure she was comfy, then got off the train… near Pakenham the conductor came through checking tickets,” Mr Vagg said, adding the girl could not produce a ticket after mentioning “her father brought it”.
“The conductor said he was going to put her off at the next station, and she just cried her eyes out; she really thought she was going to be put off the train by herself.
“One passenger said to him, ‘back off mate, can’t you see she’s disabled’.”
Mr Vagg said the conductor was clearly in an agitated state, and had adopted a “stand-over bullying tone”, and after the incident, was commenting about “people trying to scam the system”.
“I have never seen anything like that before; the last time I saw someone bullying a disabled person was in primary school,” Mr Vagg said.
“She would’ve been in some strange station that she had probably never been to before and she would have been stranded by herself.”
Down Syndrome Association of Victoria chief executive Catherine McAlpine said the alleged actions of the conductor was an “entirely inappropriate thing to do”.
“While travelling without a ticket should not condoned for anyone, this is an area were reasonable accommodation needs to be made, and here you are, in fact, dealing with a more vulnerable member of the public,” Ms McAlpine said.
“What this conductor could have done would very well have been a breach of duty of care.”
Ms McAlpine said she was heartened by the actions of Mr Vagg and the other commuters.
“Cleary other passengers thought it would be reasonable to allow this person to stay on the train,” she said.
“People with disabilities face more barriers because of other people’s attitudes more than anything else… we don’t want people relying on specialised disability services; they need to be able to use services just like everyone else.”
Despite making an official complaint to V/Line on 20 August, Mr Vagg said as of Friday, he had not received an official response to the complaint.
“V/Line needs to decide if they want bullies on their train who neglect themselves from a duty of care, but personally I want them to take the (conductor) off the train, that would be beautiful justice on this one.”
A V/Line spokesperson said the company had been in regular contact with the complainant.
“People with disability who are travelling with us should be able to travel with confidence that they will be treated with respect and dignity,” the spokesperson said.
Further questions by The Express put to V/Line, including the status of any potential disciplinary action resulting from the complaint, were not addressed.
Attempts to contact the girl in question were also unsuccessful.