Young people in rail environs: An interagency approach to conflict reduction and crime prevention


Dr Trudi Cooper, Senior Lecturer and Project Director, School of International Cultural and Community Studies (Youth Work), Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia

Erin Donovan, Research Assistant, Lecturer, School of International, Cultural and Community Studies (Youth Work), Edith Cowan University

Dr Terry Love, Research Fellow, Department of Design Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia


This presentation reports the outcomes of an action research project to promote interagency collaboration on safety and crime prevention in rail station environs. The presentation outlines problems encountered and outcomes achieve; evaluates processes used; and presents a model for interagency collaboration developed and trialled in this project. The processes used in this project began by building mutual understanding of the differing goals and priorities of partner organisations that interact with young people who ‘hang out’ around the rail stations. Participants in each location have developed local solutions they can implement locally. The presentation reports on the research processes, outcomes and learning.

The research problem

The purpose of the research project was to develop and trial a model of interagency collaboration to support the formation of relationships between the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia (PTA), local government youth and community services, community safety personnel and relevant local non-government organisations. The purpose of the collaborative relationships was to enable development of constructive responses to young people in rail environments.


The research project was important because Western Australian government policy seeks to encourage people to transfer from private car usage to public transport for a significant proportion of their journeys but concerns about personal safety mean that some sections of the community avoid public transport.


For young people, this issue has several different facets. Some young people use public transport because they have no alternative transport choices, but feel unsafe. Some young people use public transport and get into conflict with Transit Guards over fare issues or conduct issues, often with consequences that go beyond the original offence. Some people (including some young people) avoid public transport because they fear other patrons, including other groups of young people.



This paper will primarily discuss the rationale and process for development of interagency collaboration, and the safeguards required to ensure that the process is not co-opted by any single agency to meet its own purposes at the expense of those of other participants. This was an important consideration because the issue was highly political and was driven primarily by fears expressed in the media about anti-social behaviour by young people in and around rail stations. The full report will contain discussion of the many other issues that arose from the project.


The research project had multiple stakeholders. The Office of Crime Prevention in Western Australia (OCP), the PTA, the City of Armadale, the City of Gosnells, the City of Joondalup and the City of Swan all contributed towards the funding of this project. Partner organisations became involved in the project because they believed that through collaboration they could address issues of importance to their agency that they could not resolve in isolation from each other. By the end of the two-year project twenty-eight partners were involved at four different locations on three of the four major metropolitan rail lines. Two of the outcomes required by the OCP as a condition of funding were that the research should produce practical outcomes and that the outcomes should be sustainable beyond the life of the research project. Because of this, the project was developed within an action research methodology, discussed fully in the forthcoming project report. In this paper only those elements that relate to the collaborative process are discussed in detail.


Participants included youth workers, youth work managers, from both local government and community based agencies, local government community-safety officers, and planners, and community services managers, an alternative education program manager, shopping centre management, police, Aboriginal police liaison officers, and PTA Transit Guard managers. Some agencies were involved from the beginning of the project, whereas others became involved at later stages. The PTA identified the four locations based on incident statistics collected over the previous year.


The first question raised by this research was whether youth workers and youth researchers ought to get involved in this kind of research. This is an ethical question, and as with all ethical questions there are diverse perspectives and possible answers. Collaboration is fraught with difficulties, especially when some participants expect other agencies to share their own priorities and values. One ethical position is for youth workers to avoid collaboration with agencies whose work is premised upon different values and practices. As a young youth worker, one of the authors was involved in discussions about whether youth workers should be involved in police liaison committees, and at the time rejected collaboration with agencies whose work was premised upon different values. This position enables the youth worker to remain ‘ethically untainted’, but limited their sphere of influence over other agencies that also work with young people. As a much older youth researcher, the same author now believes that dialogue between youth workers and other agencies, is essential to effective community based youth work. This dialogue, however, must be built upon a mutual understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of participant agencies and a mutual respect for their different purposes.


Dialogue across values

A major problem posed by this project was to devise an approach to interagency collaboration that would enable participants to develop constructive relationships across value differences. This required development of a process that would foster understanding and mutual respect and promote mutually beneficial collaboration, but would enable participants to do this in ways that would not compromise the central goals of their own organisations.


From a pluralist perspective, the primary purpose of dialogue between people who hold different values begins with the assumption that respectful dialogue can help each party gain insight into the applicability and limitations of their own worldview and hence deepen their own understanding of issues (Hinman 2003). From this perspective, the purpose of discussion is help participants enhance their understanding of issues in their locality, rather than to persuade others of the rightness of a singular interpretation of local events. A pluralist perspective also accords with Freirian practices for consciousness-raising, which insist that when new ideas or different perspectives are introduced, agreement should not be forced, and participants should always to have opportunities to discuss ideas and to disagree without fear of rejection or censure by others in the group (Hope and Timmel 1997). From both perspectives, the purposes of discussion are exploratory rather than combative. This is the position taken by the research team in this project, and these values determined the approach taken to the collaboration process developed for this project.


The research team needed to engage people who had an activist approach to issues because of the required outcomes of the project. This also meant that discussions needed to be solution-focused and activist, in the Freirian tradition. These requirements had implications for the structure and climate of the collaborative approach.

The interagency collaboration process

The research project had three stages, and these are outlined in Table 1.


Table 1: Project activities and timeline




Stage 0: Pre-project



Preliminary discussions

Individuals within the PTA and in local government

January-October 2005

Stage 1: Develop understanding



Workshop 1


December 2005

Workshops 2 (X4 ) (Each locality,

Youth and community agencies

December/March 2006

Workshop 3 (x 4) (Each locality,

Youth and community agencies, PTA

January/ April 2006

Stage 2: Responses to issues


April- October

Workshop 4 (x 4) First review in each locality

Youth and community agencies in each locality, PTA

April-May 2006

Workshop 4a (x 4) Additional Locality Reviews in each locality

Youth and community agencies in each locality, PTA

June-August 2006

Workshop 5 Final project review

Youth and community agencies in each locality, PTA

September-October 2006

Workshop 5a (Joint project presentation)

All participants

November 24 th 2006

Final report


March 2007


These stages are labelled as Stages 0-2.   Stage 0 took place before the project was finalised and before funding was agreed. In Stage 1, there were two requirements   for a process. Firstly, the process should enable participants to share, their understanding of their own roles and priorities with others in their locality group. Secondly, the process should enable participants to share their differing perceptions of local issues. In Stage 2, the requirement was for participants to discuss how they could respond positively to issues identified as locally important. During this phase, local initiatives were developed and trialled. Stage 2 concluded with a local evaluation, followed by a final project presentation, which all participants were invited to attend.


During the preliminary stage (Stage 0), there were many individual discussions by phone and face–to-face to explain the purposes and processes for the project and to negotiate funding from partners. This stage took longer than anticipated, but was crucial to the subsequent success of the project. Once agreement had been reached and funding had been secured, key people in each locality recommended other participants from their organisation or from local youth and community agencies. The key participants were local government officers (either youth work managers or community safety managers) and the team relied on their judgement and knowledge to recommend appropriate local participants. The team followed the same process with the PTA Manager of Security and Customer Service, who recommended the Transit Guard Managers who were involved in this project.


The groundwork for positive collaborative relationships was established during Stage 1 of the project. The meetings in this stage had both ‘process’ and ‘task’ goals. The process goals were designed to help participants gain a good understanding of each other’s priorities, concerns and ‘worldviews’, to establish culture of respect.


The task goals were to gather data to build a ‘rich picture’ of the issues in the locality; for participants to share and explore alternative perceptions of issues and priorities in each locality; and for participants to use an analytical method based upon soft-systems to identify underlying causes for locally important issues. In many ways, this was the hardest stage of the project, because there had been no previous contact between the PTA and local youth and community groups and there was a high level of mistrust and potential hostility on both sides and the groups had only a short time to complete quite a difficult task.


When the research team made decisions about how to structure the consultations during this phase of the project, it was necessary to decide how many meetings should be held in this stage of the project. It was decided to achieve these outcomes through a single meeting with the PTA participants, a meeting with youth and community work participants in each locality, followed by a joint meeting between PTA and youth and community staff in each locality. Ideally, in task terms, it would have been preferable to undertake the tasks in the first joint meeting (workshop 3) across two separate workshops. The team decided against this, however, because it was felt that it would be difficult to ensure continuity of participation, and there was a risk that the project would lose momentum if this stage was too protracted or too fragmented. To overcome this difficulty, the team used a very structured process for data gathering, sharing and discussion during this stage of the project.


Workshop 1 was intended to gather information from the PTA about the Transit Guard roles; Transit Guards’ perceptions of the issues in each of the localities; about what they saw as the causes of the problems they identified; and about who they thought could act to make a positive difference. The PTA nominated an experienced Transit Guard manager to provide this information. This manager had been well briefed by his manager. He understood the project purposes and processes and    was able to answer questions very fully and explain the background and the priorities of the PTA and their expectations for Transit Guards.


Workshop 2 was held with nominated youth workers and community agency representative in each of the four localities. These meeting were well attended. the research   team asked this group the same questions as were asked of the PTA, but in relation to young people and rail usage in their locality. The discussion in these workshops was tightly facilitated to ensure that all participants contributed and to try to prevent some participants from dominating the meetings. This process was generally successful. Not all participants who attended these workshops had been well-briefed about the purposes of the project or its intended methods or outcomes. At some locations quite a lot of time was spent explaining the project to participants, explaining the values and processes that would be adopted in the project and discussing the outcomes expected by the OCP. In most locations participants were pleased that this was not going to be just another ‘talking shop’ and that meeting would have outcomes. In one location however, one person tried to subvert the meeting process and to renegotiate the purposes and methods of the project. When they did not succeed they decided not to return.


The information gathered in workshops 1 and 2 was collated for each locality and presented back to participants at workshop 3.


Workshop 3 was the first joint meeting between local community groups and the PTA representative. In each location, this was the meeting where the potential for hostility was the greatest. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that the Transit Guard manager who was initially interviewed had been transferred to other duties and the research project leader had not met his replacement before the first meeting. Again, the team used a very tightly structured meeting format to ensure adherence to the process chosen for this project.


The first joint meeting in each locality was opened with an explanation of the process for the meeting, and the importance of respect for the diverse purposes of different agencies and the different roles and priorities of participants and the potential benefits of successful collaboration. Participants were also reminded about the action orientation of the project. At the first joint meeting for each group all participants were asked, in turn, to describe their own roles and the purposes and priorities of their agency. After this, participants began to examine and analyse the locality data.


The highly structured meeting format was successful because it allowed all participants to explain their roles, and to gain an understanding of the similarities and differences in the priorities of different participants. The data sheets for each locality presented data gathered from both previous workshops and organised under thematic headings in a rich picture. The discussion was again tightly facilitated to ensure that all participants had opportunities to correct factual errors and comment on their own interpretations of what they saw.


The evaluation completed at the end of the project indicated that this workshop had been most useful to participants because it enabled them to understand each other’s roles better and it got rid of several mistaken assumptions and stereotypes that participants had about each other’s work practices or the values and priorities of other agencies. In particular, youth workers were surprised to learn that Transit Guards offered welfare support to young people, especially those who were stranded late at night. They were also surprised to learn that Transit Guards viewed arrest as a last resort, which they would avoid if there were other options. The Transit Guard manager was surprised to learn that youth workers did not automatically accept at face value everything every young person told them, and did not condone violent behaviour by young people.


The meetings in stage 2 became less formalised, as each group developed greater trust and mutual liking, and the group was able to discuss even sensitive issues openly and with respect. In stage 2, the tasks of the groups followed the standard requirements of action research. Each local group reviewed progress, discussed the reasons for successes and failures, and revised their action plans. The facilitator maintained the group process and where necessary, offered encouragement, reminded participants of the action focus of the project and the importance of solution-focused processes and resolved interpersonal conflicts, as required. By the end of the project in most groups there was no need for facilitation, as these roles were shared between participants. Stage 2 is discussed is less detail than stage 1 because the facilitation roles were conceptually much simpler.

Outcomes from collaboration

Two types of outcome were achieved through this project: practical outcomes where the groups addressed particular problems and relational outcomes where the groups successfully enlarged their networks to enable them to address future problems more effectively.


Several practical problems were successfully addressed through this collaboration process:   some are described in this paper. Because of issues discussed during project workshops, the PTA representative learned that stolen identity was a problem for some young people. This occurred when individuals provided another person’s details when they were caught without tickets. Because of this, one young woman faced substantial fines incurred from other people using her identity. The Transit Guard manager investigated this case, and the fines were waived because it was accepted that the young woman was a victim of stolen identity. A password procedure was put in place to prevent re-occurrence and is now available to anyone who fears they may be in a similar position.


Unrepayable fines emerged as a significant practical issue. From discussion within two of the groups, it became apparent that some young people had incurred fines that were not, realistically, ever repayable in their lifetime. For these young people, there was no incentive ever to buy a ticket because additional fines were, in effect, meaningless. The WA government introduced a scheme to driver’s licences of people who have unpaid fines. This policy was intended to avoid incarceration for non-payment of fines but to exert an alternative form of pressure. Individuals are not able to obtain a driver’s licence until all outstanding fines are paid. Young people who have incurred unrepayable fines cannot gain driver’s licences, and an unintended consequence of this is that they are likely to drive unlicensed and incur serious criminal convictions. The PTA has put in place a process, whereby, under some circumstances, fines can be reduced and even eventually waived after an individual case review. This can be recommended if a young person has not incurred further fines, and is making regular repayments commensurate with income.


The PTA appointed a Community Education Officer mid-way through this project. Their task was to develop an education program for young people that focused on rail safety. The remit of the Community Education Officer was to organise educational programs about the dangers of rail trespass and used contacts developed through these meetings to gain access to young people in schools and in youth centres. The issue of track safety had emerged in the discussions during this project in some locations. As a consequence of the project, the Community Education Officer joined two locality groups and the networks developed through this project enabled her to gain better access to both schools and young people in youth centre.


In one location, the group decided to conduct a survey of young people and their experiences of rail travel. The survey gathered information about young people’s interactions with Transit Guards, and their knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as passengers. The results of this survey showed that some young people had had negative experiences with Transit Guards, but many commented favourably about help they had received. Young women in particular welcomed the presence of Transit Guards on trains and asked for an increased Transit Guard presence. The reasons they gave were that Transit Guards’ presence made them feel safer. Frequently they feared other passengers, especially those who were intoxicated. Young women also felt vulnerable waiting at stations for lifts or for bus connections and were pleased when Transit Guards at stations watched out for them. The PTA Community Education Officer now addresses the issues that emerged from the survey in her work in schools and with youth groups. As a result of the survey, Drug ARM WA, an agency that works with intoxicated young people, gained funding for a pilot project to provide services on trains on Friday and Saturday nights.


This survey provided confirmation of an issue discussed in several locality meetings, that young people did not have a good knowledge of the consequences of giving a false address when they are issued with a fare infringement notice. This was a matter of concern because a ticket infringement is not a criminal offence. It can easily escalate, however, into a criminal offence if a young person gives false details and potentially escalate to more serious criminal offences if conflict follows. The survey confirmed that some young people believed that Transit Guards would not find out if they gave a false address.   They were unaware that Transit Guards have a direct link to the police computer and are able to check names and addresses in real time.


In two of the locations, ‘Zip cards’ were developed that provide information for young people and for Transit Guards about local services for young people, about young peoples’ rights on the trains, and about the responsibilities and powers of Transit Guards.


The relationship between Indigenous young people and Transit Guards was an issue that emerged as a concern in several workshops. The Transit Guard manager explained that the PTA was keen to recruit Indigenous Transit Guards and to increase the relevance and effectiveness of cultural sensitivity training in the Transit Guard pre-service training course. Through connections and networks developed at one of the locations, an   Aboriginal Police Liaison Officers has become involved in the cultural awareness training offered to pre-service Transit Guards. This has increased the relevance and effectiveness of the training process because APLOs have direct experience of the kinds of situations faced by Transit Guards, and they are able to provide an Indigenous perspective. The issue of recruitment was discussed. Through networks of participants, an Indigenous-owned not-for-profit company operating a Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) in Perth was contacted to discuss the feasibility of a pre-selection training course for Transit Guards. This project will require contact with an appropriate training provider to accredit and operate the training element.


The workshops produced significant relationship outcomes. In all locations, new connections were established between the PTA and the most active youth work agencies in each area. In some locations, Transit Guards built better relationships with young people through voluntary involvement with youth centres and through invited voluntary attendance at local youth and community events, such as, a skate-park opening and a barbeque at an independent community-based secondary school for young people who do not attend mainstream school. Surprisingly, the project also facilitated better intra-organisational relationships between participants from different departments within large organisations. This was true for both the PTA and local government organisations. These aspects of the project are discussed more fully in the research report.


Future challenges

The key benefits from the interagency collaborations developed in this project have been that contact has increased mutual understanding of the purposes and priorities of other agencies, and has provided a better understanding of their operational practices. This meant that agencies can   now more easily   avoid inadvertently causing problems for other agencies. In the project evaluation, participants commented that the networks developed during this project had increased their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of each other’s roles, purposes and priorities, and they became more sympathetic to difficulties and constraints faced by other agencies. Participants stated that the project had increased trust between Transit Guards and community agencies at all locations. Information shared as part of the collaboration process has eliminated many previously negative perceptions based upon un-informed stereotypes. The interagency collaboration process has also defused potential tension between agencies and provided a useful means for successful resolution of practical problems.


The key future challenge for groups in each location is how to maintain trust between staff as personnel change within the various organisations. In three of the localities, participants had taken ownership of the facilitation process before the end of the project, and this will enable participants to maintain collaboration as long as all current participants remain in post. However, links between agencies are strongly dependent on inter-personal connections developed between participants and there is a high turnover of staff in many youth work positions. In the longer term, continuation of collaboration cannot rely solely on interpersonal connections. This challenge was discussed at the evaluation meeting in each locality, and there was agreement that maintenance of inter-agency relationship should be formally included in the role specification for key individuals in all partner agencies.   This has already been actioned by some of the local government managers.

Learning from the project

This final part of the paper discusses learning from the project of particular relevance to youth workers. Two issues have been selected and further discussion of other issues can be found in the project report. The first of these issues is concerned with youth workers and their capacity to influence other agencies working with young people. The second issue is about diversity and young people.


On the first issue, youth workers frequently complain that their perspective is marginalised within the discourse about young people. This project demonstrates that with appropriate facilitation, youth workers who clearly understand the purposes of their agency can effectively use inter-agency collaboration to affect how other organisations perceive and respond to young people. The inter-agency collaboration process developed in this project allowed all participants to influence the practices of people outside their own organisation and to change their perceptions about young people. This meant that youth workers had opportunities to influence the practices of Transit Guards, and also that Transit Guards had opportunities to influence the practice of youth workers. All participants involved in the evaluation identified that their own decision-making now included dimensions that were not previously present. This has occurred as a result of increased understanding gained through discussion with other participants.


A crucial factor in the success of this project was the use of a collaboration process that equalised the power of participants. Without this, there was a risk that powerful participants would have imposed their purposes and worldview onto the collaboration process. When this occurs, the voices of youth workers usually become marginalised. Influence, unlike power, is only effective where participants can see benefit of change in terms of their own purposes and values. The change in perspective identified by participants was voluntary, because no agency had the capacity to impose its own agenda, and because ‘learning’ was prioritised over ‘agreement’ in the norms established by the collaboration process.


On the second issue, whenever youth workers discuss young people and public space there is a tendency to homogenise the interests of young people. This project clearly demonstrated that young people had multiple interests that were not necessarily compatible. For example, the survey of young people who used youth services in one locality showed that most conflict between young people and Transit Guards arose in connection with the revenue protection duties of the Transit Guards. Young people who did not buy tickets did not welcome the presence of Transit Guards because this meant they would receive infringement notices. However, Transit Guards also have a public safety role. A sizable proportion of the survey sample, especially young women who used trains alone or at night, asked for a stronger Transit Guard presence, because this increased their feeling of safety.


The workshop groups made suggestions about possible responses to this issue. The first was that the Transit Guard roles should be disaggregated, so that the safety role was separated from the revenue protection role. By the end of this project, the PTA had already done this to some extent as part of an overall response to address the issue of staff shortages, possibly influenced also by discussions in these groups about the need to reduce the role conflict for Transit Guards. A second more radical suggestion was that public transport should be fully funded by means other than fares. This would abolish the revenue protection role for Transit Guards, reduce the major source of conflict and allow Transit Guards to focus upon the community safety role. This would address the issue from a practical perspective, but is unlikely to be politically acceptable.

Conclusions and Recommendations

This section briefly summarises final recommendations about the collaboration process used in this project. Conclusions from the evaluation of this project were that the project produced worthwhile outcomes in all locations, and that the collaboration process worked well in three locations out of four and was partially successful in the fourth location. On the basis of this, the research team recommends:


Recommendation 1: In interagency collaboration, adequate consideration must be given to process as well as task. Interagency collaboration between agencies with different worldviews is worthwhile, but difficult to establish and maintain.


Recommendation 2: The collaboration process must ensure that power differences between organisations are equalised and that no organisation can impose its priorities or worldview on other participants


Recommendation 3: Some conflict should be expected. The collaboration process should support solution-focused problem solving; inhibit discussion where the primary purpose is to allocate blame to others; and have agreed an effective mechanism for conflict resolution before conflict arises


Recommendation 4: There must be informed management and organisational support throughout the collaboration. This will enable participants to negotiate necessary changes to procedures or practices and supports continuity. Where practical, liaison with other agencies, including development and maintenance of partnerships, should be built into relevant job descriptions



Hinman, L. M. (2003). Ethics: a pluralistic approach to moral theory. Belmont, CA, Thomson Wadsworth.

Hope and Timmel (1997). Training for transformation: a handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe, Mambo Press.

    This paper has been prepared for presentation to the National Youth Work Conference, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, Melbourne, May 2007.