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Sam Boal

Transport authority contacted gardaí over Twitter account after fake 'free Luas' claims went viral

A viral joke in early August claimed that the light rail service in the capital was now free of charge.

TRANSPORT OFFICIALS CONTACTED gardaí over a hoax Twitter account after a joke about Dublin’s Luas service being free to use went viral last month.

Staff from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) contacted An Garda Síochána’s fraud section, as well as Twitter and Instagram, after a fake account purporting to be an official Luas account tweeted the joke.

The post was one of countless tweets on the platform in early August which purposely shared the false claim that the light rail service was no longer charging customers. There was full understanding amongst all those who posted about it that it was not true, and it was a long-running joke.

The Luas was not made free of charge at the time. It currently costs between €2.10 and €3.20 for an adult single ticket depending on how many zones a passenger travels within. 

The joke went viral on the weekend of 6-7 August, prompting the phrase “free Luas” to trend on social media.

A spokesperson for the National Transport Authority (NTA) subsequently notified senior staff members about the false claims the following Monday, documents released under Freedom of Information show. 

As the joke spread on Twitter, a fake account purporting to be an official Luas account tweeted: “GOOD NEWS DUBLIN! We’ve all had a tough year (and a bit) with things returning to normality, we’ve decided to make the load just a little bit easier and make the Luas fully free!”

The tweet claimed that the service would be free from 9 August, prompting the NTA to contact Assistant Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Region Anne Marie Cagney. 

“I have contacted the Assistant Commissioner on the matter and also informed Government officials to ensure that we get a speedy resolution to this matter and that a stop is put to the false messaging being sent out about Luas services,” the NTA official wrote in an email to TII.

TII responded saying the fake account had been reported to An Garda Síochána’s fraud section as well as Twitter and Instagram. 

A separate email to TII on Sunday 8 August attached a number of the social media posts and said it was anticipated the joke “will run its Twitter course”. 

Another tweet attached to the email was from a fake account purported to show Tánaiste Leo Varadkar announcing that the service would be free of charge following Cabinet approval. 

The email to TII noted that Luas Revenue Protection Officers were “in place and aware” of the social media claims.

RPOs are tasked with ensuring fare compliance on board the Luas and respond to fare evasion.

A passenger who travels without a valid ticket faces a fine of up to €1,000.

Over the weekend of 7 August a number of prominent Twitter accounts joined in on the “Free Luas” claims with Dublin Airport’s official account tweeting (incorrectly): “Luas is the Irish word for free”. 

The fake Luas account reported to gardaí has since been removed. 

Asked about the hoax account by The Journal, a spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said it is not conducting an investigation. 

A spokesperson for the NTA told The Journal that the account was reported to gardaí because members of the public believed it was a real Luas Twitter account. 

“The operator took the steps that they deemed were appropriate.  The Government has already provided significant funding in 2021 to facilitate the operation of all public transport services through the pandemic and to cover the loss of fare revenue associated with the significant reduction in passenger journeys this year,” they said. 

“Any further loss of fare revenue associated with the posts of ‘Free Luas services’ results in the Government having to provide further funds to support these services.”

A spokesperson for Luas operator Transdev said “the vast majority” of people saw the viral joke “for what it was on social media and it did not impact on fare compliance.

“In fact, many customers joked about it with our Revenue Protection staff.”

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