Don’t treat us like criminals when we make a mistake – rail passengers’ plea

04 February 2015

Today the independent watchdog Passenger Focus renews its call to the rail industry to play fair with passengers who don’t have a ‘valid’ ticket.

Chair Colin Foxall said:
“It is right that train companies should take steps to stop those who try to evade paying fares. But those who have made an innocent mistake and been caught out by the many rules and restrictions should be treated with understanding and not immediately assumed to be guilty.

“We first highlighted this issue in our 2012 report Ticket to Ride and today’s update of that report shows that, while there have been some improvements, the outlook for being caught making a mistake can still be bleak. We call on the industry to apply penalties for ticketless travel with greater consistency and fairness.

“We are also looking for a change to the railway byelaws to stop the use of criminal sanctions where there isn’t any evidence that the passenger was attempting to commit fraud.”

Ticket to Ride: an update
Since 2012, Passenger Focus has secured a number of improvements. For example, steps have been taken to make the information on tickets clearer. Some train operators now allow passengers who have forgotten their railcard and been charged full fare to apply for a refund.

Train companies need to find better ways of separating situations where an honest mistake has been made from those where passengers have purposely tried to avoid paying. They also need to consider new ways to inform passengers of ticketing and journey restrictions in order to avoid problems occurring.

There needs to be clearer information for passengers when they are buying their ticket and clearer guidelines for staff issuing penalty fares to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance and filter out those who have made a genuine error.

Passenger Focus makes a number of further recommendations in the report and will continue to press operators, ATOC and the Department for Transport on behalf of passengers.

Case study
A passenger received a penalty fare for not having a ticket. He argued that this was because the permit to travel machine was broken. He videoed the broken machine and sent this off as part of his appeal as proof. This was all within the 21-day appeal window. He subsequently received a letter saying that as he had not paid within 21 days he now owed an extra £20 in administration fees. The very next day he received an email saying his appeal had been successful but that he still owed £20 in admin fees.

On querying the justice in being found not guilty and yet still having to pay, he received a letter stating that failure to pay could result in a criminal prosecution. We intervened and the fee was ‘waived’. The passenger was only days away from paying simply to remove the anxiety of being taken to court.

Click the link below to download the report:

Ticket to Ride – an update

Press play to see a short video about this report:

Ticket to Ride – an update from Passenger Focus on Vimeo.

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