Watchdog reveals innocent passengers caught in ticket crackdown

28 March 2013

Passengers using Britain’s rail network face very inconsistent treatment when travelling without a ‘valid’ ticket a new report from Passenger Focus reveals today. Passengers who make an innocent mistake can find themselves facing a hefty bill, or in some of the worst cases, a criminal prosecution.

Passenger Focus has been contacted by hundreds of passengers who have faced very unfair treatment as a result of an inconsistent application of complex rules. In some cases individual staff deal with situations well, but sometimes the consequences can be severe with payment of large ‘fines’ and threats of criminal prosecution.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive, said: “No one is in favour of fare dodgers. However, passengers deserve a fair hearing. If they have forgotten their railcard, lost one of their tickets but have proof of purchase or have been unable to pick up booked tickets they should be given a second chance. Passengers, when boarding a train, are entering a minefield of rules and regulations, some dating back to Victorian times.”

Mr Smith continued, “any form of privatised justice like this must be administered according to clear guidelines, be accountable, give passengers a fair hearing and not assume everyone is guilty. Train companies cannot continue to treat some of their customers like this – ‘one strike and you are out’ is simply not fair.”

Rail Minister Norman Baker, said: “Passengers have a right for the rules to be consistently applied across all operators.  It is worrying if Passenger Focus has found that this is not case.  It is in the interests of Train Operating Companies that passengers are confident in what they are buying .”

Passenger Focus wants to see:

  • the introduction of a code of practice for non Penalty Fare areas which sets out clear and consistent guidelines on how passengers who board without a ‘valid’ ticket should be dealt with. This should include clear rules on how to deal with passengers with disabilities, cases where a passenger has a ticket but has missed a booked train and a formal right of appeal
  • passengers should only face criminal prosecution with proof of intent to defraud
  • greater flexibility when a passenger can prove they bought a valid ticket but cannot produce the ticket (or all of them) when asked
  • greater transparency on how many penalties are issued, for what and how many appeals are upheld or overturned.

The Association of Train Operating Companies has already undertaken to co-ordinate the drawing up of national guidelines to ensure more consistent treatment of passengers – this move is very welcome. In order to make those guidelines as effective as possible Passenger Focus is asking passengers to tell their stories, good and bad, about how they were dealt with when found without a ‘valid’ ticket. Passengers can do this on a Facebook page:

Notes to editors

Click the links below to download the summary and full ‘Ticket to ride?’ reports:

Please see our facebook page, launched today where we are asking passengers to tell us their experiences – we will use these to build upon the dossier of evidence being created to drive change and stop this happening to any more passengers.


  1. Passenger Focus is the official, independent consumer organisation representing the interests of rail users nationally and bus, coach and tram users across England outside London.  We want to make a difference for rail, bus, coach and tram passengers.
    We’ll do this by:
    –     providing authoritative advice for industry based on sound research
    –     securing improvements to services – both big and small-scale improvements
    –     helping passengers with advice and information
    –     campaigning for change
    –     acting on rail passenger complaints
  2. For further information please contact:
    Amy Bradley
    Head of Communications
    Tel: 0300 123 0820 / 07918 626 045
    or e-mail:
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