Why Does Southern Seem Reluctant to Protect Passengers From Crime?

Risk of Crime

In a recent post I highlighted potential crimes that could be carried out by criminals posing as ticket inspectors on public transport.   Click here for full details but here is a quick overview:

  • Theft of credit stored on smartcards, e.g. Oyster.
  • Theft of bank details stored on contactless bank/credit cards.  TfL is launching payment by contactless card for travel on most forms of transport in London on September 16.
  • Theft of personal data from smartcards and contactless cards, e.g. for identity theft.
  • Assault (sexual or otherwise) of vulnerable passengers at quiet stations.

Earlier this year I raised these concerns with British Transport Police, who agreed that I had raised some valid concerns and confirmed that revenue protection staff have a statutory obligation to produce identification.

Southern’s Position

I then raised the same concerns with my local train company, Southern.

I suggested introducing the following 2 policies to help prevent crime:

  1. All staff should have their photo IDs out clearly on display whenever they approach passengers, e.g. on a ticket check.
  2. Make it a disciplinary offence for a member of their staff to refuse to show ID when approaching passengers.

Initially their response was that their staff should show ID to anyone when asked.  When I pressed them in more details on this point they then replied that:

  • There is no explicit requirement for a conductor to show ID.
  • Staff should be wearing a name badge.
  • Wearing a “recognised uniform” meets the Railway Byelaws requirement of identification.
  • Showing their ID raises security concerns as staff have the right not to provide their names to the public.

They did indicate that their Head of Trains sees no reason in principle why staff should refuse to show identification.  The implication of that statement seems to be that staff are free to refuse, should they choose to do so.

Purpose of Identification

There are 2 main reasons why ID is important:

  1. Verification: So that you can check that you are dealing with a genuine official.
  2. Accountability: To identify the individual employee, i.e. so you can make a complaint about that individual if you are unhappy with their behaviour.

What Constitutes ID?

Here is a definition that was provided to me (informally) by a magistrate.  You would normally expect ID to include:

  • The name of the company they work for.
  • An up-to-date photograph of the bearer from which they can clearly be recognised.
  • Have the individual’s first + last name.

Why Does Southern’s Position Cause Concern?

Southern’s position on identification of their staff causes concern because:

A “recognised uniform” is not a reliable means of identification:

  • This could, for example, be a jacket with the word Southern on it.   But it may not belong to the person wearing it.    It could have been stolen from the back of a chair where the genuine owner left it on a hot day.
  • During hot weather some Southern conductors were not wearing any recognisable uniform.  Many have just been wearing standard trousers & a pale green shirt, without the Southern logo visible on them.

A name badge is not a reliable means of identification:

  • It does not have a photograph of the staff member to prove the bearer is entitled to wear it.
  • In many cases Southern name badges only have the individual’s first name.  This makes Southern staff potentially unaccountable.  If you have a complaint against “Bob” from Southern – which of the perhaps 30 “Bobs” was it?

Their policy sets up an environment in which criminals can freely operate:

  • Any criminal that can steal or fake a Southern name badge (no photo) and Southern jacket – or even just warn a pale green shirt – would comply with Southern’s “recognised uniform” policy.
  • There is a risk of indoctrinating passengers to feel obliged to present their smart ticket to anyone wearing a pale green shirt or stolen Southern jacket, as a result of which they could be defrauded.
  • Suppose you boarded at a station with no ticket machine and had to buy a ticket en route: are you happy to hand over your credit card to someone who has no ID?

It does not comply with the purpose of identification:

  • Verification: Neither a name badge nor a uniform allow you to verify that the person approaching you is a genuine conductor, as they could be stolen.
  • Accountability: A name badge does not make the individual accountable, even if they do turn out to be genuine.

It does not appear to comply with the letter of the law.  Here is the relevant clause found in Section 24.3 of the Railway Byelaws and Section 25 of TfL’s Railway Byelaws: An authorised person who is exercising any power conferred on him by any of these Byelaws shall produce a form of identification when requested to do so and such identification shall state the name of his employer and shall contain a means of identifying the authorised person.

  • The words “shall produce a form of identification” is clearly not talking about a uniform.
  • A name badge or a uniform does not seem to meet the requirement “shall contain a means of identifying the authorised person”, as a stolen badge/uniform would wrongly identify a criminal as the authorised person.

It flies in the face of police advice to check for ID when approached by an official.  You would (hopefully) not let someone into your home that turned up at your door wearing an official-looking jacket but who refused to show you ID.  So why would you give such a person on a train access to your bank/credit card or the credit & personal data on your smart card?

Why Make It a Disciplinary Offence?

A rail staff member who refuses to show ID is not just breaking the law but there are 2 further adverse effects of their behaviour:

  1. They give the impression to other passengers that they are not entitled to see ID.  This may cause those passengers to become a victim of crime on a later occasion because they feel they cannot ask for ID.
  2. It sends a signal to any potential criminal in earshot that all they have to do is look the part and insist that they do not need to show ID for them to bully passengers into compliance.

I have personally experienced a conductor refusing to show me ID.   When I contacted British Transport Police, they responded: “It is disappointing to read about the inappropriate behaviour of a member of rail staff by refusing to identify himself when requested … the behaviour of this person openly drew attention to potential weaknesses that could be exploited”.

Do Staff Have a Right Not to Provide Their Names?

The Railway Byelaws clearly set out the requirement for identification.  If conductors on trains are exercising their rights under those Byelaws to inspect tickets then they are obliged to identify themselves.  People in official positions are expected to formally identify themselves whether they are a gas meter reader, a police officer or even a magistrate.

Of course, Southern do have a duty of care to their staff.  If they really are concerned about staff safety, then why not put a unique employee number on their photo IDs instead of their name?  That would make them accountable without revealing more personal data than necessary.

I would suggest that the point at which Southern should have considered such issues is when they first bid for the franchise rather than when a customer starts questioning their policy.

In Conclusion

Ensuring that their staff have photo IDs out on display at all times when interacting with passengers would have the following benefits:

  • It is good practice.
  • It helps prevent crime.
  • Staff would be accountable.
  • Passengers would get used to seeing IDs and may be more alert when someone does not have an ID.
  • Passengers would know what a genuine Southern ID looks like – and may spot a fake more easily.

It is hard to understand why Southern seems so reluctant to put in clear measures identify its staff.

If I were running a train company and someone pointed out the potential for crime, I would want to make sure I had done everything possible to protect passengers from those risks.

If, sooner or later, a fake ticket inspector defrauds its passengers (or worse, commits a sexual assault), how will Southern explain to those victims its lack of action to prevent this?  Particularly, when the scope for such crimes was pointed out to them as far back as 2013?

See also: Southern Refuses Passenger Focus Request to Improve Identification of Conductors