A little while ago Consumer Lookout drew attention to the lack of ticket machines at some local stations and how this could lead to passengers being unfairly charged penalty fares.
In particular, I drew attention to the fact that some conductors and penalty fare officers seemed to think that in such circumstances it was up to passengers to go hunting for the conductor to buy a ticket.
So, Passenger Focus and I both asked Southern the following question but failed to get a clear answer:
Where Southern has failed to provide passengers with the means to purchase tickets before boarding the train, do they expect those passengers to have to make their way through the train to find the conductor?
I also wrote to Southern again to give them a further chance to respond on this matter. They did respond – and to be clear: the delay in publishing this is on my side. Once again, they have not actually directly answered the question but they have indicated that:
- They have a “buy before you board” policy but discretion can be applied where there are no means to buy a ticket the station.
- Normally, customers would be expected to buy a ticket from the conductor on board.
- Some trains do not have conductors, so passengers should buy a ticket at their earliest opportunity or their destination.
- Customers who are unable to seek out the conductor, e.g. due to disability, can expect to receive discretion and pay at the destination station.
- This discretion would not automatically be applied due to age. It would have to be clear it would be unreasonable to expect the passenger to walk through the train to find the conductor.
- Passengers are required to make a reasonable effort to buy a ticket from the conductor (when available), at a station change or at their destination.
This does seem to very strongly imply that having failed to provide the facilities for passengers to buy a ticket before boarding the train Southern then expect their customers to have to go searching for the conductor to buy a ticket, rather than taking a seat and expecting the conductor to pass through the train to sell them a ticket as part of Southern’s customer service.
It also implies that passengers who do not do so may well not receive discretion, i.e. may end up paying a penalty fare.
So, what are the problems with this…?
The Policy Is Not Clearly Set Out
If it really is Southern’s policy that passengers who have to board without a ticket through no fault of their own must hunt up and down the train for a conductor (even though they admit that there is no conductor on some trains!), why is this not clearly stated?
- At the stations it applies to. There are certainly no such notices at my local station Bishopstone.
- On their website.
This is Dreadful Customer Service
In terms of customer service this absolutely stinks. It adds insult to injury to first refuse to spend the approximately £20K per unit to install ticket machines at these stations and then expect all but their most disabled customers to go hunting for a conductor:
- Never mind if you are an 80 year old just trying to travel somewhere nice in your retirement. If you look fit enough to walk, off you must go through the carriages to try and find the conductor. Train rattling from side-to-side over points? That’s your problem: if a penalty fare officer catches you without a ticket then you’re in trouble, so you’d better risk losing your balance and having a fall if you don’t want to pay a fine.
- Do you have heavy cases you are taking to the airport? You can’t leave them unattended, as you might cause a bomb scare. You’d better drag them through carriage after carriage hunting that elusive conductor so that you can buy your ticket. Got to the end of the train. Back you go to where you started … and then through the rest of the carriages in the other direction in case the conductor is there. Still can’t find him/her? Then I suppose you’d better knock on the door at the back of the train, in case the conductor’s hiding in the private section at the end.
- Are you a parent accompanying children? Well they’re going to have to go walk through the train. I guess you’d better turn it into a little game of “hunt the conductor”.
Hang On, Don’t the Penalty Fare Rules Forbid This?
Now, I appreciate I don’t have legal training but I can read English. The Penalty Fare Rules (PFR) appear to quite clearly prohibit companies from charging penalty fares where there are no facilities to buy a ticket at the station.
- Section 7.3 of the PFR states: “An authorised collector must not charge a penalty fare … if any of the following circumstances applied at the station where the person joined the relevant train.
a There were no facilities available to issue the appropriate ticket or other authority for the journey which that person wanted to make…” [Emphasis mine.]
- The 2.o of the PFR makes it clear that if you change trains en route, then 7.3 above applies to the station where you originally boarded. It does not mean the station where you changed trains.
- Sections 17 & 18 of the Railway Byelaws makes it a breach of the law for someone to be on board a train without a ticket but both sections have clauses (17.3.1 and 18.3.1 respectively) making it clear that this does not apply if: “there were no facilities in working order for the issue or validation of any ticket at the time when, and the station where, he began his journey;”
So, if Southern are suggesting their staff would charge a penalty fare where passengers boarded at a station without facilities to buy a ticket – regardless of whether or not they looked for a conductor – it would appear that this may be in breach of the law. Given that Penalty Fare Officers (PFO) will be trained in the relevant rules & laws and will know these exemptions, it also raises the question of whether a PFO issuing a penalty fare in these circumstances might be committing fraud?
Passengers May Have to Hand Over Money to People Who Refuse to Show ID
I have previously reported how Southern refuses to make conductors show identification with a photo from which they may clearly be recognised, despite section 24.3 of the Railway Byelaws which makes it clear that they must show identification.
Instead Southern tries to pass off a name badge (with just first name) and “recognised uniform” (whatever that is) as ID. These items do not, in my view, constitute ID for the simple reason that they do not identify the individual. They neither make them accountable (which “Bob” were you dealing with?) nor do they have a photo to show he/she is the legitimate bearer. This policy makes it pretty easy for criminals to pose as conductors.
Making passengers buy tickets from a conductor who may refuse to show ID exposes those passengers to the risk of fraud. In a previous post I exposed how easy it would be for a criminal to pose as a conductor. If you have to hand your cash, or worse … credit card, over to anyone in a pale green shirt + something that might be a Southern name badge, then you could be giving your money to a fraudster.
You May Wish to Consider…
- Making sure you have proof of where you boarded (see my tips on avoiding & dealing with unfair penalty fares).
- Making sure you see and note down the ID of anyone who approaches you claiming to be a Penalty Fare Officer before giving out any personal data such as your name and address.
- Disputing any penalty fare charged if you boarded at a station without facilities to buy a ticket.
- If you have shown a PFO proof that you boarded at a station without facilities and they still insist on charging a penalty fare, then you may wish to call the police to the train on the basis that this could be considered fraud.
- Making sure you see ID from anyone claiming to be a conductor before handing over money to buy a ticket.
- Calling the police to the train if anyone claiming to be an official refuses to show you clear identification.