A caller on BBC Radio Sussex this morning had a cautionary tale for rail passengers.
She & her family had bought discounted return tickets that included travel on the underground. When they reached the ticket barrier in London the automated gates would not let them through. A staff member asked to see her railcard, which she had left behind. She showed him a picture of the railcard on her smartphone along with the receipts but he refused to let her through.
Instead he took the tickets off her, as they were not valid without the railcard, and issued a penalty fare. This meant they had to fork out for underground tickets and the price of the return journey, boosting the cost of the trip from around £30 to over £200.
Technically, the staff member – presumably a Revenue Protection Officer (RPO), if a penalty fare was charged – is right: Section 14 of the National Terms & Conditions of Carriage makes clear that you must carry a railcard with you when using a discounted ticket. But, given she had evidence with her that she owned a valid railcard, it seems entirely inappropriate for this official to have either charged the penalty fare or confiscated the tickets. Penalty fares are designed to punish fare dodgers, which this woman clearly was not, given that she had bought tickets and could provide evidence that she owned a valid railcard.
Southern has agreed to discuss the case with the lady in question, so perhaps she will get a resolution from them.
The question is why did this RPO think it appropriate to behave the way he did?
- Is it that he lacks compassion or basic understanding for a fellow human being, who simply forgot to bring their railcard with them?
- Was he perhaps just in a bad mood? And should fairness depend on someone’s mood?
- As Southern RPOs apparently earn commission on penalty fares they issue as well as tickets they issue, is it possible that his attention was firmly fixed on his payslip?
Our politicians need to step up to the plate, introducing new rules that work for passengers rather than rail companies or individuals who work for them. After all, we taxpayers still foot a lot of the bill for the railways. Safeguards could include:
- Where there is reasonable proof at the time that someone has a railcard, ensuring penalty fares must not be issued and tickets must not be confiscated.
- Forcing rail companies to refund penalty fares, if the passenger can retrospectively prove they had a valid railcard.
- Keeping a central database of railcard holders to which RPOs have access, so that if you forget your railcard (and many people do once in a while) all you need is proof of identity so they can check you have one.
- Banning financial incentives for revenue protection officers.
- Creating a regulator to monitor and curtail behaviour of RPOs and train operating companies, with the power to issue financial penalties and implement disciplinary measures, as appropriate.
In the meantime, while the rules remain unfair, don’t forget your railcard or it could cost you … a lot!!