A recent tweet by Southern Rail revealed a need for them to get some better training on what the Penalty Fare Rules actually say.
The background was that a passenger had been forced to board without a ticket, as the ticket machine was broken. He was told that he actively needed to seek to purchase on board.
Poor Customer Service
At best this shows poor customer service. If Southern fails to provide working facilities for passengers to buy a ticket, then it is not up to the passenger to have to go hunting for a conductor (and they have admitted not all services have a conductor). It is up to any conductor on board to be aware of broken machines and also stations without any ticket machines, and pass through the train to sell tickets to passengers.
The passenger may buy a ticket:
- From a conductor or revenue protection officer (posh name for a ticket inspector).
- At an interchange station, if there is time. On many connections there is not sufficient time or machines / ticket offices are outside the barriers.
- At their destination.
The Rules Prohibit Penalty Fares Under These Circumstances
Section 7.3 of the Penalty Fare Rules states that a ticket inspector must not charge a penalty fare if there were no facilities available buy a ticket or permit to travel at the station where you joined the relevant train.
Section 2.o makes clear that the station where you boarded means the original station where you started your journey, not a station where you later changed trains.
It’s not at the whim of the ticket inspector. If there was no open ticket office, no working ticket machine and no working permit to travel machine where you boarded the train, they are not allowed to issue a penalty fare.
The train company must have a system in place to allow ticket inspectors to check that machines are working properly. Instructions given to ticket inspectors must tell them that if they are not sure whether the machines are working properly, they must give passengers the benefit of the doubt (section 4.15 of the Penalty Fare Policy document)
Protecting Yourself Against Unjust Penalty Fares
Unfortunately ticket inspectors working for Southern – and some other train companies – have a pretty dodgy bonus scheme where they get to keep up to 5% of whatever they collect. This means that some may ignore the rules above and try to get away with charging you a penalty fare even though they know the rules do not permit it – actually knowingly issuing a charge that is forbidden under the rules for personal gain constitutes fraud!
Some inspectors will reportedly resort to threatening that, if you don’t pay there and then, it will get worse and you’ll go to court. That is blackmail or obtaining money with menaces.
So, here are a few tips to help protect yourself:
- Obviously, get a ticket or permit to travel if you can.
- If you cannot buy either a ticket or permit to travel, photograph any broken machine or closed ticket office as evidence so you can prove that there was no means to pay.
- If an inspector tries to issue a penalty fare, show them the photo to prove the machine was broken and remind them of the above rules & that penalty fares must not be charged under these circumstances.
- Do ask to buy the ticket from them. You have to buy the ticket anyway and asking to do so helps remove any suspicion that you are fare dodging (which is a criminal offence).
- If they persist:
- Check and note down their ID. Only authorised staff can issue penalty fares and they are obliged to show you their photo ID and a special “authorisation to collect” document and allow you to note down the details (section 5.3 & 5.4 of the Penalty Fare Rules).
- You are not obliged to pay the penalty fare straight away. You have 21 days to either appeal or pay up, so put the appeal in as soon as you get home. Include a copy of the photo as evidence for the appeal.
- If you are not paying immediately, then you must give them your name and address. The inspector is not entitled to any item of your personal data other than name and address. It is best to write down these details for them rather than saying them out loud, so other passengers do not have access to your personal data. You may wish to remind the inspector of their responsibilities regarding your personal data under the Data Protection Act.
- They must tell you the reason why you are being issued with a penalty fare and give you a copy of the paperwork.
- Some inspectors do not like being reminded of the rules. If the inspector refuses to comply with the rules, e.g. refuses to show you ID or demands you leave the train because you have challenged them on the points above, then you may wish to record your conversation (smartphones can do this) so you have evidence of what was said. If they exhibit threatening behaviour (yes, I have seen this from train staff!), call the police as this is a criminal offence.