Are train penalty fares a fair penalty?
Ever been fined for not having the right train ticket? A recent report from Passenger Focus highlights how easy it can be to make a mistake, and slams the ‘minefield’ of rules which can cause stress and confusion.
This weekend I was travelling on the London Overground when the ticket inspectors came on.
One lady immediately panicked, as she couldn’t find the ticket she’d bought for the journey.
She pleaded with inspectors not to give her a fine, and produced the receipt showing she’d bought a ticket from a machine just five minutes ago.
Luckily for her, the inspectors were in a good mood and simply told her to be more careful. ‘Don’t worry – I believe you’ assured the friendly attendant, before moving on to check other tickets. But sometimes people aren’t so lucky.
All change please
Another time I had failed to buy a ticket, as there was a huge queue at the station booth and the one and only ticket machine was broken. I was running late for work so I hopped on a train to Liverpool Street, knowing that I’d be able to buy a ticket from the guards when I got there as I (and many of my fellow commuters) had done before.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that selling these tickets are ‘at the guard’s discretion’ – at least that was what the day’s less than helpful guard told me. He informed me that his colleagues shouldn’t have let me (or other commuters) buy tickets further down the line, and hit me with a £20 fine. I was not best pleased.
Passenger Focus has said that passengers are facing a ‘minefield of rules and regulations’ – I’m inclined to agree. I get as annoyed with fare-dodgers as anyone else, but I think the train system is now so complex that it’s catching honest people who just don’t know the rules.
All aboard the Confusion Express
If the ticket machine’s broken, can you still board? I know some stations have ‘permit to travel’ machines, but when should you buy one? Is it possible to buy a ticket from the on-board guard, or not? Or if (in my Liverpool Street example) the machine’s broken and there’s no on-board guard, then should we just resign ourselves to long queues?
Passenger Focus found lots of different examples of people getting fined because they weren’t sure of the rules. One elderly couple was issued with a £239 unpaid fares notice, because they boarded an earlier train to the one they had tickets for. They didn’t realise that they’d get the penalty – one of them had fallen and was in pain, so they were keen to get home faster.
The main thing that bothers me about this is the question of reasonableness – where is the admission that fallible humans sometimes make mistakes?
I’ve often sat on the train listening to a foreign tourist, young student or elderly passenger pleading with a guard over a penalty fine. The main refrain? ‘I’m sorry – I just didn’t know.’ If train companies are going to insist on so many rules, the least they can do is make them clear enough that everyone can understand them.
What do you think about train ticket rules?
Both of the above (76%, 142 Votes)
They should be made much simpler (14%, 27 Votes)
They should be communicated much better (5%, 10 Votes)
I think they're already perfectly understandable (5%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 187
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