Do you have to buy a ticket before you get on a train? Can you buy tickets on trains or from the ‘excess fares’ window at your destination? It may not surprise you to hear that there’s no simple answer to these questions…
It seems to me we’re stuck between two eras in terms of train tickets.
The days of being able to hop on a train and buy a ticket onboard from an Ealing comedy-era guard are certainly long gone. Often the guard isn’t there anymore, and the prices of tickets you can buy, at least for long journeys, are exorbitantly expensive.
Yet the days where we can all just beep in and out of an integrated transport system with our smartcard are some way off, if they ever arrive.
What exactly are the rules?
One of my colleagues recently overheard an irate passenger at a train station the other day. The passenger was cheesed off. She admitted that she’d got on the train without buying a ticket, because queuing to buy the ticket would have made her miss her train.
But she had tried to find a ticket inspector onboard (there wasn’t one) and then presented herself at the ‘excess fares’ window at her destination. Said passenger was not amused to pay a penalty fare on top of buying a full fare ticket.
This prompted us to look into exactly what the rules are about having a ticket before getting on a train. And what happens if you don’t have one?
Ask a simple question, get a complicated answer. The National Rail Conditions of Carriage is the rulebook, but it’s a spirit-sapping 27 pages long – and only gives part of the story.
Too many caveats?
The key responsibility of passengers is to have a valid ticket before getting onboard. But this isn’t true for the open access companies – Grand Central and First Hull Trains.
There are supposed to be notices telling you where you can get on the train without a ticket – does that ring true to you?
That aside, you must get a ticket no matter how long the queue at the ticket office is, according to the conditions in the rulebook. And yet watchdog Passenger Focus contradicts this by advising that if it’s more than five minutes’ wait at peak times and three minutes’ off-peak you can try hopping on board without a ticket – but get staff permission first.
If there isn’t a ticket machine or office or – more likely – the ticket machine is broken, then you can get on without a ticket. In all these circumstances you’re only supposed to pay the fare you would have paid if you’d bought the ticket just before getting on the train.
If it’s a Penalty Fare area then you need to have bought a Permit to Travel from a machine, unless it’s broken of course. Whether ticket machines are broken is supposedly verifiable by train staff, at least in Penalty Fare areas.
Obviously fare revenue is partly what pays for the train network, but does all this seem fair to you? Does any of it surprise you? Or perhaps you’re as confused as me and just hope for a clearer system…
Have you ever been caught for travelling without a train ticket?
No - I always buy a ticket (85%, 448 Votes)
Yes - but I had intended to buy a ticket (7%, 37 Votes)
No - I've been lucky (5%, 26 Votes)
Yes - I was caught fair and square (3%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 529