This post is a little 'off-topic', so I'll keep it brief. I travel a lot by South West Trains [SWT}. Peak train fares in Britain are the highest in Europe (source: Campaign For Better Transport) and it pains me to think that I spend just over £4k a year of my hard-earned cash getting around by train.
And let's be honest, the service is patchy at best. Few can forget how the SWT network fell apart when snow fell in London and the South East in February 2009. And so I felt pretty cheesed-off to be given a £60 Penalty Fare Notice at Southampton station for not having a ticket recently.
A) The story:
I'll keep it brief, but I successfully appealed against the penalty fare notice. The reason being is there were no facilities to buy a ticket where I boarded the train at Woking (the ticket office was being refurbished) and I couldn't buy a ticket on the train (the ticket collector's machine was broken).
But it took bloody ages to sort out and involved a trawl through pages of rules and regulation about where and when penalty fares can be issued.
B) Receiving a penalty fare notice:
South West Trains takes an overly-aggressive stance on fare evaders in my opinion. It's embarrassing and, even, intimidating to be issued with a penalty fare on a packed train, when you
may have just accidentally lost your ticket or left a rail card at home. But the general philosophy of
South West Trains appears to be guilty until proven innocent, when it comes to dealing with its customers.
But a procedure exists for how penalty fare notices are issued and you need to be aware of your rights.
A penalty fare on South West Trains will be £20 or twice the full single
fare to the next station at which
your train stops. You will also have to pay the standard ticket cost, if you wish to continue your journey (they need to sell you the ticket that you should be in possession of). As the South West Trains sites states if you wish to appeal against a penalty fare you must do so in writing within 21 days of the issue date and send this to:
Independent Appeals Service, PO BOX 212, Petersfield, GU32 2BQ
Alternatively you can appeal online at:
Independent Revenue Collection and Support (IRCAS) www.ircas.co.uk.
This appeals service is independent of train operators. Indeed, SWT (and other train operators) has to pay IRCAS to investigate appeals (I think it's around about £8 per an appeal) regardless of the outcome. It is generally worth appealing, as you have nothing to lose.
C) What you need to pay when you get a penalty fare
As mentioned, there are two elements the penalty fare (a minimum of £20) and the cost of the ticket you should have bought. You do not have to pay the penalty fare there and then (and you should not do so). You have 21 days to do this (or make an appeal).
But you must pay the standard cost of the ticket to where you are going (or have come from). If you don't do this, then they will probably call the police. This article assumes (obviously) that you are not deliberately fare-dodging.
D) Appealing against a penalty fare notice from South West Trains
To succeed, you need to read two documents:
Don't bother reading the South West Train's summary leaflet of Penalty Fares Rules 2002. There are many potential ways you can appeal that this document seems to miss out.
For your claim to be successful, you will need to appeal on the grounds that a penalty fare was not issued according to the rules set by the Department For Trade & Industry- Penalty Fares Rules 2002. You need to be very specific about how one (or more) of these rules were broken or were not applied.
Incidently, I didn't find it at all easy to get hold of the full Penalty Fares Rules 2002 document. Staff at the SWT station didn't seem to know much about it and they should be able to supply a copy.
A lot of appeals are won on technicalities, so take note of the following:
A) Check display of warning notices:
Penalty Fare Rules: "An operator who wants to charge penalty fares must make sure that a
warning notice is displayed at each entrance of each compulsory ticket
area……be noticeable, easy to read and easy to distinguish from other notices and from the general surroundings"
The signs warning of a 'compulsory ticket area' are big and yellow. You should not be able to board a train without seeing one. So if you can't see them,then that is a grounds for an appeal. In my case, where I boarded, there was a temporary entrance to the station and it would have been possible to board a train without seeing one of the signs.
SRA Penalty Rules 2002 states that penalty warning signs should be "so that at least one notice can be easily seen by anyone joining a penalty fares train" – so that's quite strict!
B) On-board ticket inspector can't issue penalty fares
Penalty Fare Rules: "No-one except an authorised collector may collect penalty fares on behalf of any operator….Each authorised collector must carry, and produce if asked,
identification which proves that he or she is authorised to collect
penalty fares on behalf of a specific operator or operators."
– the average ticket inspector you find on just about any train can't issue penalty fares (they need to be a revenue protection officer, I think that is the correct terminology). However, weirdly, ticket inspectors can sell you a ticket if you don't have one. That's your 'get out a jail' free card. If you jump on a train without a ticket, make sure you go and find a ticeket inspector (more on this later!).
C) Do facilities exist for you to buy a ticket?
Penalty Fare Rules state that a penalty can not be charged when: "There were no facilities available to issue the appropriate ticket or
other authority for the journey which that person wanted to make."
-Interpretation: If a ticket office is closed or there are less windows open than normal or you have to wait in line, you may have a case to appeal. Ticket offices are often closed at non-peak times, but there must be a way of buying a ticket with cash AND buy it using credit/debit card. But what is a reasonable amount of time to queue to buy a ticket? This is where it gets vague….
SRA Penalty Fares May 2002 states: "Where penalty fares apply, passengers must allow enough time to buy a ticket, including time to queue, if necessary. Under normal circumstances, passengers may still be charged a penalty are if they join a train without a ticket, even if there was a queue at the ticket office or ticket machine.
"However, we expect operators to provide enough ticket windows, ticket machines
and staff at staffed stations to meet the queueing standards set out in the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement and their Passenger’s Charter under normal circumstances. This standard is normally five minutes at peak times and three minutes at other times."
D) You thought you could buy a ticket on the train – yes, you can!
One of the weirdest rules, is the fact that you can buy train tickets on-board a train from the ticket inspector. Indeed on-board ticket inspectors get a small bonus (around 5%) when selling tickets. You may not be able to get your normal rail card discounts, but they can normally sell you standard tickets.
Even the SRA seems to think this a bit strange: "The basic principle of any penalty fares scheme is that passengers must buy their tickets before they get on their train. If passengers find that they can buy their ticket on the train it undermines this message".
This confusion needs to be cleared-up. People will board trains without tickets if they know they can probably buy one on-board. Simple as that!
E) If the train service is disrupted that is grounds for an appeal.
Authorised collectors have discretion to not to issue penalty fare notices. This would apply to those with mobility problems, the elderly or heavily pregnant and "all passengers when the train service is severely disrupted." Special rules apply to children as well.
In short, there are many ways to appeal, but you need to read the rules carefully. It's actually well worth making an appeal as you have nothing to lose.
Also, if you think that the private train operators are the biggest thieves around (as opposed to innocent passengers), why not sign up to Campaign For Better Transport.
(great advise about what to do if you queue to buy a ticket or windows are closed)