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Perils of TOCs’ ‘privatised justice’ for passengers with wrong tickets

Passengers face inconsistent treatment when they are unable to produce a valid ticket when asked, according to research from Passenger Focus, with consequences ranging from no action, to fines and even criminal prosecution.

Passenger Focus is calling for the introduction of a code of practice, setting out clear and consistent guidelines on how these passengers should be dealt with, and says people should only face prosecution when there is proof of intent to defraud or to fare dodge, rather than in cases of simple mistakes when the wrong ticket has been bought, for example.

Greater flexibility when a passenger can prove they have bought a valid ticket but cannot produce it (or all its parts) when asked and greater transparency on how many penalties are issued, for what and how many appeals are upheld or overturned, would also improve this process.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said: “No one is in favour of fare dodgers. However, passengers deserve a fair hearing. If they have forgotten their railcard, lost one of their tickets but have proof of purchase or have been unable to pick up booked tickets they should be given a second chance. Passengers, when boarding a train, are entering a minefield of rules and regulations, some dating back to Victorian times.

“Any form of privatised justice like this must be administered according to clear guidelines, be accountable, give passengers a fair hearing and not assume everyone is guilty. Train companies cannot continue to treat some of their customers like this – ‘one strike and you are out’ is simply not fair.”

Rail minister Norman Baker said: “Passengers have a right for the rules to be consistently applied across all operators. It is worrying if Passenger Focus has found that this is not case. It is in the interests of train operating companies that passengers are confident in what they are buying.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said: “We recognise the concerns raised by the report and are already working on an industry-wide code of practice that will set out how operators deal with fare dodgers and where discretion can be shown for passengers who have made an honest mistake.

“Train companies need to take a firm but fair approach to fare dodging because unfortunately there will always be people who try to get away without paying. The overwhelming majority of the three million people who travel by train every day get the right ticket for their journey with no problems whatsoever.”

The full report can be downloaded from

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