Photo: Suki Ferguson

Photo: Suki Ferguson

I travelled the journey from Falmer to London Road in about four minutes, and each minute of that journey cost me £5. Allow me to explain exactly how this happened and why I am now furious.

Everyone knows that feeling you get as you approach the train station and you dread seeing the train pull away just as you arrive. As it happened, I was fine: I checked the monitor and discovered that the train was arriving in about two minutes. I joined the back of the ticket office queue but it became painfully clear that I wouldn’t have a ticket by the time the train arrived. No problem, thought I. All the railway staff know that the ticket machine is broken and has not been replaced, so no-one can blame me for hopping on the train now and paying on the other side. I suspect you’re realising what might have happened.

I boarded the train and sat down. It was exactly six seconds before I was asked for my ticket. I informed the kind uniformed gentleman that I hadn’t had time to get one beforehand and so I was planning on buying one at the other end. He sat next to me and pulled out a wad of papers. I was then informed that I was being issued a Penalty Fare. In case you don’t know, a Penalty Fare is a £20 fine for travelling without a ticket. I told the good man that I hadn’t had a chance to buy one because the train would have left before I got it and the ticket machine was on holiday. Not my problem, the gentleman replied.

The smartly dressed fellow, accompanied by another uniformed chap, got off the train with me at London Road to finish explaining, very calmly, why it was that I was being fined. He told me that he had judged, in his professional opinion, that I was planning to avoid paying the ticket cost by getting off at London Road, and that he had been there at Falmer, and that I was wrong: there was plenty of time to buy a ticket. That there hadn’t even been a queue at all.

‘All the railway staff know that the ticket machine is broken and has not been replaced, so no one can blame me for hopping on the train now and paying on the other side’

Oh. Right. He took my name and address and told me that I could pay the fine at any Southern ticket office. His handsome uniformed colleague kindly told me that I could appeal against the decision by sending a copy of the Penalty Fare Notice along with a letter explaining why I could not produce a valid ticket when asked. This should all be sent to an address in London within 21 days. He recommended I send it recorded delivery. Otherwise it could get lost and I’d be fined again. The two smiled at one another. The two jolly chaps left me with the fine and chortled their way across the road and into the pub opposite, patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Into the pub.

To prevent me from vomiting with rage, I checked the official site to read the guidelines as soon as I could. There is no way to appeal by phone and there are no email addresses associated with the fines company (IPFAS) whatsoever. Their answer to “I’ve been issued a penalty fare. What should I do?” is that you should send them money. Not satisfied with this answer, I’ve dug a little deeper and found that there’s actually nothing anyone can do apart from sending them a letter – something I am not prepared to do when I feel wronged and there should be quicker and easier alternatives available. Even the customer service desks couldn’t care less. The fines are issued by ‘an independent company’. So when my contract killer comes for those two gentlemen, it’s nothing to do with me. The hitman is ‘an independent company’.

I suppose, in the end, the companies win. All writing this will have done (aside from preventing me from actually hiring a contract killer) is scare you into making sure you buy tickets before you travel. I’ve learnt a few things from this experience. Firstly, that the train companies are heartless and evil enterprises and secondly that the smarmy villains that work for them make this world a slightly more unpleasant place to live in.

About the author

The Badger

Leave a Reply

8 Comments

  • I emphasise with your experience and situation, but having worked in the rail industry, to be honest your argument is pretty unfounded.

    It is common knowledge that for at least 5-6 years+ there has been a ‘Penalty Fare’ system introduced on the rail network to combat the huge amount of ticket fraud that takes place. It’s simple:

    If you jump on the train without a ticket and an official ‘Revenue Protection Officer’, (RPO) is onboard and finds you without a ticket for your journey, unless you can prove otherwise, you are most likely going to be issued a twenty pound fine. If you were to board that same train and an RPO is NOT aboard, but a conductor is – then you would have had no problem to purchase a ticket on board and got away with not paying a twenty pound fine.

    Why is this? Well, its because an RPO is the only person officially allowed to issue you with a penalty charge, Conductors cannot. So, it is a little down to luck in that if you bump into an RPO without a valid ticket, then most likely you will have to pay a charge.

    It is simple. There are a whole bucket of signs both on board the train, at stations and on ticket machines clearly stating if you do not have a valid ticket for your journey, then expect to pay up. Even I have been in the same situation as yourself and I paid up and accepted it. Yes it was frustrating and yes I was annoyed – but hey, that was the legal situation and therefore I had no choice but to follow it.

    If you want to be clever, then purchase yourself a ‘Rail Permit’ that is available at every station. Remember those old looking machines either on the ends of platforms or outside the front of rail stations? Stick in at least 5p or 10p and press the button. It will issue you with a little ticket. If you board the train with this ticket, NO RPO can issue you a penalty fare, as the railway byelaws state that you are permitted to travel with that ticket and then purchase one on board. The point is it protects you from the potential RPO who may be on board the train.

    Permit to travel is the only way to protect yourself against an RPO, or by just having a full valid ticket before boarding. In relation to your points regarding sending a letter of appeal – you cannot expect ANY CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS or APPEAL service to just be dealt with on the phone. All complaints usually have to have a letter written and sent to them. Therefore, if you spent the time, you could of easily wrote a letter and sent it to the address that was at the bottom of your penalty fare slip. Complaining that you didn’t want to do it – is just a little lazy I think! If it affected you that much, then write the letter to them, as it is in the principle, no?

    Don’t forget by the way, that RPO’s are measured on performance, just like Traffic Warden’s, so don’t blame them if they get happy when they Penalty Charge – its their job! 😉

    Yes rail companies are expensive, yes they are annoyingly slow, yes they are probably ripping us off, yes they make a packet of money from us for not that great a service at times and yes they can be horrible sometimes in the way they treat us – but you know what?

    To beat them, follow their rules and be a little clever and be one step ahead of them..

  • Advice, don’t wait until getting off, don’t sitdown until you have a ticket, and if possible get on at the same doors as the guard, and ask them as you get n if you can get a ticket (of course only possible if you can see the guard and they are at a set of doors near you, though it helps to stand in the middle of the platform). Otherwise, as soon as you are on the train, find them as quick as possible. If they are no where to be seen then they may be in the rear drivers bit.

  • My 16yo daughter forgot her travelcard one morning on her way to college (and her train line often allows passengers to buy tickets on the train). But on that morning she was confronted by a official who demanded name address etc and issued her with a Penalty Fare £20. My daughter was quite distressed by this.

    I am appealing of course. I’m not going to let LONDONMIDLAND trains rob (and I do mean rob) my daughter of £20 when she has actually pre-paid her journey with a travelcard/photocard!

    LondonMidland trains are actually performing legalised daylight robbery on children and I have told them this (no repsonse yet).

    Did you know that the regulations allow the Penalty-issuing toad on the train to have 5% of the fines he/she issues? The little cowardly shits wouldn’t issue these penalty fares to a group of crunken yobs would they? But they would pick on my daughter because she’s an easy target. How many children are targetted this way daily and their parents pay up the £20 willingly because it appears so official?

    This is the worse side of England.

  • you are all wrong about lots of things. pete did your daughter pay £20 in full there and then? does your 16yo daughter goto college with £20?. no they prob took her name and address and told her the rail company will write and ask for a photocopy od the season ticket. At the end of the day if you paid for cinema tickets and left them at home would you expect the cinema to let you in without your tickets? oh and the person who started this blog, saying

    “So when my contract killer comes for those two gentlemen”

    do you really think threatening the 2 members of that rail company over the internet is a good idea?

  • Peter Brietbart

    ” So when my contract killer comes for those two gentlemen”

    “and secondly that the smarmy villains that work for them make this world a slightly more unpleasant place to live in”

    you seem nice, shame the ” smarmy villains” didnt make a hit on you, maybe next time 😉

  • Actually i had this exact same problem before. I got to the station ten minutes early to pick up my pre-paid ticket but unfortunately there was a uncharacteristically long Que.. with a few people taking quite along time.Despite there being a small maned ticket office customers who had bought their tickets online where told to get it from the one ticket machine. after waiting ten minutes there was still someone in front of me having to buy a ticket from scratch so deciding that it would be unlikely to pick up my reserved ticket in time and when it costs 60+ pounds for the journey you don’t want to miss the train.

    soon after departing the ticket inspector asked for my ticket. I showed him the print out for the ticket and my rail card and explained how i had been trying to collect the ticket at the station but couldn’t because there were quite a few people who couldn’t use the machine. He then informed me that because the machine was working i should have collected my ticket prior to travelling at that he wouldn’t issue it to me on train, despite previously mentioning that he can issue on the train if the ticket machine is reported faulty. The advice i was given was to get off at the next stop and get my ticket issued then but as it was only valid for that train by the time i would have got it the train would have left and i would have had to got a new ticket at an extortionate price.

    Knowing that i had paid for a valid ticket and had my rail card i decided i would stay on the train and sort the problem out at the barriers in paddington. just before arriving at paddington he saw me and called me to the train managers office. Knowing that I had paid for the ticket and had physical evidence showing so, i went with him without a fuss. At the office he said the charge was a 120 pound fine (100pounds more than the original ticket) and he would need my details. At this time i was pretty annoyed with the stupidity of the whole thing and found it hard not to get angry. In the end i decided rather than create a fuss i would try to explain the situation to him again as politely as i could putting it in such a way that he could imagine himself being in the same situation. After 5 minutes of talking like this and being as courteous as possible he agreed to drop any fines and just told me to watch out next time as they only drop the fines at their discretion.

    In the end it turned out ok but it made an hour thirty trip a lot more stressful that it needed to be. I think the best advice in this situations is don’t get angry or agitated and start taking it out on the ticket inspector. Let them know you know that there just doing that job and just try and explain the situation calmly letting them imagine what it is like in your position. One other thing i did was complain how the station had inadequately equipped given the number of commuters that use it and that i wanted to put through a complaint about this to first great westerns management. Any one in the service (not sure if trains count as this) industry will soften up as soon as you start talking about making formal complaints. It can often be more work for them as sometimes they need to fill out complaint forms. You could also ask the ticket inspector that you want to make a written complaint about them if you feel they are being especially unreasonable and potentially threatening. However it is better to do this as a last resort as they are more likely to let certain things go if your polite and sometimes compliment them (can be difficult to find something to compliment though). The sad thing is though if your riding the train in sports wear or scruffy clothes it can be a lot harder to argue that your not trying to get a free ride.

    But once again the golden rule is no matter how unjust your situation is and unhelpful the train staff are never loose your temper at them because as soon as you do this they wont be interested in helping you with your problem.

  • Can sympathise with many of you on this. i think the problems in this area stem because there are usually a wide range of plausible reasons people may not have a ticket when confronted by an RPO. if you compare it to being caught dropping a bit of litter, or chatting on your phone while driving (agree it is dangerous) you’re probably not going to have a decent excuse for the police or relevant authorities.

    We’ve seen a lot of valid reasons above for people being caught without a ticket, mainly people forgetting a pre purchased ticket on a day they have the pleasure of meeting an RPO.

    The fact the RPO’s make a commission on dealt fines is sickening really. if the RPO’s were employees of the train companies themselves you can bet they wouldn’t be able to operate (for lots of ethical and legal reasons) in this way. it also perfectly highlights the mentality of the Revenue Protection companies who, for all their level of customer service and fairness, I can only assume must operate out of a PortaCabin in a car park somewhere…

    From all my experience my advice would be:
    -IT IS ONLY REALLY WORTH TRYING TO APPEAL, IF YOU DID HAVE A VALID TICKET FOR THE RESPECTIVE JOURNEY (excuses such as long ticket queues and forgoing a ticket to catch an earlier train, will be thrown out immediately because they are covered by their policy stating “You must purchase a ticket at the first available opportunity and before you board the train if possible”)

    -THINK VERY CAREFULLY ABOUT “FAKE DETAILING” OR RUNNING FROM RPO’s (more and more RPO patrols are being accompanied by Transport Police officers.

    The examples of these officers i have come across is like a Police officer/RPO combined. the same rock hard mentality as RPO’s but with a lot more authority.

    AND REMEMBER police do not always have to be in uniform, where as RPO’s must always have their credentials to hand. Getting caught running by the BTP turns a £20 fine into a potential £1000 court summons so BE WARY!)

    -WHEN IT COMES TO PROBLEMS WITH TICKET MACHINES OR CLOSED TICKET OFFICES THEN IT GETS TRICKY (strictly speaking you should have a valid excuse if you physically couldn’t buy a ticket before boarding.

    however the RPO’s are not part of the train companies and must get very bored of listening to all the different excuses about ticket machines that are broken. train companies will usually notify their staff of broken machines so they can get a guard on the train ASAP so as not to miss out on a single fare but do not be surprised if an RPO raises his eyebrows and ignores you when you start talking about broken machines)

    RPO’s will usually issue fines no questions asked if you’re without a ticket. it reflects well on their “performance” and for all they care, if you were in the right, you can take it up with their employers, which they know is not an enjoyable or worthwhile experience.

    On a side note the one only fine I was ever issued was given to me by a man who (no prejudice or insult intended whatsoever) must have been a visitor to the country who had got himself a job as an RPO. i had no problems with this person except his grasp of the English language was truly abysmal. in short he could barely speak it.

    he took 3 attempts to write my name and address, getting it wrong each time and then passing his pad to me so i could write it out for him. were it not for the presence of the British Transport Police I would of simply told him where he could stick his pad and walked off. having 20 pounds demanded from me by a man with that level of English was a very infuriating experience…

    SO IF YOU DO EVER FIND YOURSELF WITHOUT A TICKET ON A TRAIN, BE VERY WARY, KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED AND IF YOU HAVE A CHANCE, GET OFF THE TRAIN BEFORE AN RPO FINDS YOU…WITHOUT A TICKET YOU CAN ALWAYS BE A FEW SEATS AWAY FROM A FINE!

  • Dont ever, ever give these people your name !, simple. They have no power to arrest you or force you to give your details, equally if you are on a train they cant remove you until at least the next station so you are ahead of the game already , ha , ha.
    The other alternative is to by a ticket before hand of course, try online. I just tried to get a refund of a £40 fair that I could not use due to illness, they will refund me £11 the miserable fuckers.