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On the United Kingdom's public transport systems, a penalty fare is a special fare charged at a higher than normal price because the purchaser did not comply with the normal ticket purchasing rules. Typically penalty fares are incurred by passengers failing to purchase a ticket before travelling or by purchasing an incorrect ticket which does not cover their whole journey.
Penalty fares are a civil debt not a fine and a person whose penalty fare is paid is not considered to have committed a criminal offence. Penalty fares are used to discourage casual fare evasion and disregard for the ticketing rules without resorting to (in the case of railways in Great Britain) the drastic and costly step of prosecution under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 or other laws dealing with theft and fraud. More egregious fare avoiders can still be prosecuted and fined or imprisoned if convicted.
History and legal status
Penalty fares were first introduced on British Rail Network SouthEast under the British Rail (Penalty Fares) Act 1989. Over time they have been extended to cover many parts of the National Rail network.
The London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Act 1992 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 allows Transport for London to charge penalty fares under similar but not identical rules. TfL's penalty fares scheme covers buses and trams as well as the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway.
Initially the maximum penalty fare was set at £10 (£5 on buses & trams) or twice the full single fare to the next station (whichever is the highest) in addition to the full single fare for the rest of the journey. This was later raised to £20 for all transport modes. As of 11 January 2009, this has been further raised to £50 (on London Underground/Overground/Buses/Trams and DLR only), although like many other civil penalties in the UK, a 50% discount is applied for early payments.
Penalty fares on the National Rail network are legally based on section 130 of the Railways Act 1993. The rules which govern the application of penalty fares are the Penalty Fares Rules 2002. Under these rules any passenger found to be without a valid ticket can be issued a penalty fare irrespective of whether it was their intent to travel without paying. The few exceptions to this include the inability of the passenger to buy a ticket due to no services being available at the boarding station.
The legality of penalty fares on the National Rail network has been questioned as they are not legally enforcable without a court order.
Penalty Fares on buses and trains in Northern Ireland are applied in accordance with regulations made under the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.
Penalty fares are typically issued by Revenue Protection Inspectors either on the trains or by staff at the destination station, some of whom receive commission on each penalty issued. Passengers unable to pay the fare on the spot are allowed to pay within 21 days provided they supply their name and address.
Travellers issued with penalty fares which they believe to be unfair may appeal the fare within 21 days to an appeal service, which varies depending on the mode of transport. For National Rail services this is the Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service which is run by Southeastern Trains Ltd. Passenger Focus have questioned whether an appeals body funded by a train company can be truly independent.
Comparison with other countries
The concept of penalty fares is also known in other countries.
Penalty fare schemes in local transport (suburban rail, buses, underground trains) are administered by local transport authorities (Verkehrsverbund). The penalty fare is usually € 40 or twice the ticket price (whichever is higher).
Germany's principal InterCity TOC, DB Fernverkehr, does not operate a penalty fare scheme. Instead it has ticket inspectors on all trains.
The penalty fare on the Budapest Metro is set at 16,000 Forint (8,000 if paid on the spot).
Switzerland operates a similar system to Germany. Long-distance trains have a ticket inspector on board who checks all tickets. Local trains within a Tarifverbunde (local zone fare systems) use penalty fares with random checks. For example, in North-West Switzerland the penalty fare (as of 2012) is CHF 100, but the monthly season costs CHF 75. Even with relatively infrequent ticket checks there is a financial incentive to remain legal.
- Millward, David (2010-01-29). "Ticket collectors getting commission on penalty fares". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Office of Rail Regulation: I have been issued with a penalty fares notice by a train company for not being in possession of a valid ticket, and have a complaint. Whom should I contact?