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's Network SouthEast services 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.
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.
On 11 January 2009, this was further raised to £50 on TfL services (Docklands Light Railway, the Emirates Air Line, London Buses, London Tramlink, London Overground and London Underground), although like many other civil penalties in the UK, a 50% discount is applied for early payments (within 21 days). Since 2 January 2012, all TfL modes have had a penalty fare of £80.
Penalty fares on National Rail services are due to increase to £50 or four times 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 later in 2014. A 50% prompt payment discount will also come into force.
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.
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 can only be 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.
Penalty fares cannot be issued in some circumstances, including: if passengers were unable to purchase a ticket due to faulty ticket machines or closed ticket offices, if warning notices are not displayed correctly, or if the train or station is excluded from a penalty fares scheme.
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).
In Moscow and Moscow oblast penalty fare is 1000 RUB (single fare is 25-40, 90 min is 50 RUB), if not the card's bearer shows a social card, penalty fare is 2500 RUB (Moscow only +3 metro stations). Many other cities increased to 1000 RUB too. Penalty fare does not apply if you enter the metro after 1:00 a.m. (last trains go 1:03 from any terminus station to another, circle line to about 1:20-1:30 to night placement). In Russian Railways penalty fare will be increased to 50 times the 10 km fare increased by the fare he or she would pay from the prevuois station to named station.
While still part of the UK, Scotland has its own legal system, and train services are overseen by a separate government body (Transport Scotland).
First ScotRail, the franchise that operates most of the trains in Scotland, does not issue penalty fares. ScotRail does have the ability to collect a passengers' details and send them a bill for a ticket plus an administration fee, however this is rare in practice. Ticket inspectors are found on most trains, and passengers travelling without a ticket are expected to buy a ticket on the train.
If a passenger had the opportunity to buy a ticket before they boarded the train (i.e. the station had a ticket machine or open ticket office), ScotRail's policy is that the passenger can only buy a full-priced single ticket for their journey. They will not be able to buy cheaper tickets such as cheap-day returns, senior citizen's tickets, or use any kind of Railcard to get a discount.
However, Scotland has many unstaffed train stations that do not have ticket machines, or whose ticket offices are only open part-time. In these cases, the full range of tickets is available on the train.
In England and Wales, holding an expired season ticket counts as travelling without a ticket, and passengers are liable to penalty fares or prosecution. In Scotland, passengers can renew season tickets on the train, but only for a week. Monthly or annual season tickets are only available from staffed stations.
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?
- 2:00 in case of time extention.