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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.
- 1 National Rail Services in Great Britain
- 2 Transport For London Services
- 3 Northern Ireland
- 4 Scotland
- 5 Criticisms
- 6 Comparison with other countries
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
National Rail Services in Great Britain
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. Initially the penalty fare was set at £10 or twice the full single fare to the next station (whichever was higher) in addition to the full single fare for the rest of the journey. This was later raised to £20.
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.
Penalty fares can only be issued by Authorised Collectors, commonly known as Revenue Protection Inspectors (RPIs), either on the train or at the destination station. Some RPIs receive commission on each penalty issued. RPIs are different from regular train conductors, who cannot issue penalty fares. Passengers unable to pay the fare on the spot are allowed to pay within 21 days. It is a legal requirement to provide your Name and Address when a Penalty Fare is issued.
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.
Compulsory Ticket Areas
Some penalty fares schemes include stations with Compulsory Ticket Areas (CTAs), in which people without valid tickets or other authorities may be charged a penalty fare even if they have not travelled and if they do not intend to travel.
Transport For London Services
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 to those on National Rail services.
Initially, the maximum penalty fare was set at £10 (£5 on buses and trams) or twice the full single fare to the next station (whichever is higher) in addition to the full single fare for the rest of the journey. It was later raised to £20 for all transport modes.
On 11 January 2009, it 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 buses and trains in Northern Ireland are applied in accordance with regulations made under the Transport Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.
While still part of the UK, Scotland has its own legal system, and train services are overseen by a separate government body (Transport Scotland).
Abellio ScotRail, the franchise that operates most of the trains in Scotland, does not issue penalty fares. ScotRail may collect details and send a bill for a ticket, plus an administration fee, but it rarely does. 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 (the station had a ticket machine or open ticket office), ScotRail's policy is that the passenger must buy a full-priced single ticket for their journey and not 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 with ticket offices sometimes closed. Then, 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 available only from staffed stations.
- There has been insufficient information about penalty fares schemes at stations and on websites. Despite some improvements, the information provision is still variable.
- Rail companies comment generally that posters at stations often go unnoticed by passengers, yet they may rely on these to announce the existence of penalty fares schemes. More effective ways of conveying the information, such as on Customer Information screens (CIS), are not always used. CIS displays may tell the company that runs your train, whether it is on time, what catering facilities it has, where first class seating is located but not that penalties apply without a valid ticket.
- Passenger Focus observes that "Posters that are a critical part of the penalty-fares system can be ‘lost’ when displayed with other posters. They are also sometimes positioned a short distance from the station entry points, or angled in a way that loses impact".
- The requirement to buy a ticket before boarding a train may not be entirely obvious to those are unfamiliar with the railway and perhaps accustomed to paying onboard other forms of transport, especially if warning notices are inadequate.
- Penalty fares further complicate an already complex system of fares and penalties, and as not all TOCs have penalty fares schemes, they mean that ticketless passengers are treated differently according to which trains they are on. There are examples of trains run by different companies operating over the same stretch of route but having different policies in place for ticketless passengers.
- The penalties are sometimes disproportionate to the offence and can amount to hundreds of pounds on long-distance routes because of the doubled cost to the next station, as calculated under the rules.
- Penalty fares can be issued even if the train company has suffered no financial loss as a result of the passenger's mistake: if an invalid ticket of the same value is held.
- Penalty fares schemes as currently operated may not sufficiently differentiate between passengers who make honest mistakes and those intending to evade fares.
- Lack of consistency since milar errors by passengers can result in very different outcomes: perhaps no penalty or maybe a penalty fare or prosecution depending on the TOC's policy and the discretion of the inspectors. There are no national guidelines to ensure consistency, and there are criticisms about shortcomings in the training of staff.
- There is usually a difference in treatment of passengers who forget their season tickets compared to those who forget their railcards. The former group are often allowed to buy another ticket and then claim a refund later upon presentation of their season ticket. However, the latter group are liable to penalty fares.
- Discretion is not always being used correctly despite being a specific requirement of penalty fares schemes. There are, for example, cases of disabled people penalty fares when clearly it should not have happened.
- There have been problems with buying and collecting tickets. Some ticket machines do not display basic information about restrictions, and there have been ticket-printing problems leading to penalty fares.
- Queuing times for tickets, at some larger regional stations, were regularly being breached when Passenger Focus undertook a study in 2010.
- During appeals, administration fees are sometimes added before the outcome of the appeal.
- Passenger Focus questioned whether an appeals body funded by a train company can be truly independent.
- There have been problems for people trying to appeal online, with the delays resulting in a penalty fare.
- There is a lack of transparency about how many penalties are issued and how many appeals allowed but no regular independent checks on the appeal bodies.
- The use of threats of prosecution under Railway Bylaw 18 to chase the civil debts of penalty fares has been criticised by Passenger Focus, which believes that the power given to the industry is being misused in some instances.
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 €60 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 Oblast, the penalty fare is 1000 rubles. On railways, the penalty fare will be increased to fifty times the 10 km fare, plus the fare from the previous station to named station.
Switzerland operates a similar system to Germany. Long-distance trains have a ticket inspector on board who checks all tickets, but ticket-selling on board had withdrawn from 11 December 2011. Local trains within a Tarifverbunde (local zone fare systems) use penalty fares with random checks. For example, in North-West Switzerland the penalty fare is CHF 100, but the monthly season costs CHF 75. Even with relatively infrequent ticket checks there is a financial incentive to remain legal.
Five states run train networks: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, and all have different penalty fares.
In New South Wales, the penalty for travelling without a valid ticket is $200, with the maximum penalty being $550.
In Victoria, passengers intercepted by authorised officers without a valid ticket are given the option of having their name and address taken and having the circumstances of their offence documented which may result in a $217 fine being mailed to their address. Passengers also have the option of purchasing a $75 on-the-spot penalty fare with their credit card or debit card, which cannot be appealed.
In Queensland, the penalty for travelling without a valid ticket is $227.
In Western Australia, the on-the-spot penalty fare cost is $100.
In South Australia, The penalty for travelling without a valid ticket is $220.
In the New York metropolitan area, tickets sold on board the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad carry a surcharge. This is not described as a penalty, simply a more expensive purchase option.
Amtrak conductors can sell tickets to customers who do not have a ticket, but there is a surcharge if the train was boarded at a station that was open and able to sell tickets.
On most local bus and rail systems, failure to purchase a ticket in advance is considered "fare evasion" which can result in a citation with a fine ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the jurisdiction. On systems relying on the honor system, inspectors will randomly make checks for passengers not purchasing tickets. Otherwise more serious penalties may apply for jumping turnstiles or otherwise evading fare collection systems.
- 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?