Revenue protection must join 21st Century, says Passenger Focus

 

 

Passenger Focus has called for an overhaul of the way the rail industry deals with passengers who make innocent mistakes when buying tickets in order to provide customer service fit for the 21st Century.

In a new investigation into the issue, the watchdog concluded that too often train operators are continuing to treat passengers as criminals when there has been no attempt to avoid paying a fare. Particular concerns were raised in cases where customers have actually paid for their journey but can’t produce a valid ticket for legitimate reasons.

Examples listed include fines and other actions against customers for:

  • not having a ticket (because they have lost it or been unable to print it out) despite having a receipt demonstrating proof of purchase;
  • buying the wrong ticket, despite the ticket they have bought costing exactly the same;
  • being unable to produce a railcard during their journey (because it was left at home or in the post) even though they can prove they have bought one.

The report also provided examples of passengers being charged administrative fees when appealing successfully against fines. A further cause for concern highlighted is the heavy handed approach to enforcement by some operators including threats of prosecution and potential prison sentences without proof of any intent to avoid paying. This had persuaded some innocent customers to settle in order to avoid the worry of going to court.

The watchdog recognised some improvements in the past two years including operators signing up to a code of practice. However, it concluded that the code gives too much leeway to companies, is not being applied consistently and does not address significant issues.

“The current revenue protection system was designed in another age and it is time to update it and make it serve the needs of the industry and passengers of the 21st century,” Passenger Focus said. It called for a “single, unified process, forms, and appeal mechanism, along with a common training programme to ensure consistent application”.

Specific immediate changes would include introducing a principle of ‘no loss, no penalty’, for example if customers do not have a ticket but can prove they have paid. The watchdog also suggested operators should not threaten to escalate action while appeals are being decided and no administration charge should apply when appeals are successful.

“It is right that train companies should take steps to stop those who try to evade paying fares,” Passenger Focus chair Colin Foxall said. “But those who have made an innocent mistake and been caught out by the many rules and restrictions should be treated with understanding and not immediately assumed to be guilty.”

Passengers Focus’s report was published at the same time as a DfT consultation which proposed creating an independent and consistent penalty fares appeals process; DfT health checks of TOCs’ application of penalty fares; and preventing TOCs threatening criminal sanctions other than in cases of deliberate fare evasion.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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