Towards the end of May, Passenger Focus produced a report that looked at the inconsistencies those using Britain's rail network faced in terms of fines and penalties dished out by railway workers. Ticket to Ride showed that eye-watering penalty fares and threats of prosecution for a first, very minor offence, do not occur as infrequently as you'd immediately think.
The report highlights a number of instances that have occurred in which passengers have faced fines that beggar belief. From a passenger who was given the OK to travel on a train with an email confirmation of his ticket purchase (rather than the self-print ticket) receiving a court summons as another member of staff was not content, to a passenger who reduced her fare by £4 to just a tenner by purchasing an Advance ticket with a railcard, but left the latter at home and was charged a penalty fare of £260. The report makes for very uncomfortable reading.
Passenger Focus reports that during 2011 13% of their postbag were appeal complaints from passengers who were "being pursued" for ticketless travel. Just under 400 individual cases in total. They "suspect this is the tip of an iceberg".
In response, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) said it is looking to establish an industry-wide code of practice. They've been working on it for some time and I don't envy them fine-tuning the minutiae as there's a cavernous gap between the frequent fare evader who tries to wriggle out of his ticketless travel and someone who's made a genuine mistake and left their railcard at home.
But, in all cases, the passenger managed to travel. In the bus industry, a tragic tale of a young female passenger being raped was reported last week after she was denied travel on a bus service for being 20p short of the balance of her £5 fare. She was travelling home from Nottingham city centre during December last year and was refused travel point-blank. It was while she arranged a lift from her mum that the 22-year old female was attacked and raped, her attacker dragging her into a park and later approaching police to say he'd found her injured. Her mum was ironically pulled over by Notts Police as they believed her to be acting suspiciously through her slow driving (when she was looking for her daughter).
Without doubt, had the woman travelled on the bus the incident wouldn't have happened. As bad as it may sound, most bus companies do not offer any facility for a driver to officially waive a shortfall in a passenger's fare. Even if you don't follow the bus industry, similar to a train guard, the employee must account for every penny of their takings, with any shortfall being down to the driver/guard to make up themselves. To suggest there aren't any bus operators who inform their drivers to be lenient to young children travelling on the last bus of the day is a little misleading: there is one who offers an on-the-spot money-back guarantee, originally branded under their Rainbow banner - Trent Barton; so you might be surprised to learn it was this award-winning bus company on whose vehicle the incident took place.
There is no industry-wide code of practice for all the independent, municipal and multi-national bus companies with regards this type of incident. Had the female boarded a train and was 20p short, she could well have found herself being charged an excess fare of double the maximum fare for the journey she was making.
In many respects, as eye-wateringly disgusting as these excess fares on the railway are (a female left her £2 ticket on the train, not knowing she needed it to exit the station, and was charged £85 as an "out of court settlement") the passenger does travel on virtually every occasion. Being refused travel on a night bus at 0300 is, sadly, likely to be more prevalent than during daytime hours, owing to the likely intoxication of the clientele. Had the female been refused travel as she was offensive to the driver or had been sick on the pavement prior to boarding and then been attacked, there's a lesser chance the story would have been run in this way. And let's remember there was only one criminal act that took place, and hopefully the judge will throw the book at him when he's sentenced on 27 July.
So, should the driver have let the 20p go? The rail industry wouldn't - and you can bet this element of their fares policy won't change in the finalised code of conduct. Should the bus driver effectively pay 20p of the female's £5 fare for his own peace of mind? It sounds harsh, but if he did, it would be yet another slippery slope down which it is difficult to return. I also think it wrong for a bus driver to worry about a passenger being raped if he doesn't relent and cough up some of her missing bus fare himself.
Consistency is what passengers both want and need. The rail industry have it right with their imposition of fines irrespective of the 'crimes', it's just the level at which it these are levied that need clarifying. I believe the bus industry should go the same way. If you do not have the right amount of money, do not expect to travel. If in doubt, check before you travel and keep that money separate to the rest of your 'night out dollar'.