GTR Southern ticket gate and Class 455

UK: The Department for Transport has begin consultation on changes to penalty fares in England and Wales, saying they are currently set too low to act as a deterrent to fare dodging.

Under the Penalty Fares regulations, passengers who have had the opportunity to buy a ticket but not done so, and who have passed appropriate signage, can be required to pay whichever is highest out of £20 or twice the full applicable single fare to the next station at which the train calls, plus the relevant fare to complete their journey.

DfT said the Penalty Fare of £20 is now the equivalent of £14 when it was set in 2005. It wants to update the value to ensure the system remains ‘an effective deterrent and the primary method by which the majority of Train Operating Companies manage fare evasion’, and is proposing changes so that the value of can be varied in line with the circumstances associated with the issuing of the penalty. It is also considering whether the ‘Penalty Fare’ name remains appropriate

DfT’s preference is for Penalty Fares to be brought more closely into line with Transport for London’s penalty fare of £80 (halved if paid within 21 days), given the high proportion of journeys which involve London and the southeast.

It said comparable international penalty fare figures were around £55 in Germany, £41 in the Netherlands, £68 in Belgium and £46 in France.

The Rail Delivery Group estimates that Britain’s railways lose £240m through fare evasion in a normal year, and DfT said ‘when set against the profound impact Covis-19 has had on passenger numbers and industry revenues, it’s never been more important to minimise the cost of fare evasion to the railways’.

Commenting on the consultation, Chief Executive of the Transport Focus watchdog Anthony Smith said ‘fare dodgers are in effect being subsidised by the vast majority of honest passengers. Fare-paying passengers will welcome the opportunity to have their say on what is the right penalty.

‘It is right that train companies catch and deter those who evade paying for their ticket. But in doing so they must make sure that effective safeguards exist for passengers, including staff training to ensure that discretion is shown in the case of innocent mistakes.’

The consultation runs from March 11 to June 3.