GTR Southern ticket gate and Class 455

UK: The Department for Transport has announced plans for changes to penalty fares in England and Wales, following a public consultation on possible options.

The current penalty for passengers found without a valid ticket or permit to travel is the greater of £20 or twice the full single fare to the next station. DfT plans to replace this with a £100 surcharge on top of the price of the applicable single fare.

The surcharge would be reduced to £50 if paid within 21 days, and passengers who appeal will be able to ‘stop the clock’ while this is considered.

A statutory instrument will be required to amend the Railways (Penalty Fares) Regulations 2018, and DfT expects to announce a timescale for the introduction of the changes in spring 2022.

DfT said ‘by making these changes we ensure that the penalty fares remain a viable option in the revenue protection toolkit that TOCs employ. DfT remains convinced that penalty fares, with their protections for passengers who have received one in error, remain a good tool to combat fare evasion on the railways.’

A number of respondents to the consultation wanted to see stronger safeguards for people who cannot reasonably buy a ticket before boarding, and, while this is beyond the scope of the Penalty Fare Regulations, DfT said it would consider calls for better signposting of ticket facilities and for maximum queue time limits. It will also encourage train operators to harmonise their operational practices .

Commenting on the proposed changes, Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said ‘penalty fares must act as an effective deterrent, otherwise fare dodgers end up being subsidised by the vast majority of honest passengers. It’s 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 they are able to use their discretion when it is clearly an innocent mistake.’