Tube fare dodgers pay pounds 10 'instant fines': Inspectors catch 300 non-payers on first day. Christian Wolmar reports

THREE hundred people were caught out yesterday on the first day of London Underground's new instant fine system for people travelling without a valid ticket.

Only people who can prove that the ticket office at their starting station was closed and the ticket machines not functioning will be let off the fine of pounds 10. Ticket inspectors - or revenue control inspectors - will have computers that allow them instantly to find out whether a particular machine at any station was working or not when the passenger entered the Tube system.

London Transport claims it is losing pounds 30m a year to fare dodgers. It expects to charge between 100,000 and 500,000 penalty fares in the first year, but hopes this will fall as more people get the habit of buying a ticket in advance.

The inspectors, who have been on a two-day training course to avoid 'conflict situations' - that is, being smacked in the face - will take a tough line on excuses. Not having the right change, for example, will not be accepted.

Even people changing their destination in mid-journey will be expected to go up to a station and pay the extra fare before finishing their journey. An LT spokesman said: 'We have told them it is not worth getting into a fight over pounds 10.'

LT points out that penalty fares have been successfully introduced in Newcastle and Manchester, as well as on nearly all Network SouthEast trains. A spokesman for Network SouthEast said: 'We have found the system very successful. We are now increasing some of the penalties and taking everyone's name and address to ensure that persistent offenders are identified and possibly prosecuted.'

Moreover, even passengers who get to their destination and try to proffer the normal fare for their journey will be charged pounds 10.

London Transport staff are expecting an increase in violence as a result of the policy. A spokesman for the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union said: 'Most assaults are a result of arguments over fares. There should be no need for these penalty fares since they spent pounds 160m on installing barriers.'

LT accepts that the penalty fares will not deter persistent fare dodgers, such as those who jump over the barrier or buy a child's ticket. 'There'll always be a hard core which we can't do anything about,' said Wayne Hayes, part of the penalty fares implementation team.

Last week, he was at Waterloo manning the 'penalty fares roadshow', handing out leaflets about 'compulsory ticket areas' as part of LT's attempt to educate the public about penalty fares, which included spending pounds 300,000 on new signs. Few of the passengers showed the slightest interest, except those asking directions, which included an American asking which station was nearest to Selfridges and a couple who wanted Finchley Road station on the Metropolitan line. They were directed to East Finchley on the Northern line, about five miles away, but they would be a long way from Waterloo before they thought of initiating a 'conflict situation'.

(Photograph omitted)

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