Penalty fares for ticketless rail travellers set to soar

The current penalty is either £20 or twice the single fare to the next station, whichever is greater

Off-peak: Waterloo station in London, previously the busiest transport terminal in Europe
Off-peak: Waterloo station in London, previously the busiest transport terminal in Europe

The government is set to double the level of the “penalty fare” for ticketless travel from the present £20.

With fare evasion costing £240m per year according to Rail Delivery Group (RDG) estimates, the Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on increasing the penalty for passengers found to be travelling without a ticket.

The current penalty, introduced in 2005, is whichever the greater is of £20 or twice the full applicable single fare to the next station at which the train calls.

But the value of the basic £20 penalty has fallen to £14 in real terms over the past 16 years.

The new rules would mean the typical transgressor would pay a penalty of £40, though the “double the single fare” option is likely to remain.

Any changes will apply only to England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements.

“When set against the profound impact Covid-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,” the DfT said.

Before penalty fares were introduced, passengers found without a valid ticket were either asked simply to pay the appropriate fare or were subject to costly criminal procedures.

The concept of penalty fares, widely used in Continental Europe, is to to provide “clear and immediate financial consequences for those travelling without a valid ticket”.

Penalty fares are intended to apply only if the passenger has had the opportunity to buy a ticket – at an open ticket office or a working self-service ticket machine – and have passed signs stating the consequences of not having a valid ticket.

They also apply if a passenger travels in first class with a standard ticket.

The DfT “believes that penalty fares are no longer fulfilling their deterrent function”.

It says: “We want to update the value of the penalty fare to ensure the system remains an effective deterrent.

“By acting as an effective deterrent, more revenue will be generated by the railway, which can be re-invested to improve the quality of passenger services.”

Transport for London (TfL) currently has a penalty fare of £80, though this is halved if paid within 21 days.

“The department’s preference is for the National Rail penalty fare to be brought more closely into line with TfL’s penalty fare, given the proportion of journeys that take place to, from and within London and the South East,” the DfT says.

Phil Rose, a former railway manager, tweeted: “Whilst we all want everyone who travels to pay their due, the myriad of restrictions on ticket use and times of travel between different operators makes mistakes easy to make.

“The perceived threat of fining you a large amount for making one will do more to discourage rail use.”

The DfT says the corresponding penalty in Germany is €60 (£52), while in the Netherlands a €45 (£39) surcharge is added to the price of the journey.

In France, ticketless passengers travelling under 150km are liable to pay a €50 (£43) penalty, with increased sanctions if the fine is not paid on the spot and for longer journeys.

The DfT announcement comes at a time when many railcard holders are angry that they have not been able to use their discount cards for half of the past year due to lockdown rules.

Rail fares increased at the start of March by an above-inflation 2.6 per cent.

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