My Big Mouth: Train ticket inspector ‘no-prisoners’ approach flawed


Why have train ticket inspectors been getting a bad rep over the years? SWLondoner’s Daniel Chipperfield reckons he has the answer…


By Daniel Chipperfield

“I don’t have to talk to you, you’re not a customer… but if you continue to argue with me, I will have you arrested.”

This was the rude and puzzling remark I got when asked if I could buy a train ticket and therefore actually become a ‘customer’.

Funny thing was he was happy to talk to me moments before as he demanded my personal details to make it possible to fine me as I was, obviously, trying to dodge the fare.

This was despite the fact I was holding the money in my hand and having every intention to pay for one. That much was clear when I had said: “Can I have a ticket to Wimbledon please.”

Is this how they all ticket inspectors operate? Or was I just having a bad day?

But it does seem that ticket inspectors have been gaining a reputation over the years.

Andrew Gilligan wrote an article for the Evening Standard describing pensioners being dragged off of trains crying because they had forgotten their old-persons rail card.

He also mentions the regular occurrences of empty threats of prosecution against travellers to force them to stump up cash for fines that, quite often, are legally dubious.

Why was I, like so many others, finding myself in this situation early Monday morning despite forking out hundreds of pounds a month on tickets?

Despite giving the inspector my driver’s license with no trouble he continued to suggest that he may report me to the police as I was technically a criminal.

It simply wasn’t good enough that the station I left from was too busy to buy a ticket and the train was so busy that finding a guard was impossible so planned to pay at my destination.

When my friend started to protest at the man’s abruptness and threats, (I at this point was trying to pick up my jaw from the floor), he was also threatened with arrest despite actually having a ticket.

Ticket inspectors’ performances (and therefore pay) is judged on the number of fines they issue.

So a culture of, as Mr Gilligan aptly put it, ‘taking-no-prisoners’ is enforced by some drawing criticisms, largely because the facilities are not there to guarantee a commuter a ticket before they board a train.

Independent watchdog on passenger’s rights, Passenger Focus, welcomed the chance to comment on the penalty fines situation.

They support the fact that train companies need to protect their revenue from people who persistently try and evade paying.

However their support for penalty fines has always been based on the stipulations that they are:

• Fair to passengers

• Supported by adequate retail facilities at stations

• Easy to understand

• Consistent

• Undertaken with due discretion so that passengers who have innocently fallen foul of the scheme do not have the full rigour of the regulations brought down upon them

• Provided with effective arrangements to appeal against the issue of a penalty fare

I believe that only the last provision was met in my case.

It seems I am not the only one: Passenger Focus reported earlier in the year that commuters are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of immediate access to tickets at stations.

They pointed to a national passenger survey that has seen 13% of passenger’s rate ticket-buying facilities as poor and a further 15% as unimpressed by them.

With this the watchdog made the following comments:

“We are concerned that passengers should not miss trains if, having queued longer than the stipulated three/five minutes, they still have not been able to buy a ticket.

“Under such circumstances they should be able to board trains and purchase tickets either on board or at destination, at the booking-office price.

“Based on our research, we are not convinced that train operators are paying sufficient attention to queuing times; neither are they rectifying known problems nor actively monitoring queue lengths.”

It seems so easy. More ticket machines mean more people can buy tickets in time. My favourite ticket inspector will be kicking himself when he realises.

A spokesman for South West Trains would not give details on the number of fines issued or how much it makes the company annually. He did provide a statement with the most relevant parts posted here:

“Along with other train operators, South West Trains takes a firm but fair approach to dealing with those without a valid ticket.

“The measures we have taken to ensure passengers understand the system and our initiatives to tackle fare cheats on our network have resulted in a reduction in the overall number of penalty fares and prosecutions issued year on year.

“However, there remains a hard core of persistent offenders, who are frequently responsible for more serious offences in addition to travelling without a valid ticket. This is resulting in an increase in the number of prosecutions taken forward and we will continue to work hard with the rest of the industry to tackle this issue.”

Private train operators need to recognise they can’t continue pursuing a system that is inconsistent and unreliable.

Otherwise people are simply going to be pushed away from using rail and you know who will have to pay? The ‘criminal customers’.

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