Fare's fair? Penalty fares and you
Are penalty fares fair? Inspired by a listener email, we've been taking a look, and it turns out that because of the length of the wait at stations one rail body thinks many of you may deserve a break from being charged expensive "penalty" fares.
The national rail watchdog representing passengers told us that there has got to be "more discretion exercised" when penalty fares are charged.
Passenger focus, found that:
..on average rail users queued longer at off-peak times, with one in six passengers waiting in line for more than three minutes. This was compared to one in 20 passengers during peak times...The longest queues were observed at London Kings Cross station, with one in four passengers waiting longer than the industry standard of five minutes in the peak.
This has implications for penalty fares. According to the Department for Transport's Penalty Fares Policy, "where penalty fares apply, passengers must allow enough time to buy a ticket, including time to queue, if necessary.... This standard is normally five minutes at peak times and three minutes at other times. If queues at a particular station regularly fail to meet these standards ... the operator must either take action to sort out the problem before a penalty fares scheme is introduced or make sure that passengers are not charged penalty fares when these queuing standards are not met.
So are the train operating companies complying with these rules. The Passenger Focus study suggests that in many cases queues are longer than the proscribed times, and that penalty fares shouldn't be charged.
Anthony Smith the Chief Executive of Passenger Focus says, "passengers must not be expected to miss their train because of unacceptably long queues at the station. It should be the train operator's responsibility to notify staff at the platform and on the train that passengers stuck in a queue were unable to purchase a ticket due to time constraints and should not be penalised" There's more in an interview with Anthony below - in it he calls on the DfT to do more to make train companies monitor waiting times and amend their penalty fares policies accordingly:
However, the Passenger Focus study only looked at a group of large metropolitan stations. So here's a little crowdsourcing project: have you had to wait more than 5 mins at a peak time and been charged a penalty fare? Are ticket collectors understanding if you tell them there was a long queue? Drop us a line.
We have approached the Department of Transport about this issue, they told us that, We already have powers to stop penalty fares being charged if our guidance is not being met...we are rolling out smartcards to more people and why recent franchises commit train companies to providing more ticket machines.
From the train companies, in a statement the Association of Train Operating Companies Commercial Director David Mapp said "The vast majority of customers are able to purchase tickets within the target queuing times despite the 45% increase in rail passengers since the targets were first introduced... Where train operators do operate penalty fares schemes they exercise sensible discretion and will only issue a penalty fare where they believe that a customer has had a reasonable opportunity to buy a ticket and decided not to. If a customer feels that have been unfairly issued a penalty fare there is an independently operated appeals process"
Those of you with a moment to spare might find it interesting to take a look at that appeals process. I'd be interested in hearing your experiences of it, as well as your experiences of queuing and penalty fares. Are fares fair? You tell us.