Rail penalty fares: Passengers could get new appeals body
Rail passengers who challenge the issuing of a penalty fare could soon be able to turn to a new, independent appeals panel in England and Wales.
Under the Department for Transport plans, fined passengers will be able to go to the panel if they think an initial appeal was unfairly rejected.
Campaign group Transport Focus said fined passengers were "assumed to be guilty" if they were caught with the wrong ticket for their journey.
Ministers said "mistakes do happen".
The proposals, which will also aim to create "clearer rules" about fines and appeals, follow a public consultation and will go before Parliament next year.
Currently passengers in England and Wales have 21 days to appeal against a penalty fare using the Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service, which is owned by the Go-Ahead group that runs Southeastern.
Passengers with certain operators, including Transport for London, Cross Country and Virgin Trains, can alternatively turn to a commercial appeals body, Independent Revenue Collection and Support.
The new body would offer a further means of appeal for passengers who have received a fine.
Transport Focus said train operators were the "victim, the investigators, the decision-makers and the prosecutor" under current arrangements.
Chief executive Anthony Smith said train passengers who tried to evade paying fares should be punished, but not those who were simply "caught out by the rules".
"They should be treated with understanding and not immediately assumed to be guilty," he said.
- Simpler rules on deadlines for payments and appeals
- Creation of a third-stage independent appeals panel
- Existing appeals bodies must be independent of train operators
- Better government "oversight of appeals process through annual audit of penalty fares data"
The Department for Transport says fare-dodging costs £240m a year in lost revenues.
Rail minister Paul Maynard said this sum was "picked up by honest passengers in the form of higher rail fares".
He admitted some passengers felt they had been "unfairly treated" under the existing appeals regime.
"Passengers need to be confident that there is a robust and independent process in place to deal with their appeal," he said.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesman, representing train companies, said it welcomed the proposals and called for wider reforms to ensure all operators take "the same consistent, fair and transparent approach" to ticketless travel.