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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Fare dodging fines 'may double'
Central Trains
Central Trains estimates 6% of its passengers travel without tickets
Rail passengers caught travelling without a ticket could face a penalty fare of 20 under government proposals.

The existing 10 charge, which has been in place for the past 15 years, is considered too low by rail officials.

The government will now begin a 12-week consultation on plans to double the penalty, which if approved could be brought in by early 2005.

A rail industry source said the 10 fine was not seen as "realistic" given current investment levels in railways.

Rail operators lose an estimated 200m in revenue each year because of fare dodging.

These proposals should help to reduce the number of fare-dodgers

Transport Minister David Jamieson

Publishing a consultation paper, Transport Minister David Jamieson said: "It is obvious the current penalty is not enough to deter the persistent fare-dodgers who repeatedly avoid payment in the belief they can easily afford the fine when they are caught.

"These proposals should help to reduce the number of fare-dodgers and act as a more realistic deterrent for others."

Central Trains recently said as many as 6% of its Midlands rail passengers travelled without a valid ticket.

Dozens of fare dodgers caught without tickets on the Tyne and Wear Metro earlier this year were "named and shamed" on posters put up around the Metro system.

In March, Transport for London decided to raise its penalty fine for those who dodge bus fares from 5 to 10.

The rail industry source said: "The 10 fine has been around for a long time now and is not seen as a realistic figure, particularly given all the investment that is now going into the railway."

This is a good opportunity to review how the whole penalty system works

Rail Passengers Council

The Rail Passengers Council (RPC) said plans to raise penalties would benefit fare-paying passengers.

Spokeswoman Caroline Jones told BBC News Online the vast majority of passengers around the country paid their fares every time they travelled by train - but those fares had risen because a minority were dodging the fares on some routes.

Current penalties were not a sufficient deterrent, she added.

But the RPC is also calling for extra revenue raised by bigger fines to be spent on an increased number of ticket inspectors on trains and "automatic ticket barriers that make it impossible to dodge fares".

Passengers who had been unable to buy tickets before they boarded should be able to buy tickets on trains or at their destinations, Ms Jones told BBC News Online.

"This is a good opportunity to review how the whole penalty system works," she added.

Elected: Jon Yuill was voted BBC News Online's rail commuters' champion by users of the site
Voice: His role is to speak up for the commuter
Commute: Married with three children, Jon commutes by train between Witham (Essex) and London

BBC News Online rail commuters' champion Jon Yuill admitted he had been hit by a 10 fine after mistakenly boarding a train with a weekly travelcard that had expired the previous day.

But he added: "In my experience if you politely explain that you tried to buy a ticket but couldn't, and offer to pay the fare, you are treated with respect."

The penalty fares were aimed at "persistent offenders who think it is great fun to jump on a train and jump off again without paying", he added.

"Anything that keeps that kind of person off the railways is a good idea."

Mr Yuill said most commuters would welcome extra revenue raised by bigger fines - especially if it was spent on more CCTV cameras and transport police to combat unruly behaviour, crime, vandalism and violence.

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