multimedia journalist

London loses more than £100m a year due to fare evasion

By Amy Cockerham

New estimates from Transport for London (TfL) using an improved methodology suggest more than £100m are lost in London each year due to fare dodging, which is nearly £15m higher than previous estimates.

Claire Jermany, a TfL spokesperson, said the amount lost every year could fund more than 1,000 additional jobs for frontline staff or police officers on the network.

“We monitor all reports on a regular basis and deploy our inspectors to areas that report high volumes of fare evasion incidents,” Jermany said.

Jermany said TfL employs ticket gates at major London Underground stations and a £80 penalty fare notice amount with risk of prosecution to deter fare evasion. Jermany said TfL is unable to share which stations see the highest detection rates at this time.

“Station staff have an app that allows them to report instances of fare evasion, which provides intelligence to influence where inspectors will be deployed,” Jermany said.

Jermany said TfL is certainly aware that accidents do happen, and ticket inspectors are highly trained to use their judgement in these situations.

“We believe we treat people fairly, as a three stage appeals process is in place to allow passengers the opportunity to challenge the decision to issue them a Penalty Fare,” Jermany said. “Passengers reported for fare evasion are contacted and invited to submit their version of events and any mitigating circumstances they wish TfL to consider before a decision is reached.”

Jermany said TfL currently employs 450 revenue inspectors and plans to continue to develop and use new technology to detect fare evasion trends.

“We will push for the toughest penalties for anyone caught fare evading on our services,” Jermany said.

Fare evasion trends over the past 14 years. In 2016, 86.1£m were lost due to fare evasion.
(c) Amy Cockerham

Jermany said TfL has recently updated their online ticketing information to ensure people know what tickets are available and how to use them correctly.

Jermany said, “We are also increasing communications to customers around fare evasion, refining our policies and working with other agencies on a joint approach to tackle fare evasion.”

One of those agencies is London TravelWatch, an independent London-based watchdog organization. Richard Freeston-Clough, a London TravelWatch spokesperson, said the organization’s primary concern is pushing for improvements for passengers on TfL services.

“I like to think of us as a critical friend,” Freeston-Clough said. “We talk to them behind the scenes, we have regular meetings with them and raise issues that hopefully we can take up for passengers.”

Freeston-Clough said London TravelWatch is currently pushing for a list of improvements, which include increasing bus speeds, a new delay repay scheme and extending pay as you go fares to a wider area.

Freeston-Clough said while there is always room for improvement, he believes that TfL has recently taken the right steps towards preventing fare evasion.

“They have a lot of revenue inspectors around,” Freeston-Clough said. “They gated a lot of stations as well, which is one of the most effective ways of ensuring people don’t evade their fares.”

Freeston-Clough said his office commonly receives customer complaints about the cost of TfL fares, and one factor that pushes the price of travel up is fare evasion.

“Some people unfortunately think, ‘oh it’s only a fare evasion, it doesn’t matter,’ but other people are paying just as you are in a shop,” Freeston-Clough said.

Carly Thompsett, a Cardiff resident, said she came to London in January to visit her sister.

“In and out of the train stations I was using my card and I would check it every day to see if it was coming out,” Thompsett said. “It never did, even to this day, it’s still never come out.”

We reached out to TfL about recent system glitches and received no response.

Freeston-Clough said London TravelWatch does occasionally hear about odd glitches in the system, but one of the more common complaints come from customers who experience card clash when accidentally touching in with a wallet that contains more than one card.

“You have an oyster card on you and a contactless card,” Freeston-Clough said. “One of them gets registered, and it wasn’t the one you wanted to get registered.”

Freeston-Clough said another similar problem can occur when a customer touches in with one card and forgets to touch out with the same one because this results in a charge of two maximum fares for incomplete journeys.

“People do use fake passes or passes that they not entitled to,” Freeston-Clough said. “I don’t know how widespread it is for people sort of selling a fake oyster card.”

Last month, an Instagram account called @oysterpluglondonn advertised oyster cards that offered steeply discounted travel, which were allegedly verified by a member of TfL staff. This account reached over 13,000 followers before it was taken down sometime last month.

Claire Jermany, a TfL spokesperson, said anyone found selling or using fraudulently acquired Oyster cards, or concession passes they are not entitled to use will be investigated.

“We will push for the toughest penalties,” Jermany said. “Fare evasion is a serious criminal offence that could lead to prosecution, a criminal record, a fine of up to £1,000 and can have profound consequences.”

Jermany declined to comment about this specific situation.

“I mean people make honest mistakes,” Freeston-Clough said. “Most people aren’t dodging, but it’s a few who are costing taxpayers a lot of money.”