Department for Transport's Rail Penalty Fare Value Reform Consultation - ASLEF response

The Department for Transport are reviewing the Rail Penalty Fare with a view to increasing the fine, we have submitted the union's views to the consultation.

The Department for Transport are undertaking a review of the Rail Penalty Fare, you can read the full details here below is ASLEF's response to the consultation. 

ASLEF Consultation Response - UK Government – Department for Transport – Rail Penalty Fare Value Reform Consultation – 28 May 2021

1. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK’s largest train driver’s union representing over 21,000 members in train operating companies and freight companies as well as London Underground and light rail systems.

2. On question 1, we understand and support reform of the rail penalty fare to update the amount and to bring it in to line with the penalty fares issued by devolved administrations, but it should not however be seen as the only way to address rail fare evasion.

3. It is important to note that as the consultation states; the penalty fare has stayed the same since 2005 whilst the price of tickets, set by the private companies within the limitations of the DfT has consistently increased. Whilst it is right that the penalty fare value is reviewed, the current ticket-pricing model needs review with plane tickets for some journeys cheaper than rail.

4. To help avoid fare dodging, rail ticketing needs to be consistent and priced fairly across the UK. A fair and consistent ticketing system would encourage people to use rail services as an affordable green mode of transport. Passengers would be less likely to consider fare evasion if the ticket price is seen as justified and affordable.

5. As we work to bring back footfall on the railways, we were concerned to see the raising of fares by RPI during the pandemic; we are concerned this may lead to greater fare evasion or a slow return to ridership. If the penalty fare is increased excessively and the ticketing costs not reviewed, we are concerned that this will stifle ridership.

6. With the reduction of rail staff at stations and the closure of ticket offices the human face of some stations has been completely removed, this has then been compounded by the move by some TOCs to driver only operated (DOO) services. Having station and train staff on hand not only ensures that there is someone there to assist passengers with ticket purchasing but they can also assist any passengers that have any questions or assistance needs. Furthermore, having a member of staff present and available on the trains or at
station will also discourage opportunist fare dodgers.

7. As already stated, a more consistent ticketing approach would help to reduce fare evasion. We welcomed the plans from Transport for the North to introduce smart ticketing, similar to that used by TfL. However, this has been put in jeopardy due to the withdrawal of funding from the DfT and could become a plan that does not come to fruition in the same vein of similar plans that were made for the South East.

8. It is important that the investment into TfN and the railways as a whole be continued to create a simple and consistent ticketing system across the UK. Wales (TfW) has indicated a desire to develop a similar smart system on their recently renationalised railways, it is important that we don’t allow there to be multiple ticketing solutions across the UK which could confuse passengers and lead to passengers suffering fines for inadvertent fare dodging.

9. On question 2 option 1 or option 3 would be most favourable. Whilst option 2 works for TfL with a simplified zone based pricing model, due to the vast array of rail fares it would not be applicable to use that model for the whole of the network. So to avoid the penalty fare being either lower or vastly higher than the cost of the ticket option 1 or 3 are most favourable.

10. On question 4, we agree with the proposal. By reducing the value of the penalty fare if paid within a set number of days, it will encourage payment of the penalty.

11. We would not however be supportive of the proposal in question 5. An alternative if the DfT was set on introducing a rise in the penalty fare, would be for the penalty fare to be increased for persistent fare evasion such as, at the very least, three or more violations within a 12-month period to ensure that only those who are truly looking to dodge fares are punished.

12. Another possible alternative to the proposed increase of fines for those that have previously been in receipt of a penalty fare would be to take into account their swift payment of any fines. This would help to further encourage payment of fines and the continued use of rail. It would thus be fair if any one that is issued a penalty fare, but proceeds to pay it within the set number of days should not have that charge counted against them. If however the penalty fare is not paid within the set number of days, meaning they then have to pay the full amount, then it could be counted against them. It would then make sense that any future violations could in the first instance, remove the reduction for swift payment before the charge is then increased after a further violation i.e. their third within a 12-month period.

13. Furthermore, as with the above suggestions, we believe the penalty fare should only begin to increase if they are a persistent offender and do not swiftly correct their wrong via payment of the penalty. It is important that the system
avoids punishing those that have made a genuine mistake. It is also imperative that personal circumstances be taken into account when looking to levy this increased charge to ensure that it does not inadvertently push anyone into hardship and potentially lead to costly and lengthy criminal proceedings.

14. On question six of the consultation, we believe that the name of the ‘Penalty Fare’ remains appropriate.