Rail passengers appealing against a penalty fare could soon take their case to an independent appeals panel.
Ministers have vowed to impose changes on train operating companies following a report from passenger watchdog Transport Focus, which said operators were the ‘victim, the investigators, the decision-makers and the prosecutor’ under current arrangements.
'Passengers with genuine reasons for not having a valid ticket can all too easily get the sense of being stuck within a process that will grind on until they admit guilt and pay,' it added.
Under the reforms announced by the Department for Transport, ministers pledged:
- simpler rules on deadlines for payment and appeals
- passengers who are charged a penalty fare will be able to access a new, third-stage independent appeals panel
- penalty fares appeals bodies must be independent of train operators and their owners
- stronger DfT oversight of the appeals process through an annual audit of the penalty fares data
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: ‘Fare dodgers cost the railways £240m every year and this bill is picked up by honest passengers in the form of higher rail fares.
‘Penalty fares are imposed to deter those seeking a free ride but mistakes do happen and where a passenger feels they have been unfairly treated, they need to be confident that there is a robust and independent process in place to deal with their appeal.’
Transport Focus chief executive, Anthony Smith, said: ‘It is right that train companies should take steps to stop passengers who try to evade paying fares. But those who have made an innocent mistake and been caught out by the rules should be treated with understanding and not immediately assumed to be guilty.
‘Transport Focus is pleased to see the Government has listened to complaints from passengers and the issues we raised in our 2012 and 2015 Ticket to Ride reports. Greater fairness, accountability and an independent right of appeal will be welcomed by passengers who make an honest mistake.’
Currently passengers in England and Wales have 21 days to appeal against a penalty fare. They can use the Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service, owned by the Go-Ahead group that runs Southeastern, or passengers with certain operators, including Transport for London, Cross Country and Virgin Trains, can use a commercial appeals body, Independent Revenue Collection and Support.