So it is not often that a transport company and/or the Justice Ministry is open and clear about its policies towards fare dodgers. The following is copied from a recent report of proceedings at Exeter Magistrates` Court:-
The maximum penalty for rail fare evasion with intent to avoid paying for a ticket is a £1,000 fine or three months’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for failing to produce a ticket is a £500 fine.
However, statistics from the Ministry of Justice show the fines imposed by Exeter magistrates recently are well above the average for courts in England and Wales.
Last year 23,894 people were prosecuted for travelling by railway without paying the correct fare, failing to show a ticket or failing to give their name and address – a fall of 21 per cent on the previous year. Of those prosecuted, 18,680 were found guilty.
While 11 people were given a custodial sentence, the vast majority of defendants were fined. The average fine across England and Wales was £290 in 2015 – up from £91 a decade earlier.
A spokesman for train operator Great Western Railway said sentencing was a matter for the courts but added that the firm always attempts to deal with matters without court action.
He said: “Should individuals not respond to us the matter is referred to the criminal court process. Where a penalty fare is issued the passenger is written to and offered the opportunity to pay or to appeal the fine; a subsequent reminder is sent and then it is largely taken out of our hands and into the court process.
“To be consistent for all those travelling the rules are the same regardless of the fare amount and are set out in National Conditions of Carriage. It is the court’s decision and we would respect that decision.”
The GWR spokesman added: “Fare evasion costs the rail industry about £240 million a year. To make sure that customers who pay for rail travel are not unfairly subsidising those who choose to avoid paying, passengers are required to purchase a ticket prior to boarding a service from station ticket offices or from the available ticket vending machines.”
Where a passenger is unable to purchase a ticket prior to boarding – for example if a ticket office is closed and the ticket machine is broken – they are obliged to purchase a ticket at the next available opportunity."