Passengers travelling without paying ….

Posted on November 19th, 2012, by The Chairman

Sally and I were recently invited to a Passenger Focus (PF) networking event. There were around 50 people there, people from the rail industry, from local government and user representatives, as well as senior PF personnel.

I found it a useful event.

There was a brief presentation from the Chairman. He mentioned one of the biggest complaints PF were receiving was from passengers finding that they couldn’t buy tickets when travelling, or being aware of others without tickets and poor efforts from Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to collect fares. It’s our experience too, as noted in our post Fare Dodging not helping overcrowding.

I subsequently discussed the subject with Anthony Smith, PF’s Chief Executive and then at his request with Sharon Hedges, their Passenger Issues Manager. We agreed I’d summarise my points in an email, which I have done, noting that for future franchises PF’s National Passenger Survey scores are to be used as part of the metric for measuring how well a TOC is performing.

These views are my own and not necessarily those of others on the MCRUA Committee.


“We discussed passengers travelling without tickets, often on local lines due to not being given the opportunity to purchase a ticket. With no barriers at either the entry or exit station, this equates to money “walking off the railway”, annoying passengers, who usually want to pay, costing us taxpayers money and making it harder to make business cases for improvements.

“I suggest that for new franchises, that as well as there being an NPS measurement, that there should be a target of the percentage of passengers travelling with valid tickets. So, for example, it may be if based on surveys a TOC had 95% of passengers found travelling with valid tickets this would be seen as acceptable (just!), 95% or more and the TOC would be paid a graduated bonus, and less than 95% a graduated penalty would apply, rising depending on how much less. Surveys would need to take place “with educated knowledge”.

“So for example, it’s well known Virgin hardly ever check tickets on Manchester trains north of Milton Keynes, so the survey would be between Stoke or Crewe and Manchester. In the other direction, between Manchester and Stockport would catch loads of travellers without tickets, as it’s well known that you can walk onto a Virgin train at Piccadilly as there are no barrier checks, there are no checks on the way to Stockport and almost never any ticket checks at Stockport before walking off the station. Similarly on the West Coast, on Glasgow trains there’s lots of free travel on Virgin north of Crewe, as ticket checks are very rare and none of the stations have barriers on the platforms Virgin use.

“For a TOC like Northern, checking trains “mid journey” rather than at start or destination stations would give the best guide to the level of ticketless travel. Northern conductors are now (after the very sad James Street fatality) required to close the doors of trains from the rear of the train (unless on a class 323 or 333 electric multiple unit when it can be from the middle), so often don’t get into the front coach(es). Given many stations are unstaffed and with no TVMs, it’s a well known joke locally that the “free seats are in the front”! Destination stations are more likely to be barriered, hence the need to survey mid-route. I’m sure similar educated surveying for other TOCs could be applied.

“There are plenty of innovative ways for TOCs to give passengers the best opportunity to buy tickets that the bright brains in the TOCs can come up with – just look at how The Lottery sells lots of tickets in a secure way without using their own staff. As it will never be cost-effective to have barriers at all stations, there need to be incentives all round, both on the TOCs to make it easy for passengers to buy tickets and on the passengers to buy those tickets.

“I hope you find this helpful, and that it helps to lead to far fewer people travelling without paying, often without even getting the opportunity to pay. This would lead to better value for the taxpayer, and a much better idea of how much the railways are being used, making business cases for retaining services and improvements easier.”


Sharon has received my email and thanked me for it, saying they were looking forward to furthering this debate in the refranchasing process.

Please leave a comment

  1. Mike Battman Says:

    Transport for Greater Manchester is promising an ‘Oyster Card’ for the trams in about 2-years time; maybe it’s time for Northern Rail to start talking to them so that the card could be used on their trains too.

  2. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Automation as on LUL with all-barrier stations and Oyster Cards would be good, but with rural un-staffed stations such as we have on the Mid Cheshire Line, would be less effective than on LUL.

    How about a re-think of job allocation on the trains? I usually observe the guard trying his best to ensure everyone has a ticket, and selling tickets to the many who join at stations with no booking office. Then at the station stop he has to break off from what he is doing, make his way (often to the back of the train) to release the doors, supervise the station stop, and give the right-away and watch for errant members of the public as the train moves off. Meanwhile, once the train is stopped the driver is sitting in his cab with nothing to do.

    Why can’t the driver do those things, leaving the guard to continue revenue-collecting and dealing with any on board passenger issues? It may require the installation of external CCTV (cheap and small these days) so he can monitor the outside of the train as it pulls away (the pre-start checking can be by looking out of his window to obviate a ‘James Street’ situation), reverting to the TV screen once he goes ‘heads-in’ to start the train, watching that until the train is clear of the platform?

  3. Mike Battman Says:

    There are plenty of ‘unbarriered’ stations on TfL stations; many you have to ‘swipe’ in on one of the Oyster points that is, say, on a wall. This would work on the mid-Cheshire line, there is an element of honesty about this, but if, as we are saying, most people want to pay, then it shouldn’t be a problem. The other alternative is to have the swipe point in the trains near the doors, like they have on TfL buses.
    You can still check payment has been made by the guards carrying an electronic device that can tell if the Oyster Card has been activated or not. Again as I have encountered on the tube in London.

  4. Jen Says:

    Not every station layout would allow barriers to be easily installed, which is probably why some TfL stations remained unbarriered.

    Based on the current franchise area and the fact so many types of diesel units serve Greater Manchester (and they get swapped around between areas) I think the on-board swipe in idea would only really work on the electric units unless there are plans to make it North of England wide.

    I think in the next few years there should be plans to install ticket machines on the Manchester bound platform at Hale, the Chester bound platforms at Knutsford and Altrincham as well as at Navigation Road. The reason I say the Chester bound platforms at Knutsford and Altrincham is because the step-free access between those platforms and the ticket office isn’t a short distance and both those stations get very healthy rail usage.

  5. Mike Battman Says:

    A couple of anecdotal examples of how easy it is to travel without tickets on the line.

    My wife travelling to Chester from Navigation Road on a Wednesday evening on the 16:44 from NVG, it was Cuddington before she was asked for a ticket. So she could have travelled to Knutsford, Northwich or wherever for free.
    I travelled from Navigation Road to Hale and back on Thursday evening, out on the 18:44 and back on the 20:59, I was never approached for a ticket on either journey.

  6. Jen Says:

    On one busy “off-peak” train I travelled on between Knutsford and Manchester a couple of weeks ago there was no on-board ticket inspection between Knutsford and Navigation Road or after Stockport and the conductor only checked the front carriage between Navigation Road and Stockport. G4S were present at both Knutsford and Manchester Piccadilly, so despite the lack of on-board check anyone doing the same journey as me would have got their ticket checked. Although, I’m not sure of the effectiveness of G4S given one of them recently, after being shown a ticket to Hale, gave a response along the lines of “Hale? Where’s that?”

  7. Conductor Says:

    Could be for a variety of reasons Jen. Knutsford – Navigation Road section is quite busy with short spaces between stops and the amount of people travelling from Knutsford – Altrincham/Hale. It can be quite difficult particularly with 150 units due to the amount of internal doors and 3+2 seating, checking tickets and operating doors without delaying the train in a short space of time. 142s or 156s are easier providing the unit isn’t packed. Most of the time I only have time to check the front coach, where the majority of ticketless passengers camp out!

    I can recall a few times where I have had to fix my machine or replace ticket stock. Maintenance is a regular call I tend to make between Mobberley and Knutsford. Plenty of time for a quick 3 minute chat where the signal doesn’t drop out.

    The Arriva 150 we had on loan was a pleasure to work. 2+2 seating and additional door controls within the trains and thus check tickets.

  8. Mike Battman Says:

    I certainly don’t blame the guards/ticket collectors they are making the best of a bad job.

    But it is slightly annoying that the likes of myself, who wants to pay to travel, is not given the opportunity to do so. If there was a ticket machine on the platform Northern Rail would have received my fare because there wasn’t I travelled for free.

    The wonderful world of franchising!!!

  9. Conductor Says:

    Indeed Mike. What certainly doesn’t help is the franchising shambles caused by the DfT. No official word yet on whether Northern are going to operate the franchise in it’s current state beyond April 2014. Although I’m fairly confident they will get an extension but factors of subsidy, rolling stock issues such as 319s, Tram-Train in Rotherham will have to be discussed. No company in the world would pay for thousands of pounds of platform ticket machines if they weren’t to make a guarantee return on it if they lose the franchise. They current ones I’m not keen on as I don’t find them user friendly, the touch screen is very hit and miss and they just feel cheap.

    Cuddington, Hale, Navigation Road would be good starting points for them though!

    Kind Regards

  10. Jen Says:

    From what I understand the tram-train trial will now be operated by Stagecoach Supertram on behalf of Northern Rail. So, it looks like they took the easy way out rather than get involved in discussions with transferable ticketing, driver only operation etc.

    Going back to ticket selling one conductor recently announced that he was unable to sell tickets because all the working ticket machines had been taken by the time he got there.

  11. Mike Battman Says:

    “Cuddington, Hale, Navigation Road would be good starting points for them though!”

    With the Greater Manchester ‘Oyster’ card due to be rolled out on the trams next year; the hope is that it will be extended to the buses and trains in the not too distant future. That could mean that Hale and Navigation Road would have a ‘swipe in-swipe out’ system operating. Northern Rail would then get my fare. Not much use if you’re heading into Cheshire though.

  12. Vince Chadwick Says:

    “With the Greater Manchester ‘Oyster’ card due to be rolled out on the trams next year…”

    I don’t suppose this will be tied into the London Oyster, so we can use one card locally and when visiting the capital? Joined-up thinking leading to a joined-up transport system? I think I know the answer!

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