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Have you been issued a penalty fare by Transport for London?

TfL’s ‘public interest test’ could help you fight it


Fare dodging on Transport for London (TfL) is at an all-time high, costing the system £100 million a year, according to a recent report by the BBC.

As a result, TfL management is cracking down: making investments in security improvements, hiring more revenue protection staff and enforcing fines with greater vigilance — leading to a 15% rise in prosecutions last year.

The transport body is catching a larger number of people in its dragnet, but fares can go unpaid for many reasons:

  • Ticket machines and card payment systems don’t always work as they should. 
  • Oyster Card gates sometimes fail to read cards properly
  • People can forget to ‘touch in’ or ‘touch out’. 
  • Printing errors can obscure the terms or validity of a paper ticket. 
  • Rail fares can be complicated and misunderstandings can occur – even when a person fully intended to pay.

A trade in counterfeit TfL tickets can also catch people out, unaware that the card in their pocket they’ve just purchased is invalid.

If you have been taken aside by a revenue protection officer and issued a fine you believe is unjustified, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with TfL’s guidelines for enforcement before you pay up. 

While the agency is taking a firm line on fare dodging, it also recognizes that fines can cause undue hardship and may not always be in the public interest.


Understanding TfL’s ‘Interest of Justice’ test

Before issuing a fine for fare-dodging, Transport for London’s enforcement branch – which includes officers, investigators, and prosecutors, operates under guidelines that require it to consider each penalty fare situation as unique. 

Cases and evidence must be reviewed on their own merits before a final decision to prosecute can be made.

The final decision to prosecute can’t be made arbitrarily. There must be a realistic prospect of conviction and – crucially – prosecution of any alleged offence must be ‘in the public interest’ and seen to be both appropriate and fair.

The public interest test is applied to each offence, and considers three broad categories of evidence:

  • Previous behaviour is a crucial factor in weighing any case for disposing of a case in public interest. In order to take a prosecution forward, TfL considers the following:
    • Has there been a previous conviction for a similar offence on TfL or any other train service?
    • Has the accused been previously issued with a penalty fare?
    • Has the accused / offender previously been issued a formal warning by TfL?
  • Technical failures or ticket fraud are also taken into account as factors when assessing the public interest in pursuing prosecution. 
    • TfL’s guidelines specifically reference the Oyster Card payment system and whether or not the accused has failed to pay for the service, or failed to have sufficient Oyster Card credit before boarding a relevant service.
  • Other factors that could weigh against prosecution include:
    • The age of the accused
    • Where a prevailing medical condition may have contributed to the commission of the offence
    • Where prosecution is likely to be deemed malicious or ‘prejudicial to TfL’s interest’
    • ‘Exceptional circumstances’ where TfL simply takes a decision to discontinue proceedings based on a wide range of evidence it simply deems to be compelling


Options for challenging a TfL fine

Consideration of an offence under TfL’s public interest test open up several legitimate routes for challenging a penalty fare, from malfunctioning Oyster Card readers, first-time offenders, faulty payment terminals, issues related to the accused person’s eyesight or other medical conditions or disabilities, and a wide range of subjective circumstances specific to the accused.

The language used in TfL’s guidelines openly invites its prosecutors to use their discretion (‘nothing shall prevent the Appeals and Prosecutions Manager from withdrawing a case where there are exceptional reasons to do so‘). 

It also gives them flexibility to use their individual judgment (‘what constitutes exceptional reasons (for withdrawing a case) will be determined by the facts of individual cases’).


Have you been issued a penalty fare by Transport for London?

There are many reasons why a person might find themselves on public transport without having paid the correct fare. 

From simple misunderstandings about the validity of a ticket on a specific service to technical failures in the Oyster Card system, or exceptional circumstances that compelled you to use a TfL service without a ticket. 

  • Perhaps you were at a remote or unstaffed station where the ticket machine wasn’t operational. 
  • Perhaps a time-sensitive emergency required you to take a specific service under duress. 
  • Perhaps you boarded a train under the mistaken assumption you could purchase a ticket while on board.

If you’ve been issued a penalty fare you believe is unfair and might fall under Transport for London’s public interest rules, consider taking legal advice. 

  • In many cases, TfL can be convinced to dispose of an offence by merely issuing a warning letter.
  • TfL can also opt to issue a Formal Warning in lieu of prosecution. This is a more severe action than a warning letter, but still preferable to paying a hefty penalty fare.

Based on your personal circumstances and the circumstances of the offence, there may be a case for reducing your penalty to a warning or having the penalty fare withdrawn entirely. 

In each of those scenarios, we may be able to help.

As a highly successful firm of criminal defence solicitors, we are experts at resolving such situations. Our advice is free and impartial, and if you wish, one of our fully-qualified solicitors may be able to represent you in court.

If you have a low income or are on benefits, after a successful application for legal aid, we may also be able to represent you free of charge.

For more information, contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit https://www.cantpaymyfine.co.uk.