Get ready for the train companies to start treating you like a criminal
If you buy a train ticket, it's a bit galling to think that there's someone who might be on-board who dodged their fare. However, with the price of trains not even coming close to the standard of service you get, it's hardly surprising that people push their luck.
And so, the train companies are hitting back.
If you go to London Euston, you'll see that among the notices of timetables cock-ups and inevitable apologies for replacement service, you'll now see a list of passengers, complete with addresses and ages, who have been found guilty in a magistrates court of fare dodging.
The problem here is, apart from being needlessly heavy-handed, this list might include the names of people who have fallen foul of "railway clamping". Basically, slapping heavy fines on people who have got on the train without a ticket, even though they had every intention of buying one, but didn't have the time because they were running to get on-board before it pulled out of the station.
A House of Commons transport select committee has already noted that there's much confusion about how much money was lost as a result of deliberate fare-dodging and how much was because of a failure to give passengers the chance to buy the correct ticket.
"Too much revenue is being lost through a failure of the transport operators to provide the appropriate ticket sales facilities, to sell tickets on board, and to carry out basic checks. This is not the same as fare evasion. It is simply non-collection of fares," it said.
Worse still is that the appeals procedures for passengers wishing to challenge a penalty "are not sufficiently independent", adding: "The consequences of being accused of fare-dodging can be serious, and it is important that the procedures are just and rigorous."
The inconsistency between railway companies doesn't help. One operator will take you to court for sitting in First Class by mistake, while another won't prosecute, preferring to give the chance to leave or pay the balance.
And why would some train companies do this? Well, there's a small matter of bonuses. That's right. Unbelievably, Southern's train inspectors earn commission from penalty fares they impose. Funny that, seeing as Southern don't even vet their staff through the criminal-record checking system.
There's a massive inconsistency right across the board, with some rail companies using a common-sense approach and allowing you to buy the correct ticket during or after your journey, while others seem willing to charge you the most expensive amount they can find without even thinking about offering you the best deal.
Train companies are a law unto themselves and it is nakedly clear that something needs to be rectified.