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Fare evasion covers a wide range of offences. Fare evasion prosecution may relate to relatively minor offences or to those which carry a maximum sentence of a term of imprisonment. Fare evasion offences vary from offences under the railway bylaws through to statutory offences committed under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 or the Fraud Act 2006. (Bus fare evasion is usually dealt with under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981.)
Common Railway Byelaw Offences : –
1) Entering a train for the purpose of travel without a valid ticket contrary to railway byelaw 18(1). This offence is committed by a passenger if he or she boards a train without a valid ticket at a station with ticket selling facilities. It is not generally recognised that such an action is in fact a criminal offence. Often a ticket seller on the train will be willing to sell a ticket or it will be possible to purchase a ticket at the destination. However, strictly speaking, it is an offence to fail to purchase a ticket at the station of embarkation. The defences to such a charge would be if the ticket office and the ticket machines were closed and inoperative or if a member of staff gave permission for boarding without a valid ticket or if there was a sign at the station of embarkation displaying the same information.
2) Another common byelaw offence is failing to show upon request by an authorised person a valid ticket. This contravenes railway byelaw 18(2). It is the converse of railway bylaw 18(1). If it was possible to purchase a ticket up to the point of challenge and no ticket has been purchased, the passenger has committed an offence under this byelaw. No offence has been committed if the passenger boarded the train at a station where there were no ticket selling facilities and where it is the agreed practise either to purchase a ticket from a ticket seller on the train or at the final destination.
3) Railway Byelaw19 makes it an offence to be seated ‘in any seat, berth or any part of a train where a notice indicates that it is reserved for a specified ticket holder or holders of tickets of a specific class.’ This is usually used in respect of travel in First Class accommodation with only a standard ticket. At first sight it may not appear to be an offence of fare evasion but since only part of the required ticket price has been paid, an attempt is being made to avoid paying the full fare.
4) Byelaws 20(1) and 20(2) deal with the altering of tickets for personal benefit or for the benefit of another. A typical example might be changing the date on a season ticket so that its period of validity was extended.
5) Partners or spouses often lend tickets to one another believing that it is legal to do so. Save in certain restricted areas, this is an offence and counts as fare evasion. Railway Byelaws 22(1) and 22(2) define the offences and describe them simply as fare evasion committed on behalf of another.
All byelaw offences are punishable by way of a fine.
The Regulation of Railways Act 1889
This statute is the most popular amongst the railway companies. It deal with two types of offending. The first is simple travel (or attempting to travel) on the railways with intent to avoid paying the fare (contrary to section 5(3)(a). The second is where a ticket has been purchased for part of a journey but the passenger then travels beyond the limit of the ticket, deliberately avoiding paying for the remaining part of his journey (contrary to section 5(3)(b).
These are the classic fare evasion charges. The prosecutor must prove intent on the part of the defendant (unlike the byelaw offences which are strict liability offences). In theory, a passenger could receive upon entering a guilty plea or being convicted after trial a prison sentence of up to three months.
It is also worth bearing in mind section 5(3)(c) of this Act which makes it an offence having been stopped without a valid ticket for a passenger to give to an officer of the railway a false name or address. It is not uncommon for a passenger stopped in these circumstances, in a moment of panic, to give incorrect details. This is unfortunate because with modern technology it is relatively easy for revenue protection inspectors to verify on the spot the accuracy of the information they have been given. With some railway companies, commission of two offences, i.e. a ticket offence and giving false details, is sufficient to merit a formal prosecution.
Fraud Act 2006
Fare evasion committed over a significant period of time ceases to be fare evasion and instead becomes fraud. Prosecution is more likely to be not for fare evasion but for fraud. The relevant statute is the Fraud Act 2006.
These are serious cases and often involve offending over a lengthy period and the defrauding of the railway companies of large sums of money. Common features are the use of counterfeit tickets or reliance upon fraudulent activity to avoid paying the full fare.
Whilst the railway companies will themselves deal with the large majority of fare evasion prosecutions, there are some offences which they judge to be sufficiently serious to pass to the British Transport Police. Fraud cases usually come into this category. The penalties for such offences are severe and will usually result in a charge to the magistrates’ court. The offender can expect to be required to pay a substantial fine and compensation to the railway companies, prosecution costs and also possibly to receive a community penalty. In extreme cases, the offender will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Train Companies’ ‘Revenue Enforcement Policies’
In addition to the statutory framework, the prosecution departments of the railway companies also have their own internal prosecution guidelines and it is well worth being familiar with these as they have a crucial bearing on how a particular case is dealt with.
Some companies as we have seen above make the commission of two offences grounds for prosecution. Others will not prosecute persons aged under seventeen years of age in the absence of aggravating features.
Since there are twenty-odd TOCs (train operating companies) there is an understandable variation in how different companies handle similar cases. The only safe way of proceeding in these circumstances is to seek advice from those who are familiar with the TOCs and their internal guidelines.