Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I used to think fare dodging on a train required native cunning.
The miscreant might have to closely observe the conductor, and move up and down the train to avoid being made to buy a ticket. Or they might nip into the loo and sit tight for a while.
Now, it seems, the bar has been lowered, and we can all avoid paying if we want to - at least on Greater Anglia’s Bittern Line.
On the last four occasions that I have used the service, either I or one of my friends has avoided paying.
On the first two times, a group of us travelled from Cromer to Norwich, waiting patiently for the conductor to make it along the busy carriages to claim our cash.
It didn’t happen - once because the train was so packed, and once because the inspector’s machine was broken. So we were ready to cough up when challenged by the ticket inspectors at the gates in Norwich.
But, no. Because the station was so busy, they simply opened the gates and waved everybody through. It was a bonus for us, but was a case of money slipping through the fingers of the train operator - quite unnecessarily.
Last weekend, I joined some ale-quaffing pals for a trip to Sheringham for the station beer festival.
On Friday, three of us bought a group ticket (at a very good price, I might add), but quaffer number four was told by the conductor “don’t worry”, just as he began fumbling among the moths in his wallet.
We were too close to the station, you see, and the conductor had to hot-foot it down the train to open the doors.
The following day, I returned to the festival with two other friends (you see, I do have some). The train was busy, and we didn’t even see an inspector. So off we hopped at Sheringham, having saved ourselves enough money to fund the opening pint.
So here’s my tip for how to dodge your fare: simply get on the train, find a seat, sit still and look out of the window or read a book for a while, then get off at your chosen destination.
It’s ridiculously easy - and ridiculous.
We have had two centuries of public rail transport. That’s 200 years for train companies to perfect the art of getting customers to pay for their trips.
That’s 200 years to introduce a system that is efficient enough to guarantee that fares are collected or tickets are paid for.
It ought to be one of the priorities. For maximising revenue means two things - fares can be priced more competitively and the cleanliness and quality of the carriages can be improved.
Imagine if shops were as inefficient as some rail companies.
You’d arrive at the back of a long queue for a check out at Morrisons, only to be ushered out of the store with all your shopping because it was too busy for the staff to take your money.
Despite my recent lucky streak, I don’t often use local trains. The reason is because - at least in the Cromer to Norwich corridor - the prices can be steep, and buses are cheaper.
But those prices cannot be helped by the percentage of passengers who get away without paying.
Surely it is not so difficult to resolve, though. How about having two conductors per train? The additional salary would be dwarfed by the extra revenue. Or how about ticket machines and gates at all stations?
I won’t hold my breath, though - it might take another 200 years.