Southern Refuses Passenger Focus Request to Improve Identification of Conductors


Consumer Lookout has previously drawn attention to the increased risk of crime as smart/contactless ticketing on trains is rolled out and has highlighted concerns about Southern’s apparent reluctance to prevent crime on trains by ensuring their conductors ID clearly out on display.

Passenger Focus has approached Southern to ask them to make sure that conductors are issued with photo IDs and are instructed have them on display or show them to passengers on request.  Disappointingly, Southern has declined to do so.

What Does the Law Say?

Section 24.3 of the Railways Byelaws states: An authorised person who is exercising any power conferred on him by any of these Byelaws shall produce a form of identification when requested to do so and such identification shall state the name of his employer and shall contain a means of identifying the authorised person.

This means that if they are invoking their powers under those laws, such as checking tickets, then they are obliged to show ID.  That seems pretty clear, so what is the problem?

So Does Southern Not Understand the Law?

My reading of their responses to my emails is that they have scrabbled around at the bottom of the excuse barrel to try and get their conductors out of their responsibility to show ID by redefining identification as the following:

  • A “recognised” uniform – whatever that may be.
  • A name badge – which may only bear the Southern logo and the first name of the conductor.

This definition appears not to comply with the wording of the law, as quoted above, for the following reasons:

  1. The phrase “produce a form of identification” is clearly not talking about a uniform.  You do not “produce” a uniform.
  2. A stolen uniform would identify a criminal as a conductor.
  3. A name badge does not identify that the person bearing it is the legitimate owner, as it does not bear an image (photo) of the person in question.  It could just as easily be stolen.
  4. Part of the reason for an official producing identification is to identify which specific member of staff you are dealing with.  This is in order to make staff accountable.  A badge with just a first name like “Bob” or “Rose” does not comply with that obligation.

One of the problems with Southern trying to pass off a uniform and name badge as identification is that this is what you would expect a scammer/fraudster to do.  Key signs that should alert people to a fake official are the refusal to produce a clear photo ID or claiming that a name badge or uniform is enough.

What is a “Recognised” Uniform?

This is one of the problems:  It is certainly true that Southern staff tend to have a pale green shirt and gray trousers but I have never spotted any Southern logo on either item.

Sometimes they have a jacket or overcoat, some of which (but I believe not all of them) have Southern’s logo on the back of them, which is not very useful when the staff member is facing you.  However, in the hot summer months many of them do not wear either a jacket or an overcoat.

In the winter months some staff seem to wear a jumper, also with no Southern logo, over the green shirt.

So, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a uniform.  If passengers are supposed to treat uniform as identification, why is there not a clear definition of the uniform on their site?  Why is their logo not clearly present on all items of uniform.

Basically, Southern’s instruction that passengers should consider uniform identification, amounts to this:  If someone approaches you with a pale green shirt and grey pair of trousers, and is wearing any kind badge that has the word Southern on it and a first name, you must assume they are a conductor and present your ticket.  This includes your smartcard or contactless bank card.

How Could Criminals Abuse this Lax Security?

Grey trousers and pale green shirts are pretty easy to come by at any high street retailer.

Given that Southern is effectively conditioning their passengers to only expect a name badge bearing a first name, a criminal could probably get away with printing their name under a copy of Southern’s logo from any Southern-headed letter or their website, laminating it and sticking a safety pin on the back.  Most passengers would not question that it looks a bit different from the standard badge.

Or they could steal a badge (possibly attached to a jacket) from a seat where the conductor has draped it on a hot day, or the conductor’s section a the end of the train – the door is sometimes left open and unattended – or off the bar stool in the pub they stop off in on the way back from work.

The trick is then for them to make sure they are in a different part of the train from the genuine conductor and not work their way down too many carriages, so as not to risk meeting him/her.

What Happens If a Passenger Asks to See ID?

Virtually nobody on trains ever asks to see ID, presumably as they have not thought through the risks of handing a credit card or smartcard to a fake conductor.

Given that Southern has suggested you’re only entitled to see a uniform + name badge, the criminal can simply deny that passengers are entitled to see any identification.  If a passenger persists in asking to see ID, then the fraudster can simply loom over them in an intimidating manner, stating loudly that they are not allowed to see ID, demanding access to their ticket and threatening that they will have to leave the train if they do not comply.

I have experienced genuine conductors behaving this way, so it would be pretty easy for a criminal to get away with it.

What Sort of Crimes Could an Imposter Commit?

Not an exhaustive list but here are some of the obvious ones:

  • The technology already exists to clone data off bank cards, so for those using contactless cards criminals could collect banking details off all the cards in the carriage and later raid those bank accounts.
  • Once the ITSO technology on the Oyster / Key smartcards is breached (this is only a matter of time), then they will also be able to steal personal data and credit from those cards.
  • They could charge penalty fares to passengers who Southern forces to board without a ticket, due to lack of purchasing facilities at their local station.  Most passengers don’t know their rights and do not realise they do not have to pay penalty fares straight away (i.e. they can appeal them).  They often also do not know that penalty fares must not be charged where there was no means to buy a ticket before boarding.
  • A criminal could take a vulnerable passenger off the train at a quiet station under the pretext of no ticket or one that was not valid for that route, in order to commit a sexual assault.

Who Can Help Prevent Such Crimes?

There are 3 parties that can prevent such crimes:

  1. Southern: The key player who can help to prevent this is Southern, by making sure all staff have up-to-date photo IDs and are instructed to wear them on display whenever approaching passengers.  This would be good practice and would get passengers used to seeing IDs and they become familiar with what a genuine ID looks like and may more easily spot a fake.  Sadly, Southern refuses to take this step.
  2. Groups Who May Influence Southern: These include Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, British Transport Police (BTP) and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).   Passenger Focus has approached Southern to ask them to introduce this measure for the protection of passengers but Southern has refused their request.  They also approached ATOC, who I understand does not see crime prevention as a high priority.  However, Passenger Focus is hoping to raise this issue again at their next meeting with ATOC.  BTP is also aware of this issue after I raised concerns with their Chief Constable Andrew Trotter earlier this year and they have also stated they will approach train companies in this regard.
  3. You: Every passenger on a train has the right and responsibility to protect themselves from crime.  I would suggest that it is appropriate to see identification whenever anyone approaches you claiming to be acting in an official capacity.  In particular you would be wise to check ID under the following circumstances:
    1. When asked to physically hand over a paper ticket.
    2. When presenting a smartcard or contactless bank card for inspection.
    3. When purchasing a ticket or other service on board.
    4. When being charged a penalty fare.

You should expect that identification to have Southern’s logo, a photo from which the official can clearly be recognised and a means of identifying the individual staff member.  The latter will either be first name + last name or a unique employee number.

If someone refuses to show you identification, then it would seem appropriate to call the police and ask them to attend the train.  After all, anyone who refuses to show ID may be a criminal attempting to defraud you and other passengers.

Why Is Southern So Reluctant to Protect Passengers?

I can only speculate on this.  Given that the potential for crime has been pointed out to them on a regular basis over an 18 month period, it is very hard to understand why Southern is so unwilling to do the right thing and make sure their staff have IDs clearly out on display.

They have suggested that their staff do not have to give their last names for their own protection.  I am not sure what they base this on but it does not seem credible that this is the real reason for their reluctance: if that were the case, they would simply issue their staff with photo IDs that bear a unique employee number.  This would make them accountable but protect their identity.

It is unlikely to be cost-related: and ID badge for 4,000 staff members + the relevant guidance or training cannot be all that expensive, particularly in the light of the £350m their parent company expects to make next year.

Of course, given the poor behaviour I have seen from a small minority of their staff on a few occasions (to be fair this is very much the exception, not the norm), can we rule out that they simply do not want to make their staff accountable?

Why Do I Keep Tackling This Issue?

I do not feel safe travelling on Southern trains.  It feels like they are forcing us passengers into a Hobson’s choice:

  • Either we risk becoming victims of crime, i.e. we do as they say and assume that anyone who approaches us claiming to be a conductor and vaguely looks the part must be who they say they are. If it turns out afterwards they were a criminal who stole our money or personal data, then I guess that’s just our tough luck!
  • Or we risk being bullied and threatened by a conductor who thinks they do not need to show identification, despite the law clearly saying that they must.

Is It Just Southern?

Almost certainly not.  I have only picked on Southern because they are my local operator and because I am so worried for my safety & security every time I have to board one of their trains.  It seems likely that some of the other train operating companies have an identification policy that is just as irresponsible as Southern’s.

The Challenge to Southern

So the challenge to Southern is this: Southern, you have been told of the risk of crime on the trains.  Preventing crime is always better than picking up the pieces afterwards.  You can do something that is really cheap, simple and straightforward to implement in order to protect you customers:

  • Make sure all of your staff have photo IDs from which they can clearly be recognised and which make them accountable with either a surname or a unique employee number.
  • Instruct your staff to have them out on display at all times.
  • Make it a disciplinary offence for staff to refuse to show the ID to passengers.

Are you going to protect your customers?  Or do you prefer to wait until large numbers of your passengers have been defrauded – or worse, a young woman has been taken off the train by a fake staff member and raped!