The Evening Standard recently published a piece on a commuter who briefly stepped into a first class carriage to write a birthday card. She was upset that a she received a Penalty Fare from a Revenue Protection Officer (RPO) – and not from a guard as suggested in the article. Conductors/guards are not authorised to issue Penalty Fares – only RPOs are.
Was the Penalty Fare Justified?
It was certainly legal. The lady in question was in the first class section without a valid ticket, even if it was only briefly and she did not sit down. A Penalty Fare can be issued in these circumstances.
Whether it was justified is more questionable. Unless the RPO had previously caught her in first class, then this may have been a situation in which some discretion could have been exercised, i.e. warn her not to do it again rather than issuing a Penalty Fare.
After all she had only leant on a table briefly to write a card, probably an innocently intentioned action however unwise it might seem in the cold light of day to those of us familiar with the rules.
Whilst comments suggesting she should have written it at home are valid, they may be posted by those with too much time on their hands who do not realise that most people are very busy and spend life in a rush to juggle the various demands on their time.
Although RPOs are allegedly trained to exercise discretion, sadly in reality they often do not as they can top up their salary by issuing the Penalty Fare. After all, it takes someone with integrity and moral fibre to give up part of a bonus just for the sake of fairness or compassion.
The Comments Section is Interesting
The range of comments reflects a variety of views. Some of them are unnecessarily critical or even rude about the lady who got the Penalty Fare; few comments are fair or balanced. But it is not unusual find a certain amount of cruelty from trolls on any public forum.
More interesting is an analysis of the ratings. Whilst there are some exceptions, typically comments critical of the woman are rated positively, whereas comments criticising the revenue protection system in general or the train company (Southern) are rated negatively.
This picture is at significant variance with the comments you see on social media platforms such as Twitter, where comments – unsurprisingly – are frequently negative towards the train company.
Whilst this discrepancy could be explained by troll activity – or even, at a stretch, a surprising rush of ratings activity by disgruntled first class passengers – it does make you wonder whether perhaps Southern’s social media team spotted this and adjusted the ratings in their favour.