14 October, 2011


Tales from the Multiculture: tickets please

Railway Enforcement Officers (REOs) have been saturating the Greenwich line over the last couple of weeks. Even if you're not actually checked on the train, it seems that on every journey you will pass at least one station where a group of REOs is surrounding one or more delinquent passengers on the platform and taking down extensive particulars. If it gets to that stage it's usually fairly serious.

The "multiculture" link here is that in every last one of the dozen or so such incidents I have seen, the fare-evading passengers were always Black.

Who knows, maybe like the young Black girl I overheard being interviewed by REOs on the train the other day, these folk believe that merely topping up your PAYG Oyster card with credit is sufficient. Touching in to register and pay for the actual journey is, apparently, optional. Perhaps it's all understood to be handled magically through a sort of high-tech equivalent of vodou or muti. Who knows?

(For readers outside London, "touching in" refers to the procedure of touching your Oyster prepayment card to the yellow RFID pad at the station gateline or on the bus to record the start of your journey. On train journeys you also have to "touch out" when leaving your destination station so that the correct interzonal fare can be calculated and debited. Touching in or out also opens the gate as well, but outside the peaks the gatelines at many suburban stations are unstaffed and are therefore locked open, leaving it up to the passenger to remember to touch in and out to pay his fare. None of this is rocket science.)

This young woman seemed to be adamant that, as she had gone to the trouble of topping up the credit on her card earlier on, that counted as showing willing so she should be let off the fare for this journey. Interesting viewpoint. An address check confirmed that she had "previous" and so the REOs decided to make an issue of it. Even so the young woman seemed to be planning to tough it out until the train reached her destination station and then do a runner. Surprisingly, the REOs showed a bit of bottle for once and actually held the train back at an intermediate station until she caved in and got off there with them to continue the interview.

All fascinating stuff, but pretty much business as usual until an incident this afternoon bumped this stuff up to being just about marginally interesting enough to post about.

Among the repertoire of pre-recorded announcements available to suburban train drivers on the South Eastern is one which announces that a ticket check is about to take place. Now if you give this a brief coat of thinking about, such an announcement doesn't make a lot of sense. If a team of REOs boards a suburban train, they don't want to be giving out advance warning to fare evaders further down the train so they can prepare their escape. Whatever the office wallah who added this announcement to the repertoire may have intended, I have heard this announcement on a number of occasions and it has never heralded the arrival of ticket inspectors. I suspect it is used as a feint, a ruse deployed by the train driver in an attempt to put the frighteners on boarding scrotes he suspects of not having tickets.

I've never had much faith in this, assuming that your average travelling scrote would either be wise to it or, to put it in the vernacular, wouldn't give a fuck anyway: most scrotes seem to have a touching faith in their ability to deny their way out of trouble simply by vehemently protesting their innocence. I recall my first bout of jury service, trying a young man who was so bang to rights the jury might as well have spent the two weeks of the trial asleep, only bothering to wake up on the 11th day to return the guilty verdict. If you're going to rape and murder someone during the course of a drug-fuelled armed robbery, the DNA evidence of your semen is damning enough, but discarding the murder weapon in your back garden and then stuffing the victim's credit cards down the cracks between the floorboards of your bedroom is, shall we say, less than wise if you hope to remain undetected. And yet this youth actually seemed to believe he could get away with it by steadfast "Who, me gov?" denial. This sort of startlingly misplaced optimism seems to be quite common among the scrote community.

So then it was curious to see the announcement ploy actually working today as an Indian geezer actually got back off the train and remained rather shiftily on the platform, clearly intending to wait for the next train. Which was not a great burden as the trains are every ten minutes on that line. But imposing at least a modicum of inconvenience and disruption on the blighters is, I suppose, a small win for the forces of virtue.

Ah, it's a man's life in the Regular Ticket Inspectorate.

"The "multiculture" link here is that in every last one of the dozen or so such incidents I have seen, the fare-evading passengers were always Black."

Ditto on the c2c Southend-Fenchurch St line.

Intersting post, thank you. As an escaped X-Londoner just one question.
If you fail to 'touch out' at an unmanned station are you deemed to be still travelling until your top-up runs out?

If you fail to touch out I believe you are charged a nominal maximum single fare (probably a Zone 1 to Zone 6) for the unclosed journey. I think there is also a (fairly low) cap on how much they will screw you for in a single day, irrespective of how many journeys you make.

I have never entirely trusted these contraptions. On buses and at open ticket gates if the touch-in fails it's too easy to miss the negative feedback (double beep and a red lamp) if you're not paying close attention, leading to a potential confrontation with an inspector.

When I used to pay fares I always used a British Rail annual travelcard. And now I've got my Old Freeloader's Oyster Card I don't give a monkey's anyway, which gives a certain added piquancy to pontificating sanctimoniously about other people's fare evasion.

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