29 October, 2005


Missing the point

As someone who (mostly) plays by the rules, I stump up my annual £1300+ for the privilege of using SE Trains' occasional cattle truck service into London. One of life's little annoyances has been watching the ticket inspectors at work. They are seen only during the off-peak daytime, adopting an avuncular and forgiving approach to any defaulters they discover, issuing the correct ticket rather than imposing a fine, and even offering discounted (cheap return) fares. Over a period of years I have seen one actual summary fine issued and and a handful of names and addresses taken.

Being a travelling inspector probably isn't a particularly well remunerated job, and I can sympathise with a desire to avoid unnecessary confrontation, especially with some of the aggressive lowlifes who seem to believe that public transport is a free service.

But really this isn't good enough, and you find yourself wondering about the economics of joining in the fun. "Now if I get caught by an inspector one time in 20, and fined one time in 100, and provided I pay up each time, there's no audit trail of my activities, then even allowing for the discount on the annual season, I'm quids in..." Well, maybe not, and I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for vaulting over gatelines.

Yesterday was different. It was a Friday evening, between 21:30 and 22:00, not quite into the full alcohol-fuelled arsehole phase of the evening, but even so. A team of ticket inspectors, or "Railway Enforcement Officers" as their HV vests described them, boarded at Charing Cross and worked their way down the train. Then they encountered a young man with no ticket, unable or unwilling to pay, and giving a name and address which the REO was clearly unsatisfied with. The usual drill at this point is for the inspector to accept the dodgy address, fold his notebook and walk away.

The usual drill was not followed. At this point the REO issued a police caution before asking for confirmation of the address. I didn't know if they were entitled to do that; but it was impressive. The REO briefly walked away and the young man treated himself to a self-satisfied grin, thinking he had got away with it. Not so. The enforcement officer reappeared with a colleague and proceeded to call for police assistance.

Job well done, I thought.

As I got off the train, my mood of satisfaction was punctured as another passenger disapprovingly commented to his companion about the righteous attention the REOs were giving to the fare defaulter, while they ignored the (ticket carrying) man in the next bay with his feet up on the opposite seat. Dear me. Get a sense of fucking priorities you precious tosser. It's the fare dodgers and the vandals and the puking drunks and the aggressive beggars that are the problems to be tackled. Even someone eating a smelly hot handmeal is more of an issue than a geezer with clean shoes laying the back of his shoes -- not, note, the soles -- on one of the already less than pristine seat covers of a Networker. Real progress was on view last night, but you were too petty-minded to see it.

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