Cracking down on fare evasion would save TfL millions

Some stations leave ticket barriers open more than 60 per cent of the time - staff cuts will make the problem worse


While Londoners are still reeling from seven years of rising travel costs under Boris Johnson, it seems that the capital’s fare dodgers are getting a very easy ride on the Tube.

With fare evasions on the Underground alone robbing the city’s transport budget of over £61m each year, you’d assume that Transport for London (TfL) and the mayor would be doing everything in their power to make life difficult for those neglecting to pay their way.

But with ticket barriers increasingly left open, and the number of station staff stripped back significantly, life is only getting easier for London’s fare evaders.

I recently uncovered data from TfL which revealed that at some stations ticket barriers are being left open for over 60 per cent of the time. Nobody doubts that the vast majority of Londoners are honest people, willing to buy a ticket before they travel, regardless of whether the barriers are open or closed.

It is a fact of life however that there will always be some people, albeit a small minority, who take advantage and try to avoid paying their fares. The worry is that the increasing trend for barriers to be left open means that their opportunities are no longer as few and far between as they should be.

Whilst real-time data on whether ticket barriers are left open is not collected, TfL undertakes regular unannounced ‘mystery shopper’ exercises to monitor whether ticket barriers are left open. Across the whole tube network barriers were left open 6.91 per cent of the time in June and July this year.

That figure might not seem that significant, but data provided to me by TfL showed that some stations consistently left ticket barriers open for much longer periods. Bromley-by-Bow was the worst offender, with gates left open 61 per cent of the time, but a total of 20 stations had their ticket barriers left open more than a quarter of the time.

It’s a problem which is getting worse, with the TfL-wide trend showing year on year increases in the percentage of ticket barriers being left open. In June and July 2011 ticket barriers were left open 3.21 per cent of the time; that has grown every year to almost 7 per cent this year. At the same time the Tube has undergone significant staffing changes, with the process of closing ALL of London’s ticket offices and axing 950 staff well underway.

Ticket barriers can be left open for a number of reasons. Yes, technical faults will sometimes mean that they must be left open and yes, there is only so much that can be done in those circumstances. But when barriers are left open as a result of staff shortages, we’re not talking about a technical glitch; we’re talking about the clear impact of a political decision by the mayor to axe staff.

TfL’s rules state that when there are no members of staff available to help passengers on the gateline the barriers must be left open. With this in mind, the potential impact of Boris Johnson’s decision to axe 950 station staff extends beyond the substantial reduction in help for passengers.

With fewer staff available in each station, and many stations now operating with only one member of staff, fare evasion is likely to be given an unhelpful boost, leading to millions more pounds in fares being lost.

The arrival of the Night Tube, when and if it does eventually happen, will see the introduction of approximately 200 new part-time station staff. But with plans to leave 125 stations with just one staff member, many of these new, inexperienced, employees could find themselves working alone. With that, there’s every chance we’ll see the trend in gatelines left open continue to rise and more opportunities opened up for fare evaders.

According to their latest estimates TfL loses £61.47m each year due to fare evasion on the tube. It’s a substantial sum to say the least. Not only does this deal a significant blow to the capital’s transport budget, but the unfairness on paying passengers, who have been left to endure ticket price increases of 40 per cent during Boris Johnson’s time in office, cannot be escaped.

It’s with this injustice in mind that we should be doing all we can to crack down on fare dodgers.

There is no doubt that Boris Johnson’s ill-considered proposal to cut 950 staff from stations risks having to leave barriers open more often, making fare evasion that little bit easier.

Proposals to cut this number of station staff are included in TfL’s Fit for the Future plan, which seeks to make savings of £50m. Compare that figure with the £61.47m lost in fare evasion and the rationale of the proposals is quickly called into question.

It’s a total false economy if the money saved by reducing staff is then lost as a result of increased fare dodging. Sadly it’s a logic which appears to have escaped the mayor and bosses at TfL.

Val Shawcross AM is Labour’s London Assembly Transport spokesperson

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