If You Haven’t Broken The Law, Don’t Give In To Pressure

Cassy Hoy nearly paid for a 'crime' she hadn't knowingly committed

A penalty fare issued by any transport company isn’t final, and doesn’t always need paying. It is worth your while appealing, as I found out.

Ticket inspectors are figures you are likely to see when you are travelling by public transport. Whether it is by bus, train, tram or DLR, there is a high chance you will asked to show a valid ticket for your journey. Graham Hunt, FOI case officer for Transport for London confirmed that “in 2012 the headcount for bus Revenue Protection Inspectors was 276 and Underground average headcount for Revenue Control Inspectors was 260”.

Inspectors have the right to ask you to provide proof of your journey and check you have paid the correct fair; also that you are entitled to any discount you have received. Some can issue with you with an on-the-spot fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay or that you don’t have the chance to appeal. So, if a fine or a court date letter arrives in your letter box, it is always worthwhile finding out your rights and it may well be worth appealing what looks like a cut and dried decision.

It goes without saying that it is always best to pay your way BEFORE embarking on your journey, while also ensuring that you have valid photo I.D. However, this isn’t always possible, and there are circumstances that prevent you from doing so; whether it’s ticket machines not working or losing your I.D card without realising it; if you feel you have not committed an offence, then don’t take any decision as concrete.

Supposing you find yourself in a situation where you have been issued with a penalty fare, fine or notice, the organisation it has come from should give you the chance to appeal. Normally, you will get a written letter and you will have a set number of days to respond. If you don’t and you choose not to pay, you will almost definitely find yourself in a magistrates’ court.

Attending a court hearing can be scary and nerve racking for anyone; however, if you feel you are not guilty it is vital that you enter this as your plea. Too many people end up paying fines they probably shouldn’t have, because they have been intimidated by the court environment.

When I attended court for travelling on a 50%-discounted Oyster card without a valid photo card, I almost pleaded guilty, even though I knew I wasn’t. I was the last of 20 people to attend the court room that day, all for the same thing. Person after person came out, telling us they had pleaded guilty, and at least half of them had their parents with them to pay the fine. For someone who had never seen a court room before, let alone been summoned to one, I felt the odds were heavily stacked against me.

However, I pleaded not guilty. I knew I hadn’t broken the law. Granted, I was travelling without the relevant I.D card, but I genuinely didn’t realise I had lost it. Furthermore, Transport for London, in this instance, didn’t follow the correct procedure. I hadn’t been given the chance to appeal. With this, alongside the fact that I was entitled to 50% off and records would show that I had applied and received the discount card, TfL eventually decided to drop the case against me – but only because I held out against the pressure to pay.

If you do ever find yourself in this position, remember, you do have the right to appeal, even if no one has made this clear to you. Don’t pay a fine just because you have received a letter telling you to. If you are summonsed, it doesn’t mean you are guilty or that you will be found guilty. You are entitled to your day in court – the opportunity to put your argument across; and if you know your rights, the chances are, like me, you will prove your innocence.