OYSTER CARD HELL HELL HELL HELL HELL!
One day in September 2007 my daughter got on a No.38 bendy bus and found when she beeped her Oyster Card that it had run out. However by that point the bus had moved off from the stop. Inspectors got on at the very next stop, refused to let her get off to top up her card or to buy a ticket, and took her details. Nearly three months later she was issued with a court summons without having been offered the possibility of paying a penalty fare. This resulted in her being given a criminal record which will last for six years - for one 90p fare. She has never before even had her name taken, let alone been issued with a penalty fare, because her card has always been topped up.
According to our local Citizens Advice Bureau, many people are finding themselves in a similar situation and they have put in a complaint to TFL about the unfairness of criminalizing people for a first offence and a 90p fare. However since the charge is now simply that you failed to have a valid ticket, regardless of intent, there is almost no chance of winning if you plead not guilty, and, if you lose, you will not only be fined but charged additional court costs. The only real option is to take TFL on in court with a lawyer over the application of the law, at your own expense of course since it falls outside the legal aid system.
Not only CAB but TFL itself say that there has been a clampdown because endemic fare dodging on bendy buses is causing revenue problems for TFL. Apparently the only people being fined a penalty fare are those whose cards didn't beep properly but have money on, while almost all those whose cards have no money on are being taken to court. The decision to send someone to court now rests with the inspectors themselves without reference to an individual's Oyster records, which could show that a passenger has a good record of regular payments and journeys and hence that the missed fare is accidental.
TFL's line is that it is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure their card is topped up. But there is no way of checking how much is on your card at the bus stop, and it is almost impossible to see the amount on the card reader when on the bus. If the bus is crowded it can take several stops to even be able to reach the card reader, by which time it is easy to forget to touch in. Hence this is potentially resulting in the mass criminalization of basically honest people, who don't have a pocket calculator in their head to tot up the fares as they go along, and therefore have to guess how much is left on their card.
This is a problem of TFL's own making for which they are punishing their customers. It is a fundamentally flawed system, which it seems TFL has quietly acknowledged since it has now introduced auto top-up precisely to deal with this problem of accidentally running out of credit, as well as employing a rather sententious public announcement system on bendy buses, reminding passengers to touch in. More recently, the decision has been made not to commission any more bendy buses.
What other minor transport transgression merits a criminal record in the first instance? Not parking, nor the congestion charge, nor even speeding. At best this seems an over-zealous and clumsy application of the law that sweeps up both accidental and intentional non-payment of fares; at worst, a public scandal that so many are being criminalized for so little. Surely a more appropriate response to a first offence would be a penalty fare?
Meanwhile, for the next six years, every time my daughter applies for a job, she will have to tick the box that asks if she has a criminal record. Oh, and by the way, should this happen to you, your Oyster records expire after eight weeks on the TFL system. By the time the summons arrives, you may have no means of proving that you have thus far been a good Oyster citizen.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN FORCES TO CAMPAIGN FOR SOMETHING TO BE DONE ABOUT THIS, YOU ARE WELCOME TO COMMENT AND SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH US BY RESPONDING TO THIS POST OR BY GOING TO oyster-card-hell » home
THE AIM OF THE CAMPAIGN IS THIS:
WE WOULD ASK THE MAYOR'S OFFICE TO PUT PRESSURE ON TFL TO REPLACE THE CONVICTIONS OF FIRST OFFENDERS WITH A MORE APPROPRIATE PENALTY FARE.
PLEASE ALSO TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO HAS BEEN SIMILARLY AFFECTED ABOUT THIS SITE.