How ticket officers face barrage of abuse as they tackle London's £116m fare-dodging epidemic

Ross Lydall
A fare dodger at Gloucester Road station

The risks faced by ticket inspectors attempting to tackle London’s fare-dodging epidemic are revealed in a shocking documentary.

One bus passenger challenged for not having a valid ticket is apprehended after a police chase, having apparently discarded a 3ft sword as he fled.

Other exchanges show Transport for London enforcement officers and police face a daily barrage of verbal abuse and threats. Routine fare patrols often uncover knives, drugs and suspects on the run.

Fare evasion costs TfL £116 million a year. There are an estimated 65,000 daily fare dodgers on the bus network, while the Tube loses more than £200,000 a day in unpaid fares.

The documentary shows how TfL investigators use Oyster card details to follow fare-dodgers, then use “spotters” to stop them at ticket barriers.

A fare dodger at Gloucester Road station

The system can identify passengers who deliberately travel beyond the zones paid on their Travelcard. One man is caught owing more than £1,000, for using a zones 1-2 card to travel to and from Woolwich Arsenal in zone 4, and faces prosecution.

“Sting” operations are mounted on bus routes notorious for evasion such as the 149 and 159. Offenders face £40 on-the-spot fines.

Inspectors questioning a man on the top deck of a 149 bus withdraw after the camera crew spot what appears to be the handle of a knife in his coat. The man flees and boards another bus — prompting a police response. The suspect is apprehended in Hackney.

Officers with a knife confiscated while on patrol

Another occasion sees inspectors trail a notorious Tube fare-dodger to Gloucester Road before he leaps over barriers and escapes after questioning.

Station CCTV shows so-called “barrier blaggers” hurdling, crawling under or “double gating” — when they follow a paying passenger through a barrier — to avoid paying. Oxford Circus is revealed to be a hotspot for such tactics. In 2018-2019, TfL issued 87,139 on-the-spot fines and prosecuted a further 26,164 fare-dodgers, with convictions in all but five cases. It won £2.2 million from the courts in costs and compensation.

Siwan Hayward, TfL compliance director, said: “Our team of 450 revenue inspectors operate across the whole network day and night, using new technology and intelligence to identify anyone travelling without a ticket. Fare evasion is a serious criminal offence that could lead to prosecution, a criminal record, a fine of up to £1,000 and can have profound consequences. Through continued partnership working with the police and intelligence gathering we will push for the toughest penalties for anyone caught fare evading.”

Fare Dodgers: At War With The Law is on Monday at 9pm on Channel 5.

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