Transport for London wants to increase the penalty fare from £80 after seeing evasion increase since the pandemic and in the cost of living crisis.
It is also considering prosecuting offenders who ignore repeated demands to pay up. Almost half of penalty fares are never paid.
TfL says that two years of not checking tickets during the pandemic — inspectors were told to focus on passengers not wearing masks — the weak sanctions and the perceived low risk of getting caught have fuelled an increase in fare dodging.
It wants to increase the penalty fare in line with those on the national railways, which will increase to £100 plus the cost of a single fare from January 23, to act as a greater deterrent.
Latest figures show weekend Tube travel has risen above pre-pandemic levels for the first time. The number of journeys hit 105 per cent of “normal” on Saturday November 12 — a level last seen on March 1, 2020. “Chronic” fare evaders — typically people who jump through ticket gates — are responsible for a third of attacks on Tube staff.
TfL says that more than £15.4 million of penalty fares imposed since 2012-13 remain uncollected. At present, it sends two “chasing” letters and then passes each case to a debt recovery company if fines are unpaid after 39 days.
A new hardline approach will see non-payment despite reminders classed as “deliberate fare evasion” and deserving of prosecution — dating back to fines issued since May. TfL said the level of fines — which are halved if paid within 21 days — had not increased since 2011. It added: “Increasing the penalty fare will ensure that there are clear and consistent rules across the transport networks in London.”
But critics claim that TfL should do more to tackle evasion.
Analysis by the TaxPayers’ Alliance suggests that there was only a fine or prosecution for one in more than 90,000 journeys in 2021-22 —about 50 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. In the first half of the 2022-23 year, it said the rate remained 10 per cent below “normal”. Elliot Keck, from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Petty criminals escape punishment far too frequently.”