Oyster Penalty Fares Hit Millions

It’s not been a great month for rail commuters – we’ve had tube fare rises, rail fare increases and now fines for not touching in or out out with Oyster are up to £6.50.

Sure, we’ve all forgotten to touch out now and again, especially on lines like the DLR where you don’t always have to go through a barrier and we know it’s our own stupid fault, but what happens when the barriers aren’t working, or they’re open, or simply not there? Commuters going through Stratford between the National Rail platforms and the Jubilee line last summer may remember the palava that ensued when all the Oyster card readers were removed from the concourse, meaning that anyone coming off National Rail was forced to climb the stairs to touch in on the other side of the station before going back to the Jubilee line platform.

TfL say that National Rail companies are failing to install barriers at many stations while the companies themselves say they will only install barriers where it represents ‘value for money’ but since they get to keep the fine incurred, it obviously works in their interest not to install them and rely on readers.

London TravelWatch say that Oyster users should always contact the Oyster helpline if they believe they’ve been incorrectly charged, but in practice it’s not quite that easy. Having been incorrectly fined after touching out at a non-functional barrier at Canary Wharf only a couple of weeks after being again incorrectly fined when a member of TfL staff let us back through the gate when a line suspension occurred while waiting on the platform, we found the Oyster helpline less then, well, helpful. The first refund was given with surprising ease, but the second request was more troublesome, with the operator informing us that they ‘only ever give us the benefit of the doubt and refund once’. Leaving aside the implication that they appear to consider more than one refund request inherently dishonest, this fails to account for barriers which as mentioned before, don’t work, are open or missing.

Still, the sobering thought that last year penalty charges for failing to touch in or out were in excess of £56m – which is quite a jump on 2008’s £32m – is enough to make us double check the rules.

Have you been hit with an incorrect penalty fare? Did you claim a refund? Tell us in the comments.

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  • http://400words.wordpress.com/ richwill

    Only where it’s ‘value for money’? I suppose that’s the nearest we’ll ever get to an admission that money is the only thing they value, they might as well say ‘only where it’s value for money F*CK THE PASSENGERS ooh sorry customers

  • http://twitter.com/topdowntoedown Lewis Cooper

    I found it particularly “amusing” when I got back to my home station on Christmas Eve to find the barriers were open and switched off. So, that’s a Zone 1-? maximum penalty fare off my Oyster, I assume. Happy F*cking Christmas from TfL.

    I didn’t actually know that you could phone and get it refunded – but as the average call to the Oyster line takes 11 minutes, and from my phone that would cost £2.25 (0845 number) I think I’ll just add it to the festering pile of “reasons why every last TfL employee will be first against the wall when the revolution comes”.

    • Mantarnia

      You may well find it better to ask for refund on-line. That is what I did when it happened to me. It took a cpuple of months for them to reply but I did get the refund plus an appology for it taking so long.

      • londona729

        Just phone 0343 222 1234

        Or use the Oyster phone at Oxford Circus Station

    • londona729

      Should have gone to Oxford Circus and used the free oyster phone

  • markle

    I had the joy recently when changing between National Rail and DLR at Greenwich. Signs at Greenwich station advise everyone boarding a DLR there to touch in. I did so. The clever Oyster system thusly assumed that I’d ended my journey there, so when I alighted at my final DLR station, I was treated as having ‘entered’ the system, thus generating an incomplete journey / penalty.

    My local tube station refunded it to me quite painlessly, but I also emailed to complain about the poor / confusing signage. No response from TfL.

  • markle

    I had the joy recently when changing between National Rail and DLR at Greenwich. Signs at Greenwich station advise everyone boarding a DLR there to touch in. I did so. The clever Oyster system thusly assumed that I’d ended my journey there, so when I alighted at my final DLR station, I was treated as having ‘entered’ the system, thus generating an incomplete journey / penalty.

    My local tube station refunded it to me quite painlessly, but I also emailed to complain about the poor / confusing signage. No response from TfL.

    • londona729

      The validators are there for people changing from SouthEastern Trains (which go outside Zone 6). There are a lot of readers like that to be wary of- just remember scan at the yellow readers an even number of times- i.e 2,4,6,8,etc but NOT 1,3,,5,etc!

  • Jane

    I too have been affected by this issue in the past. £6.50 is very steep. What about tourists who don’t understand the system as well as they might? As to the 0845 number, use the 0203 alternative…here it is…0203 031 9337.

    • http://twitter.com/topdowntoedown Lewis Cooper

      Thanks for that! >adds to phone<

    • londona729

      0343 222 1234 now!

  • Neil Brewitt

    In Prague, there is one ticket for 20 minutes of travel. It costs about a pound. You validate it when you want to start it and then walk on and off buses and trams and the metro. Occasionally you’re asked to present a valid ticket for your journey. This has happened to me once in about 20 visits to the city.

    A month-long ticket is about £20 and because it’s so reasonably-priced most people buy them. Once I own this type of pass, then there is no swiping, no tickets, no delay, no barriers. I can use any public transport in the city at any time. Occasionally I will be challenged to provide a valid pass. This is a minor inconvenience.

    What a civilised country. I guess it’s an echo of their communist past that they’re more about helping you live than about taking as much money off you as possible.

    • Danalar6

      If the Czech economy was like ours, their tickets would be much more expensive. Your comment reminds me of people going on about Ghanaians obly getting £25 p/w wages and then silence when i reminded them that a loaf of bread in Ghana doesnt cost over a pound like it does here.

      • Neil Brewitt

        Not really sure quite what your point is there. In what way is the Czech economy unlike ours?

    • londona729

      In London that would lead to a hike in fare evasion! Also TfL would either have to lose revenue by making Tube fares equivalent to bus fares or raise bus fares to a level unreachable by many poorer Londoners..

  • Dantfl

    I have had two disputes with them over the penalty fare. The first took over two years to resolve (in my favour, finally), and the second is ongoing (several months in).

    The system is dramatically weighted in their favour. They profit from their own failure to implement a logical and robust system. Unfortunately, they are a monopoly and cannot be questioned.

    • londona729

      Why did it take 2 years? I have had many resolved the next day!

  • Peterkin

    I recently made a journey from Brixton to Stratford to go on National Rail. On returning to Brixton I touched out. Unfortunately, the barriers didn’t register my journey, even though they let me through (the panel went red, but the gates still opened).

    When I went to go to work on the Monday morning my Oyster wouldn’t let me through the gates. The TfL employee checked, and told me I was in debit to my account. This made no sense – I have a zone 1-2 travel card (costing me £1100 a year) and Pay as You Go cash on my account too. After a lengthy queue at Brixton it turned out they’d handsomely charged me for “not touching out”. The woman at the counter was incredibly rude and unhelpful, simply repeating ‘Madam, if you can’t show me you touched out, I can’t help you’.

    Well, how was I to prove I’d touched out as the barriers didn’t record my journey?

    I left angry, £10 lighter (having relented and topped up my Oyster card to get in credit again) and late for work (having queued for 20 minutes and argued for 5).

    • Guest

      Yes, welcome to the club. I can’t believe they are just ripping us off. this campaign it will cost you less to use oyster, is just misleading.

      I also had a travel card and on a day that the district line was just not working and I spent more than 10 minutes between station between Kensigton Olympia and Earls court. The journey between Kensignton Olympia and Baker Street took me nearly 2 hours, which by bus would have taken me significally less at no cost. i had a travel card for Zones 2 & 3, but i travel to zone 1. I touched out as normal and the gates opened, so I thought i had enough balance on my oyster card.

      Incredibly enough when I tried to touch in on the next day I had Seek Advice 24 message on the machine. Is everyone supposed to know what seek advice 24 means? I am sorry but i did not know what that was. Can you please let me know whether this is supposed to be of the general public knowledge? I got on the train and when I arrived to Clapham Junction, the gates did not open. I was then assisted by an inspected how asked me to pay for the journey. I was relutant to pay as i had a travel card on my oyster card. in the end the inspector fined me £20 because I demanded to have his name. That is just not fair as i had a VALID travel card. I complained to the IAS and they refused my claim, and are not prepared to discuss the reasoning over the phone. After complaining they told me to send another claim. Is this for real? If i had a paper travel card, I would been able to go through the gates without problem, as my Oyster card would be a separate thing. I am seriously not happy with it, since I have paid in advance for my Travel card, paid for a service i did not fully get and then fined,… my conclusion and advise to you all is please do not use the oyster card unless you really need to. You will save yourself loads of problems.

      Please do not get me wrong. The Oyster card concept is great in my opinion, but people assisting are not the always the cleverest…

      • londona729

        Error 24 means you went outside the Zones of your Travelcard without sufficient prepay to cover the cost of the excess fare.So you had a negative balance after going to Baker Street.

        You can’t just walk past a validator that tells you to seek assistance-hence why you were fined.

        Why didn’t you just use the 27 bus direct to Baker Street originally when there was a District line problem?!

    • londona729

      Staff at Brixton are sometimes rude in my experience! You should never go on red, you should have touched again to make sure it was green. Anyway they have auto complete nowadays!

  • MH

    I have forgotten to touch out on many occasions where there is not barrier, but a standalone oyster reader. Each time I have called the oyster helpline and they have applied the refund with no problems….
    I dont see this as a penalty fare, its the way the oyster system works, where it takes of the maximum fare when you touch in, and then adjusts it depending on where ou touch out. If you dont touch out, it doesnt know where you finished your journey so the maximum fare remains. Its up to the user to ensure the touch out…Anoying, but thats how it works!

    • londona729

      Exactly it require Personal Responsibility (and of course demand a refund if you’ve been wrongly charged the Maximum(or effectively Penalty) fare- which is in addition to the cap.

  • http://twitter.com/Alla_E Alla Yeliseyeva

    i have been charged numerous times as i work late shifts and often catch the last train going south from london br. i touch in at london br only to find my home station to be completely closed with no access to the gate. i have claimed refunds 7 times this year. and those charges were always on top of my daily cap! how ridiculous is that?

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/murphyzmike/ murphyz

    I do make claims when I feel I’ve been incorrectly charged, and have received cheques multiple times for the erroneous charge; this is whether on the tube, rail or bus (and I do make the point of cashing an 80p cheque just for the point of doing so).

    The cap has also been raised to £7.70 now – I sent an email to TFL after someone mentioned towards the end of last year that the auto-top up amount was increasing on Oyster from £5 to £8 but they (TFL) made no mention of it to me; about 6 weeks later I received the following:

    “Thank you for your email about the changes to our Auto-top up service. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in our response.

    As you may already be aware, the Auto top-up threshold has increased from £5 to
    £8. This is the first increase that has taken place since 2005 and is not linked to inflation. This is being applied as a standard across the system so customers will not be able to opt out.

    This increase is mainly to ensure that customers have sufficient money on their Oyster card to pay for their intended journey.

    For example, as of 2 January 2011 the maximum fare has been increased to £7.70. A maximum fare is charged when the Oyster system cannot work out where customers have travelled as a result of customers failing to touch in or out correctly. The new threshold of £8 will ensure that customers have sufficient credit to travel even in the event of this fare being applied.

    Please note that any money topped up onto an Oyster card belongs to the customer rather than Transport for London. We do not hold this money in a bank account so we do not make any interest or profit from this service. This money remains on your Oyster card until you use it to make a journey.

    In addition, the Auto top-up service is to ensure customers do not have to queue up and wait long periods of time to top-up their cards when they fall low on credit. Auto Top-up can also be cancelled at any time and the balance remaining on your card is refundable upon requested.

    Please contact us if you need any further help.”

  • http://nbrightside.com/blog Andy C

    What I hate about Oyster is that the onus is always on the customer. To check journey charges. To check the complex pricing. To check top-ups. To check refunds. To check absolutely everything.

    I don’t use it as I simply don’t trust the system and I don’t trust TfL. However, last week, I topped up my wife’s Oyster card on the Internet with £40. Because she’s an occasional traveller, she didn’t use it until yesterday when she discovered, inevitably, that the £40 credit wasn’t on the card. This was despite receiving an email confirming the ‘transaction’.

    Why wasn’t the credit on the card ? Because you have to ‘validate your order at a station within 7 days’. Now it’s not an order – it’s a top-up. Why do I have to ‘validate’ an ‘order’ at a station ? Why isn’t it handled like topping up a PAYG phone. You top-up £40 and your balance is immediately increased by £40.

    Now, of course, if TfL only debited my card when the order was validated, that would be fine as I wouldn’t have been charged. But they don’t – they debit the funds immediately. I wonder why that is.

    Apparently, the reason for this 7 day rule; machines at station can only store 7 days history. How on earth this relates to top-ups made on the Internet Web site isn’t entirely clear.

    So another phone call to get the £40 refunded and a complaint to Trading Standards.

    The whole system is poorly designed and implemented and about as unfriendly to the customer as it possibly could be.

    • Jerry12

      Andy, when you make a pay as you go purchase online, the data is sent to the gates and validators of your nominated station the next day. It stays for eight days. When the card is touched on a gate or validator at that station, the data is transferred to the card and the balance increased.
      It is an on-card system – the balance and any season tickets are held on the card.
      Why one station? Because the gates and validators at any given station are linked to that station’s computer. The station computers are all linked to a central system but not to each other. If the data were sent to all stations, the top up would be applied at every entry and exit that day.
      The pick up requirements are clearly advised during the process, by email once the order is completed and the next morning when the top-up is ready at the station.

    • londona729

      What’s wrong with the concept of Personal Responsibility? Surely when you go to a restaurant it’s your job to check the menu and the pricing as well as T&Cs of any vouchers you have to check that you don’t spend more than you want/can afford today?

      Didn’t you read the email to see that there was an 8 day gap to collect the cash?

      Nowadays the cash would be automatically refunded if the payment isn’t collected

  • BlahBlahDoh

    Similar to Peterkin above, I swiped my card and it let me through the barrier at Warren St, but something must have been wrong as it took £6.50 when I swiped out minutes later at Waterloo. This was my third journey, and despite starting the day with over £10 credit I was now -0.10 and unable to get home. Staff told me to call the helpline, but to expect to be on hold for 20 minutes at my expense. No thanks. I went and hired a Boris bike instead. Claimed it back the next day, but was told “only your word for it” and given a lecture. Surely it’s clear from the pattern of behaviour, or even the timings, that no fare avoidance has taken place. Surely the daily cap should apply in all circumstances? Surely I’ve been cheated, inconvenienced, not provided with the service paid for, and deserve an apology? As I said to their obnoxious staff: “The customer’s always wrong, eh?”

    • londona729

      Daily cap doesn’t apply in that case as Maximum fare effectively is a penalty fare

  • Jewlz

    I was hit with an incorrect penalty fare in september of this year ( 2011), i traveled during ” peak hours” from Victoria which unfortunately for me meant that the gates were left open and the little display which tells you to seek assistance when you don’t touch in properly was totally blank ( dead). i got to my destination and received a fine. despite the fact that my oyster card made physical contact with all readers.

    After i received my fine, i touch out and was charged £6.50 which weirdly TFL were more then happy to reimburse.

    In my appeal i sent audio and email proof that Victoria do leave the gates open at specific times London Travel watch and IRCAS still say its my fault. even though London travel watch have posted about a similar scenario in this article.

    I feel like cutting my oyster card up and never using it again.

    Verdict- Robbed.

    • londona729

      Didn’t they reimburse you, though?

  • Paul

    Mantarnia, where were you able to ask for a refund on-line? I’ve spent ages looking all over the tfl website and can’t find anywhere to do it.

    • londona729

      Log into Oyster Online or make a complaint using TfL website
      Otherwise use 0343 222 1234 ( landline call charges)

  • sick@ofbeingrippedoff.com

    They basically try to trick people into paying fines for doing nothing wrong. While fare dodgers get away with it all the time. Do London a favour and vote with your feet – literally – and don’t use any TFL ‘services’ unless absolutely necessary. I’m so disgusted after an unfair fine that I run/walk to and from work now rather than having to use their Cr@p services, which are usually delayed and make me late for work anyway. They forget that we are paying CUSTOMERS – and we don’t have to use them if we don’t want to.

    • londona729

      TfL is a monopoly on Public Transport and of course there’s the Congestion Charge which charges you for the privilege of going into Central London by car Mon-Fri!

      They have a captive market especially for those living in Zone 4+ where walking and cycling are not feasible for every(week)day commuting

  • londona729

    I love TfL but am disappointed at the fact they haven’t tried to learn from MTR(the Hong Kong rail operator that makes a profit!)

  • IHATEZIONS

    TFL always looking for the best way how to STEAL Londoners money by fining them unfairly then pass the stolen fines to the basically fatcats owned companies claims that ‘improving the tube’.

  • carla

    I have been fined, by inspector accusing me of using a freedom pass i showed my oyster and they were demanding the freedom pass, police was called and the bus was on stand, i went through search including my bag and as i stted i did not have one, I was then fined and requested to pay a fine and i disagreed because i did not travel bus was on stand and i was accused and had police called on searched in public and now im taken to court, How can i defend my self especially with what law.

  • Ann Crutwell

    I am a new user of oyster. I got fined twice in 1 weekend. Once at waterloo, because I thought I was checking into the underground only to find out I was checking out of overground. No obvious information for visitors. Girl in front had same problem. Sorted that, then 2 days later a malfunctioning barrier at East Finchley caused me to get a 2nd fine. Got that back too, but lost my capping, so I am not very happy about the overcharge.