MP in threat to strip Northern Rail of franchise over new fines policy

A train on the Airedale line
A train on the Airedale line
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An MP has warned Northern Rail he will do “everything in my power” to strip the company of it its franchise if its new policy of fining passengers leads to complaints from those who had tried to buy tickets.

Conservative Philip Davies sent a sharply worded email to Northern after it confirmed it would go ahead with issuing £20 “penalty fares” on two busy commuter routes in Yorkshire.

The company’s change of tack on the Wharfedale and Airedale lines follows widespread accusations of its staff “bullying” vulnerable passengers and handing them “telling off” notices for failing to buy a ticket at the start of their journey.

The firm confirmed this week that its new system of imposing £20 fines on passengers without tickets would go ahead from December 6 - despite an admission that its new vending machines installed on platforms along both routes do not accept cash.

Mr Davies, whose Shipley constituency straddles both lines, told Northern’s stakeholder manager, Pete Myers: “If I get any examples of my constituents wanting to pay for their ticket receiving a penalty fare, I will do everything in my power to ensure you lose this franchise at the earliest opportunity.”

Mr Davies had warned earlier that the new policy could see a move “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

He had lobbied the company after a constituent in Menston, near Ilkley, complained that his 16-year-old daughter had been picked out in the ticket queue at Leeds Station and bundled out of the building by staff.

Mr Myers told the MP, in correspondence seen by The Yorkshire Post, that tickets collectors would “act reasonably” and enforce the penalty fares “by a gentle hand”.

The new ticket machines, which can be accessed at some stations only by footbridge, accept credit cards but not cash. Passengers who want to pay by cash will instead be issued with a what Northern calls a “promise to pay” notice which must be handed to a ticket collector.

Mr Myers acknowledged previously that Northern’s enforcement policy had involved “pulling customers from the queue at Leeds Station”, and added: “I would not be telling the truth if I said that we hadn’t had complaints.”

He said: “The purpose for introducing penalty fares is to encourage customers to use the facilities supplied at embarkation.”

The company said its new policy was part of “the nationally-recognised penalty fares system”.

It confirmed that passengers travelling between Leeds, Bradford, Ilkley or Skipton could face a penalty fare of £20.

The company’s regional director, Paul Barnfield, said: “Everyone who travels by train should have a valid ticket or pass, or must be able to demonstrate they have made every effort to buy a ticket before they boarded.

“If they are unable to do either of these, our authorised collectors will be on hand at stations along the routes to either issue £20 fines or ask customers to pay double the cost of a single ticket to their destination.”

The company insisted its new ticket machines were “state-of-the-art”.