Northern Rail was accused today of bullying and “criminalising” vulnerable passengers by “tricking” them into joining a queue for tickets and then fining them.
A complaint by the father of a 16 year-old girl who was bundled out of Leeds Station on her first day at college was escalated on social media after other passengers added stories of station staff picking on “soft targets”.
The row has led to calls for a review of the way tickets are sold on trains.
Scout leader Charlie Barnes, from Menston, near Ilkley, said the train company was guilty of “bullying young girls” after his daughter, Hattie, 16, was hauled out of a ticket queue and told by a member of staff: “Right then, little miss - you’re breaking the law.”
Mr Barnes said passengers had been told to join the queue by the train guard, who was prevented by overcrowding from selling tickets on board.
But he said his daughter, who was travelling to Leeds Arts University for the first time, was then refused a ticket and was manhandled out of the station.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “She spent her first day at college crying and upset.
“They made her feel like a criminal. They took all her details, interrogated her, gave her a talking to and then another guy was summoned and they marched her out.”
Mr Barnes, a strategist with the civil service, claimed staff had deliberately “picked off” the most vulnerable people in the queue.
“These are not people trying to avoid paying - they are queuing for tickets and they’ve got money in their hands,” he said.
“They encourage you to think that you can buy on the train. But it’s a trick. The people at the station are jobsworths. They’re patronising and they seem to get off on the power kick.”
His original comments on Facebook and Twitter prompted scores of replies. Passenger Don Aitken tweeted: “Bullies. More than happy to sell us tickets on some trains but then choose soft targets to fine when they like.”
A female passenger said: “I was surrounded by four big guys at Leeds - they surrounded me. First time in my life I have ever felt intimidated.”
Another traveller told The Yorkshire Post: “I was ‘caught’, after getting a train from Menston. It was a matter of buy a ticket or get the train, as the queue was so long. I got very grumpy and flat out refused to give my details, caused a bit of a stink and said it couldn’t be legal, as there was a conductor on the train actually selling tickets. If it was illegal to buy them they shouldn’t be selling them. They let me go.”
Mr Barnes said: “This is about bullying young people - it’s not on. As a scout leader I am particularly sensitive to this sort of thing.”
Northern acknowledged it was “aware of some concerns” and said it was looking into the complaints. A spokesman said: “Good customer service is a priority for Northern and we do not accept or tolerate any behaviour from our staff which makes customers feel uncomfortable.”
The company’s policy is to ask passengers to buy tickets before they travel but it confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that “where this is not possible”, train guards can sell “a full range of tickets”, including concessionary fares.