IARNRÓD ÉIREANN has threatened two teenagers with a criminal conviction for fare evasion after a “mistake” over student travel cards.
National Rail Users Ireland, the lobby group which represents rail passengers, criticised the company’s heavy-handed approach and called last night for the establishment of an independent appeals body to hear such cases.
Chris Bohane, 18, and his friend Tara McCarthy, 18, from Cork, were fined €100 for travelling on a student ticket with what they thought were valid student cards.
The friends are now facing a court appearance after the company refused to accept they had made a mistake, and refused to accept a bank draft they offered to cover the fare difference.
“We never set out to avoid the fare,” Chris said.
“The company’s customer service is terrible. I raised loads of issues in my letters, all of which have been ignored. The company has been totally dismissive of us.
“Court is the last place I want to be but I am prepared to go to court because I genuinely feel wronged.”
The friends booked the discounted €45 student fare online for a return rail journey from Cork to Dublin.
A warning sign pops up during the payment process which warns students that they must have a valid Iarnród Éireann Student Travel Card, issued by the rail company through the dedicated studentravelcard.ie website.
But Chris and Tara have the internationally recognised Irish Secondary Students Union card, issued through the studentcard.ie website.
They mistakenly thought their student cards would be accepted by the rail company.
They boarded a train in Cork and their tickets were inspected without incident.
They boarded the return train and their tickets were inspected again, without incident.
They were almost home when an inspector, who boarded at Mallow, checked their tickets and issued them with a €100 fare evasion fine each. The pair were told they had the wrong student cards and would also have to pay the full €66 fare.
Chris wrote to the company disputing its fare evasion claim, and explained that it was a genuine mistake over the student cards.
He sent a bank draft for €50 to cover the difference between the two student fares and the full adult fare.
But the company said it has adopted a very strict policy in relation to ticketing and penalty fares, and refused to accept the payment.
“You committed an offence when you failed to abide by the terms and conditions regarding student ticketing,” the company said in a letter.
“You’ve committed an offence and were issued a fixed penalty. You have not paid the penalty within the set period and now are leaving me with the option of prosecuting you for fare evasion.”
The company warned a conviction would result in a hefty fine and a criminal conviction.
A company spokesman defended the get-tough approach.
“For some time now we have been implementing a zero policy on people who fail to purchase or produce a valid travel ticket,” spokesman Barry Kenny said.
He said the company’s website warning about valid student cards is very clear and that it is the responsibility of each passenger to adhere to the terms and conditions of travel.
But the Rail Users Ireland said this case highlights several issues of concern.
“Fare evasion has to be tackled but the response has to be proportional to the offence,” spokesman Mark Gleeson said. “If you start punishing people for honest mistakes, no one will travel by train.”
He also said the case highlights flaws in the company’s ticket inspection system, and inconsistencies in its approach.
Mr Gleeson said the inspectors should have spotted the tickets problem in Cork, and that the teenagers should have been warned, and made pay the full fare there and then.
“This case highlights the need for an independent appeals operation like they have in London,” he said.
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