'Free' rail trips end up costing passenger €5,500
A COMMUTER who decided to 'save' money by not paying the correct train fare has been hit with a €5,500 bill after being caught by ticket inspectors.
The man had paid for an annual ticket from Drogheda in Louth to Balbriggan in north Dublin, but continued travelling to a southside Dart station for eight months without paying the extra fare.
But he was caught when inspectors checked his annual ticket at the Dart station in Blackrock as part of a blitz of fare evaders.
An on-the-spot penalty fare of €100 was imposed when it emerged he did not have a valid ticket, with inspectors retaining his annual pass for further investigation.
The smart travel card contains data on the stations where it is used to verify travel, and it emerged the ticket had been repeatedly used at Blackrock for up to eight months.
The man, who is not being identified, had paid €1,160 for his annual pass. The correct fare from Drogheda to Blackrock, where he was caught, should have cost €3,040.
"The penalty fare was applied on a station blitz check on leaving the station," an Irish Rail spokesman said.
"In all instances where a penalty fare is issued, we retain the ticket, and the smartcard allowed us to review the use of the ticket outside of its validity.
"While we could have applied a €100 penalty per journey outside the area of validity, we applied the single fare for each instance of travel outside the validity resulting in the penalty of €5,544.25, which was paid in full."
The case closely mirrors one in Britain where a commuter reached an out-of-court settlement of £43,000 (€57,000) after allegedly dodging train fares in London over a five-year period.
Irish Rail said the settlement here was the highest reached in 2014, a year when the number of people stopped and caught by Revenue Protection Officers without a ticket rose. In another case, a commuter made a settlement of €1,000.
Some 9,885 fixed-penalty notices were issued in 2014, an increase of 30pc. A minimum fine of €100 is imposed. A total of 356 cases were also successfully prosecuted in the District Court, where the offender did not pay the penalty fare.
Irish Rail chief executive David Franks, who takes part in inspections, said the increase showed the capability of its collection system.
"We don't try to be Big Brother, we just want the money," he said. "It shows the capability of our revenue collection systems. They use intelligence and specific spots where gates aren't used a lot of the time, and stations where there's less fares going through the (ticket) machine."
Revenue Protection Officers also confiscated 1,200 Department of Social Protection Free Travel Passes in 2014 which were being misused. It said it would work closely with the department to target misuse of the passes.
The number of staff working in revenue protection has increased over the past 18 months.
In many cases, station blitzes involve all passengers disembarking a train being checked for a valid ticket.