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The Business Secretary has intervened over “unfair” £100 penalties being handed to rail travellers arriving at London Stansted Airport who believed they could pay with contactless cards.
Train passengers arriving at the capital’s third busiest airport are not allowed to tap out with London Oyster cards or contactless bank cards.
However, travellers from London to Stansted are able to tap in with contactless cards at Liverpool Street and Tottenham Hale stations, giving ticket inspectors the chance to penalise them.
London TravelWatch, an independent watchdog, revealed in 2019 that 16,000 people were handed penalty fares at Stansted. Michael Roberts, London TravelWatch chief executive, said: “It’s plainly wrong that passengers continue to be unfairly penalised for not knowing that contactless payment isn’t accepted at London Stansted Airport.
‘London in its name’
“With ‘London’ in its name, people quite reasonably assume that they’ll be able to tap out using a contactless card, especially when they were allowed to tap in using one at the start of their journey.”
Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, is the MP for the Saffron Walden constituency covering the Stansted area. Her spokesman said that Mrs Badenoch will be “making enquiries directly to Greater Anglia and the Department for Transport regarding contactless card readers at Stansted Airport Station.”
Another MP has accused the train company Greater Anglia of “trying to catch out” customers.
Railway penalty fares are £100 plus the cost of the applicable ticket. An “anytime” ticket to Stansted from London Liverpool Street is £21.40, meaning each passenger who mistakenly uses a contactless card to travel to the airport is made to pay £121.40 in total.
Penalties are discounted to £50 plus the ticket price if paid within 21 days.
Around 9.7 million people used London Stansted Airport train station last year, with the majority of passengers travelling from London.
London Conservatives’ transport spokesman, Keith Prince, accused Greater Anglia of profiting from the penalty fares.
“The train operator is making millions by imposing penalty fares on passengers arriving at Stansted without a valid ticket,” Mr Prince, a member of the London Assembly said.
“While the train operator says it has signage warning passengers, clearly this signage isn’t working. It’s unfair.”
Wera Hobhouse, the transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “What are train companies doing trying to catch out their own customers?
“Passengers shouldn’t be heavily penalised simply for making an honest mistake. Ministers and the rail company need to sort out this mess and ensure contactless travel is rolled out to this route,” the MP added.
Greater Anglia refused to say how many passengers it has penalised at Stansted since the pandemic, or how much money it has made from the penalty fares.
A spokesman for the train company blamed the Government for contactless cards not being valid at Stansted, saying: “We’re keen to see the extension of contactless ticketing to Stansted Airport, as that would simplify the position and be more convenient for customers, but such a step is dependent on receipt of the necessary funding and approvals from the Department for Transport.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “It is the responsibility of Greater Anglia to inform its customers how to pay its fares, and we advise passengers to always check before they travel.”
Train journeys to other airports such as London Heathrow and London Gatwick can be paid for using contactless cards.
Revenue protection teams
In an October statement saying it had prosecuted 500 alleged fare-dodgers travelling on its trains, Greater Anglia said: “Only people who board a train without a ticket and without any intention of buying a ticket are taken to court. Greater Anglia’s revenue protection teams use their discretion when inspecting tickets.”
Social media posts suggest Stansted passengers who made honest mistakes are finding themselves being penalised regardless.
One user on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, posted in May 2023: “I just had a humiliating situation at the station as I tapped my credit card at Tottenham Hale [like] many people so didn’t see the gates with warnings. Faced with a penalty Fare of £71 at Stansted for a short journey. Not transparent!”
Another, posting in 2022, wrote: “Feeling totally ripped off today. Tapped in at Liverpool Street in good faith, checked with attendant at the gate as I tapped. Then, arriving at Stansted Airport, stung with £40 penalty fare like I’m a criminal. What a scam! Beware people.”
Greater Anglia is the only train company in Britain that makes a financial surplus, requiring no government subsidy.