Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hammers and walnuts

Mid-to-long term readers of this blog might remember way back in the mists of time (ok, July) I got caught on one of those notorious whipping boys of public transport, the nefarious number 12 bendy bus, without having swiped on with my Oyster.

I have little to say in my defence, really. Save it was the end of a long, hot, fairly crappy day at work in the grey London heat, and I just scrambled for a seat, forgetting to slap my wafer of blue plastic against the reader. It later transpired I also only had £1 on it, as well, to compound my oversight. My bad.

Well, nearly a full 6 months later, I've just received a court summons for it, with the option to not attend court, and simply plead guilty and pay up £100. I'm fairly pissed off about all this, obviously, as I seem to be in a 'Lose/Lose' scenario, i.e.: pay £100, plead guilty and get a record, or attend court, probably lose on the basis of own fairly frank admission to the inspector ("I forgot") and get a criminal record and pay the legal costs.

I think it would be naive of me not to admit culpability for having not swiped or having checked my Oyster was fully topped up, and indeed never intended to deceive. This was a first time offense, and I was fully open about it. I'm frankly exasperated that something that occurred the best part of six months ago, has been hanging over me like some blandly bureaucratic sword of Damocles, until the new year (when incidentally, I don't currently have any work) when they've finally got round to issuing a court summons, and indeed that they would even bother doing such a thing, for a £2 ticket.

I actually suspect that it's largely down to TFL haemorrhaging money out of the backside due to the unpopular, unsuited to London bendy buses, which they presumably introduced to dispense with ticket inspectors – the only problem here being that they have to then hire the surly 'Revenue Protection Inspector droids' (the traffic wardens of the public transport system) to patrol the buses on what seems like a permanent basis to recoup losses, and occasionally, truck loads of our boys (and girls) in blue, who hang around at bus-stops to back them up, when presumably they could be out 'fighting real crime' like, I dunno, terrorism or something. In all honesty, fare dodging is endemic to those buses, which practically invite you to jump on without paying, and I see it every time I get on one. I always pay, apart from this one ocassion, when as luck would, or wouldn't have it, I got caught. I 'fessed up then, but rather than deal with my transgression with what might be seen as an appropriate and commeasurate response to my exceedingly minor transgression (like, a fine), this farcical palaver has been taken to the courts. FFS.

So now, as the the peripheral gears of the British system grind exceedingly slowly up to speed, I potentially face some form of legal footnote to efface 31 years of (mostly) good behaviour. I'm kind of resigned to it now. I suspect my admission of an oversight, rather than being taken in the spirit it was intended, will, in the eyes of the law be tantamount of intention to defraud TFL. Having done a bit of poking around, I've read that a crime of this order might only be a problem if entering a legal/financial career (unlikely) or attempting to emigrate (unfortunately increasingly attractive), but still...

So there you go. I'm seeking advice on this, but who knows, by this time next month I could be a felon, sporting prison tats and dodging the 5-0 (OK, exaggeration). If such is the case – and I warrant it extremely likely – I doubt I will ever have a good word to say about the maladministered public transport infrastructure in London, ever again.

ps: Advice gratefully accepted, though I suspect I know what the outcome of this will be...


Finally got this settled out of court, after a visit to Peckham CAB Bureau, who were tremendously helpful (in spite of being extremely busy – I got there when they opened at 10am and was still there for two and a half hours). On their advice, I was given a number, and able to settle out of court with TFL, after speaking to someone in their 'Enforcement and Policing Directorate' (who seemed like a reasonable enough chap, to be fair).

Nonetheless this resolution had a faint air of 'beware of the leopard' (see the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) about it, insofar as I had to visit the CAB in the first place to be made aware of this solution. In none of their written communications to me was the option (as a first time offender) of settling out of court made clear – and I know of a few people who have simply pleaded guilty and hence received a criminal record.


Zeno Cosini said...

What a fucker.

I was actually called as a witness to the trial of a fellow student when I was at uni over an unpaid tube fair. She's bought a £1 ticket when she should have bought a £2.50 ticket. The magistrate said there was no way that London underground could prove it was a deliberate fare evasion, and threw the case out.

I think you've probably got a better chance of winning than you think (though I guess your case is a little different). But I don't know whether it's worth fighting it because it's hard to know what costs you'd be liable for if you lost.

I think I'd probably pay up if I were you.

The Eyechild said...

Yeah, it sucks, really. I presume the objective is to make summary examples of a few people to deter others from riding the buses for free.

Yeah I made a mistake, which I admitted to – I forgot. And I think it's simply draconian to prosecute someone for that. I read in the paper that our own tousle-headed mayor forgot to pay the congestion charge – and he's not being taken to court for it (or fined as much, I might add).

Basically I think the entire process is an immense waste of everybody's time. I'm somewhere between bemused and angry at the silliness of it all, and the indifferent, monolithic nature of the process (I will in all probability not be present at my own hearing, nor will the witness – the 'witness' who apprehended me who hasn't even bothered to sign his supposed statement they sent me, and after six months probably couldn't tell me from Adam if he met me in the street).

But I truly have a Hobsons choice really available to me, now, and suspect the only option is to 'kiss the gunner's daughter' as it were, and take it like a man. But really I'm more concerned about having this on my record than anything else.