Closer to home, this weekend I was camping near Battle, in East Sussex. On Sunday evening we were leaving the campsite, the owner warned us about needing to get a Permit-to-Travel before boarding the train as she’d recently been given a penalty fare for boarding the train without a ticket.
So, on our journey back, we put Southeastern to the test: what is the correct action when you can’t buy a ticket at the station?
The rural, and deserted, Crowhurst station had a sole ticket machine that only accepted card payment. What were we to do if we only had cash?
We saw the prominent notices about travelling without a ticket but as the railway didn’t provide for a means to buy a ticket we wanted to see what Southeastern would advise. This was 19:45 on a Sunday evening so our expectations were low.
We located the Information Point and pressed the button (recorded in the video below).
Impressively, we were connected to an engaged and helpful advisor within about 30 seconds. Once we’d clarified our situation. we were advised to look for a Permit-to-Travel machine before boarding the train and buying a full ticket. We hunted for the Permit-to-Travel machine but we didn’t find one.
Unable to buy a ticket or Permit-to-travel, we boarded the train and sought out the (friendly) conductor on board who said he’d sell us a ticket; however, I definitely felt anxious about being accused of travelling without a ticket. Three thoughts come to mind:
- As our campsite owner’s anecdote proves, not all conductors understand the situation at stations like Crowhurst.
- This was an 8 car train and we were able to walk along to find the conductor – are all passengers in this situation expected to get on and walk up and down looking for the conductor?
- Whatever happened to the Permit-to-Travel machine?
This is just another example of the uncertainty facing passengers using the railway: scenarios like this undermine users’ confidence making them uncomfortable using the service. The campsite owner told us that she now drives to Battle station to buy her tickets the day before, just to make sure she isn’t fined again. That is not providing convenient service.
Author: Liam Henderson