Go to jail, go directly to jail
New notices have recently appeared on the first class carriages of the Cambridge to London (First Capital Connect) train. These detail, in large font clarity, the penalties for being a “standard class” passenger and travelling in a first class carriage.
I am sure that these penalties are not new. What is new is the determination to enforce them. In the old days (by which I mean roughly a year ago), if you got on a very busy train and there were no seats, and probably nowhere even to stand, in “standard” you could decide to go and take one of the free seats in first. When the ticket inspector (now called “revenue protection officers”) came round, he or she either took your point and didn’t charge you anything. The worst that happened, in practice, was that they charged you the difference between what you had paid and the regular first class fare.
What the new notices announce is, if you’re lucky, a mandatory penalty fare. If you are unlucky, then the maximum sentence is a criminal record and £1000 fine or three months in prison.
Prison for being a standard class person sitting in a first class train carriage?
I know it isn’t quite as simple as it looks. Suppose you had bought a first class ticket and turned up with 5 minutes to go, to find all the seats taken by people who couldn’t find a seat in standard class. I’m sure you’d feel pretty cross.
I also know that there has been some fuss (rightly) about a woman who was taken to the cleaners for even standing in a first class carriage, when there was no standing room in standard.
My point is a different one. I know that 3 months imprisonment is the maximum penalty, very rarely applied. But this notice (and the fact that there is no rebellion over it) shows just how far we have all accepted the idea that banging someone up is the best form of punishment/retribution for society to exact. In the UK at least; it's not quite like this in other countries in the world.
There can be no circumstances whatsoever in which sitting above your class on a packed commuter train should ever, ever leave you liable for a custodial sentence. OK, you might be threatening. You might trash the place. In which case there would be other charges up the long arm of the law to deal with you.
Suppose we did bang up some young thug for repeatedly taking an unauthorised place in first class, and being cheeky with it. OK, he'd only serve two months maximum (and anyone who complains about that should go and try running a prison where there wasn’t time off for good behaviour). All the same, given the record of UK prisons, the chances are even then he’d emerge a paid up member of the criminal classes.
How could it possibly be a good idea to criminalise anyone for some half-paid fares?
And how many other stupid reasons for banging someone up could there be? Shoplifting? Not having a TV licence....?