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Roger Evans AM: Fare evasion and crime on the buses

Fare_evasion Yesterday, Assembly Members visited East London to observe policing on public transport at first hand.

Proceedings began with a briefing at the police headquarters. This followed the same pattern as the daily briefings given to local police and included intelligence about known criminals and particular traffic problems. Drugs and disorder feature highly in the work of the Transport Operational Command Unit and the borough based Transport Safer Neighbourhood Teams. We also heard that ‘dipping’ – i.e. skilled pickpocketing – is a particular problem, with a number of professional criminals sought by police.

The briefing was followed by a trip on the infamous Number 25 – a bendy bus with some of the highest levels of crime and fare evasion in London. The 25 also hit the headlines last month after a vehicle caught fire in Ilford and a tragic death when a passenger was trapped beneath one of the buses and dragged for over a mile.

However boredom was the only danger on Thursday afternoon as the minutes dragged by at Bow Church bus stop with no sign of a 25. The guys from TfL were starting to look uncomfortable when a bus eventually turned up, with two more 25s close behind and a further two approaching in the distance. Why buses bunch up like this in London is a mystery that nobody has ever solved – safety in numbers, perhaps.

At Stratford a dozen revenue inspectors, supported by police, appeared. This development was deeply unwelcome to our fellow passengers and a large number of them were found without tickets and invited to provide their personal details for prosecution. The Mayor claims that fare evasion on articulated buses runs at around 9% (as opposed to 3% of passengers without tickets on conventional double deckers). Yesterday it was considerably more on the 25. One of the inspectors told me that in a two hour exercise, at that spot, they expected to catch 100 to 130 fare evaders on the route.

Some people seemed anxious not to give their correct names and on these occasions the police stepped in. Fingerprinting techniques enable the swift identification of people who are ‘of interest’ and we were told that eight arrests had been made that afternoon.

Things would be much easier if the powers of the officials were more ‘joined up’. A ticket inspector cannot check police records or make an arrest, and police cannot check tickets, so they have to work together. In New York the police are allowed to check tickets on the Subway and they routinely investigate the background of fare evaders. As their police chief said to me, ‘Not everyone without a ticket is a criminal, but all the criminals travel without a ticket – it’s in their character.’

The afternoon concluded with a visit to Stratford Station, which presents a policing challenge because buses, tubes, mainline trains and the Docklands Light Railway all meet up there. One of the main lines was taken over by the Mayor as part of his ‘Overground Network’ earlier this week, creating further complexity.

British Transport Police were out in large numbers, inviting people to step through a metal detecting arch and having more detailed discussions with individuals who were reluctant to do so. A friendly Alsatian was sniffing the passengers and had already made some interesting discoveries. The police can’t be everywhere but they carry out these operations regularly and they always result in arrests.

Obviously our experience will not be typical. We deliberately set out to see the police at work and they were out in force, but they are less visible during day to day travel. The impression is still of a service which is stretched to the limit. That is why we are seeking comments from passengers to feed into our cross party review. Evidence and opinions can be sent to me at Roger.Evans@London.gov.uk or via my blog.

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