What are the Penalties for Fare Evasion?

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Sydney train

With the advent of the opal card, quick, efficient public transport is once again on the agenda of the NSW government.

However, so is catching out people who evade public transport fares and try to cheat the system.

This year, there has been a crackdown on fare evasion, as it is estimated to cost the community millions every year.

It should be pointed out however, that the government makes millions in fines given out for fare evasion.

One measure put in place to cut fare evasion is stopping some ticketing machines in Sydney stations not selling concession-tickets between certain hours.

This move has seen a 10% drop in the purchase of concession tickets.

Opal cards are designed to eliminate fare evasion in several ways. They aim to prevent “over-travelling” – going a further distance than what you’ve paid for as you must tap the card on and off public transport.

Opal card readers can be used to check your travel history. Merely purchasing and opal card so that you can produce it to police or transit officers will not work, as they will be able to tell if you try to avoid fares by just not tapping on.

But if you get caught, just what penalties could you be facing?

You can be asked to show your ticket at any time. You may be issued an on the spot fine of $200 for not having a ticket, or for using a concession ticket without a valid concession card.

The maximum penalty for either of these offences is a $550 fine.

Not to get too technical here but the actual offence of travelling without a ticket is not actually whether or not you bought a ticket, but whether or not you “hold” a ticket. According to legislation, this means being able to produce it on request.

An exception to getting hit with this fine is if you boarded a bus or train where there were no facilities available for buying a valid ticket.

What happens after I get a fine?

After receiving a fine, you have 21 days to pay it. If you need extra time to pay your fines, you may be able to get an extension.

It may also be possible to pay by instalment, particularly if your finances don’t allow you to fork out the whole amount at once.

If you don’t believe you deserve the fine, you can write to State Rail and ask them to consider withdrawing it.

If they refuse, you may wish to contest it in court. However it is best to take a cautious approach when considering this avenue.

If you take the matter to court and lose, you will still have to pay the fine, plus court fees. Or you may even be fined extra.

For example, if you were given the $200 on the spot fine, and choose to contest it in court and lose, the magistrate can increase your fine up to $550.

If you have already requested that the matter go to court and have changed your mind, you can get the matter withdrawn, but only if you decide this before your Court Attendance Notice arrives in the mail.

If you have already received your Court Attendance Notice, and attend court, you can always plead guilty and ask the Magistrate to consider your financial circumstances when dealing with you.

Another alternative is to request a review by the State Debt Recovery Office.

There are three possible outcomes of a review:

  • Your request may be rejected and you must still pay the fine or take the matter to court
  • Your case may be dealt with leniently and you are issued a caution. In this situation it is clear that the offence occurred but because of special circumstances or evidence provided.
  • The charge of the offence is dismissed. This could be because the penalty notice doesn’t clearly state the offence or has been issued in error. If this is the case, you don’t have to pay the fine

In most circumstances, simply paying the fine is the easier way to go. Of course, buying your ticket in the first place is even better.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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