Faulty ticket machines are to blame for passengers not having their fares collected on the Morecambe to Lancaster line, says the chairman of the Lancaster and Morecambe Rail User Group.
Rail passengers between Morecambe and Lancaster claim they want to pay their fares but can’t buy a ticket.
One rail passenger who did not wish to be named, said: “More than one time, I’ve approached the conductor when getting off the train, offering to pay, and been told not to bother.
“They must be losing hundreds of pounds if this is happening all the time.”
The closure of Morecambe ticket office has made it more difficult for passengers to buy tickets before they board the train.
Northern Rail said that people who want to buy tickets from Morecambe to Lancaster can travel to Lancaster or Preston to purchase tickets and have the cost of that ticket refunded.
Chairman of Lancaster and Morecambe Rail User Group Paul Grantsaid: “The Morecambe and Lancaster trains are bottom of the list. Virgin, TransPennine Express, freight companies for supermarkets and even banana traffic take priority.
“We conducted a passenger count on the Lancaster to Morecambe line and we found in the morning rush they did have two conductors on the train whose machines weren’t working.
“I can empathise with the complaints but it is a failure of the ticket machines rather than the staff.
“There were just under 200 people in the morning on that train and no tickets were taken - but that is heavily used by the girls and boys grammar schools and students from Ripley.
“These students tend to have passes.
“People like myself are usually on season tickets or yearly tickets. We are pushing for better services but it’s not good.
“The Morecambe ticket office has been shut for at least three weeks due to a break-in and vandalism of equipment so you can’t buy a ticket at Morecambe, you have to buy a ticket on the train.
“There are no ticket machines at Bare either.
“You really have to be on the ball and try and get your ticket from Lancaster.
“I have spoken to senior management and I don’t think it is their intent not to collect fares, although it may appear to be.”
A regular passenger between Morecambe and Bare Lane, who asked not to be named, said: “There have been several occasions recently where I’ve got on at either Morecambe or Bare Lane with no ticket because there was nowhere to buy one.
“Sometimes the conductor will walk down the carriage and I’ll buy a ticket.
“But other times, the conductor does not appear or doesn’t get to you in time because the carriages are so busy and it’s such a short journey.” Jim Speed, 66, from Brunswick Road, Heysham, said of a recent journey: “The train departed on time and a stop was made at Bare Lane.
“The one coach train was now well loaded.
“At no point in the journey did the conductor leave the rear cab, to collect any fares.
“He only left the rear cab, to open the doors on arrival at Lancaster station.
“Short journey times make it difficult for the conductor to get round but people are taking the chance to have a free ride.
“This surely results in a large loss of revenue.
“If staff collected fares this would give a large revenue increase, which hopefully Northern Rail would invest in purchasing some new rolling stock, instead of the old, clapped out rubbish that paying passengers are condemned to have to ride in.
“I can understand them prosecuting those who have tried to evade paying their fares, but Northern Rail are actively throwing money away.”
Glen Cooper from Bare, who regularly travels between Bare and Lancaster, said: “Northern Rail deliberately not taking fares so they can sometime in the future close the line, citing poor revenues as an excuse, has been brought up before.
“The answer from Northern Rail then was that it “..wasn’t the case - but there was a balance to be struck at various times of the day between putting on more staff (at a cost) or missing out on ‘some’ fares (also at a cost)…”.
“Having inspectors at the stations to check tickets and issue warnings to people without them is certainly having an effect, with regular commuters aking sure they buy them at the station on the way home, if they can’t get one on the train on the way to Lancaster.
“I don’t think they’d go to that trouble (putting on inspectors) if they wanted to close the line.
“The 5.25pm from Lancaster to Morecambe is now a two carriage train again – it was a very cramped one carriage train for about a year.
“It’s still busy but at least you can get a seat (albeit on a fairly old train).
“They could put nicer trains on and they could put a ticket machine at Bare – both of which would be improvements to the service in my opinion.
However, if they have good reasons not to - but they are genuinely committed to keeping the service running, then I’d be happy.
“It is a ‘usually’ reliable and pretty cheap service (particularly from Bare) compared to driving and parking (or getting a bus) and it would be a massive inconvenience to hundreds of people every day if it were to be reduced at peak hours.”
A Northern Rail spokesman said: “We apologise for any inconvenience the temporary closure of Morecambe ticket office has caused our customers.
“The office was forced to close due to vandalism and is in the process of being repaired.
“The office is due to be open by Monday October 18 and in the meantime we will refund the cost of the extended journeys to Preston and Lancaster to purchase an advance ticket.
There are no specific issues with the revenue equipment on the Lancaster – Morecambe line and normally revenue collection is very robust, however we will continue to monitor the situation. The next franchise starts in April 2016 and includes requirements for significant investment in stations and trains.”
Northern Rail refused to comment on the issues of passenger prosecutions or revenue.
David Morris MP said: “Northern Rail are responsible for this service.
“The new franchise which will be introduced in April 2016 will further improve services for passengers all across the area.”