First Group, proprietors of the Ftr bus service, have denied carrying out a “student witch-hunt” after six University of York students were served with court orders.
The students were ordered to appear before York Magistrates Court after failing to pay £50 fines issued for alleged fare-evasion. However, a number of the students have denied the accusations.
Terri Wallis, 22, a student at the University of York, claims she offered the conductor a five-pound note and was told that change was not available, but was assured that the ordinary fare could be sent through the post, as she was able to pay, and not, therefore, a “fare-dodger”. Days later, Wallis received a £50 fine from First. A summons followed after she refused to pay the fine, and she was then ordered to pay £100 in addition to the original fine to cover court costs.
Wallis said: “I spoke to an inspector who would not accept my £5 note, and he then proceeded to take my name and address, which I believed was so that head office could contact me and I could send a cheque for the £1.50 intended fare”.
Speaking about the court summons, she said: “I was quite frightened at the prospect of going to court. I have never been to court before. I felt quite intimidated and was made to feel like a criminal.” She went on to express her feelings on First, saying: “The company has treated its customers despicably”.
Richard Eames, First’s Managing Director for the York area, said the court orders were not part of a “witch-hunt” against students and that “not everyone appreciates” the system of fines, but that it is a necessary part of First’s business.
Eames added that court orders are sent to only those who First believes are “deliberately avoiding payment”. When pressed to reveal if he was accusing Wallis of lying, Eames refused to comment.
These cases come in the wake of ongoing problems First is facing with the ticketing machines onboard their Ftr buses. Eames acknowledged that the machines were “neither robust nor adequate” for the York route and were “being replaced”. This comes at a time when the Ftr ‘10 Journey’ tickets and similar passes have reverted back to a manually validated system, rather than one using electronic barcodes.
Penalties totalling £1500 were handed out to 11 people on Wednesday May 16 in York Magistrates Court, including a student from Wentworth College, Nickolaos MyKoniatis. First has been particularly stringent in its dealings with fare-dodgers, raising the initial £25 fine to £50 after just a few months in service.