Richard Griffiths, head of strategic media at a PR agency said "What’s happening is that the DLR owners SERCO are cracking down on people who board the train with valid Oyster cards but who fail to swipe when they board the train. The problem is there are no barriers on the DLR and the swipe points are often hard to find. That means irregular users like us are being caught unawares."
After himself and a colleague received an on the spot penalty fine of £25, he's set up a Facebook group "Stop the DLR Penalty Fines Rip Off" which he urges people to join and also to appeal against the fines.
Should people be penalised for not touching in when there aren't any barriers or readily available swipe points? TfL said “The number of maximum fares incurred on National Rail is significantly higher than TfL services because a large number of stations do not have ticket barriers to act as a physical reminder to touch in and out. We continue to urge train operating companies to increase the number of barriers on their stations.”
Why doesn't the DLR install more barriers or are they happy getting more income from fining people? The train companies have said they would only install more gates at smaller London stations if these “represented value for money”. In the 11 months to November 2010, people failed to touch in or out at the start or end of a journey 13.2 million times. The penalty charges for the period came to a total of £56.9 million. Compare that to only £32 million in 2008. Are people really being almost doubly dishonest or forgetful or is the lack of barriers or broken & open barriers causing this increase?
Update - I've received an email from TfL's press office who wanted to clarify the following:
"The number of fines issued on the DLR have increased from approx 15,000 in 2007 to approx 17,500pa in 2010 but – and it’s a big “but” – the number of passenger has also increased from 65m to 75m. So fines have increased but only in line with passenger numbers. These fines are also not pure profit as there are substantial costs involved in mounting ticket inspection operations.
If you forget to swipe you get charged the maximum fare wherever you are on the TfL network; if you a fare evader you are denying London's transport network money and will be charged £50 (or £25 if you pay within 21 days) also wherever you are on the TfL network – the DLR does not have a different policy to any other mode.
The DLR has one of the lowest levels of fare evasion on any railway in the world – approximately 3% - and TfL does all it can to encourage passengers to always touch in and touch out with signs, posters and PA announcements.
TfL recently spent £1m increasing the numbers of Oyster card readers on the DLR network by 105 to 240. The readers are sited at DLR entry points such as escalators and ticket machines as well as on platforms and they are almost always accompanied by eye level signs alerting people to their presence.
There are also passenger service agents on every train who can issue tickets on the spot if passengers ask for them. Finally, there is also an appeal procedure if passengers feel they have been unfairly issued with a fine.
So with all these avenues available to pay for your journey, I believe our passengers get a lot of opportunities to do the right thing.
Incidentally, on the matter of barriers or gating stations – our passengers tell us in surveys they like the ungated and open nature of DLR stations. It’s also worth considering that with an already very low rate of fare evasion it does not make good business sense to go to the cost of installing barriers/gates and also employing extra staff to monitor them."