Tonight I am performing at a poetry night in Brighton. For the last month I have been whispering the poem to myself on tubes, platforms, buses, and escalators, all in preparation for this evening. In all instances I paid the fare. Today I will not.
I work freelance (the glamorous way to refer to refer to contract-less employment) and just about make things work, but recently I’ve been leaning on the good will of housemates, relatives and friends more than is socially acceptable. Right now, I have the £10 in my pocket for my Thames Link (formerly First Capital Connect) super off peak train to Brighton. There awaits wine, a stage, a spotlight, a crowd of people with score cards, and no doubt someone performing pseudo political rap bullshit that ends up over shadowing my ‘real’ poem. I digress.
At the ticket machines outside London bridge station I can see through a glass wall into the busy ticket office. There are four operational counters serving a queue of twenty-seven people. This is mostly tourist and backpacker types with some large family groups as well. I am thankful I know the fare I require and the ticket machine layout so I am not subject to a tax on my time in the manner that those unfamiliar with the system are. If this were the case, I would never make my train departing in seven minutes and may miss my performance this evening.
Looking around the ticket machine options, the ticket I require does not appear. As I tap gently at the screen a hard ball of anxiety forms in my chest. I cannot find the weekend super off peak fare. The superiority I felt in avoiding that humongous line of non-Londoners melts away into sympathy and regret. At £16.30 I cannot afford the cheapest available on screen ticket, a 40% price hike from the fare I know should be purchasable. I have a choice between paying with my time or with my money and neither are affordable.
How do I get to Brighton? My ‘bank of mum’ credit is used up. A moustache of cold sweat forms across my upper lip. And then, I recall a trick a friend of mine developed while unemployed last year. To get to and from interviews he resorted to something he referred to as ‘snuggling’. This essentially involves snuggling up behind another traveller as they go through the ticket stile, extending a hand complete with empty oyster card over the sensor, and, on occasion saying ‘beep’. Apparently if you place your hands gently on the gate as you step behind another individual the gates will remain open, imagining perhaps that you are the victim from the human centipede movie. The trick is to time your stroll through the gates alongside a rush of people where personal space is not a priority and maintaining a consistent flow of commuters through to the platform is.
There are plenty of people about and my timely approach to the turnstile attracts neither the attention of the person in front, nor the attendant who has better things to do than pick on the poor. I sit in my free seat, on one of the oldest trains on the UK network, a train that has been paid for time and time again, and I begin to establish my moral relativism in order to calm my nerves. I tried to pay the correct fare. I am not a regular fare evader.
In order to avoid complications at Brighton, I step off the train one stop before Brighton and buy a ticket from Preston Park. This comes to a grand total of £2.60 and costs me an extra fifteen minutes journey time but is worth it to ensure I am not accosted at the gates metres from my destination. At this point I move distinctly into the field of fare evasion rather than avoidance. I have ceased to be virtuous, I am now a rebel. After reading up on train operators across the South East, specifically how awful they are (and have been forever) and how much cash they make I feel happy about removing £7.30 from this equation. The purchase of a ticket from Preston Park is also the moment on my journey from which I have a valid ticket. At Brighton I pass through the barriers and taste freedom as my anxiety passes. Why wasn’t my ticket available? What is the law regarding fare evasion? These are questions I should have answers to soon.
Are you a fare hopper?
Do you program ticket machines?
Please get in touch.